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Thailand - 457-957 - Dvaravati Period

The closely related Mon and Khmer peoples entered Southeast Asia along migration routes from southern China in the ninth century BC. The Khmer settled in the Mekong River Valley, while the Mon occupied the central plain and northern highlands of modern Thailand and large parts of Burma. A thousand or more years ago, most of Thailand apart from the southern area in the Malay Peninsula, was under the domination of the hinduized Mon-speaking people of Dvaravati and the Khmer or Cambodian Empires (957-1257 AD); while the Malay Peninsula was under the suzerainty of Srivijaya, the hinduized Sumatran Empire (657-1157 AD). During these times the Thai, as a people, emigrated gradually from their home in Southern China into the Indo-Chinese Peninsula.

Dvaravati was located in the Central region in the Chao Phraya River basin and had its center in Nakhon Pathom. Around AD 257-357, the communities in the area of the Chao Phraya River developed the highest civilization in the region, because they had easy access to the sea and lived in a river basin suitable for agriculture. Many towns in this area amalgamated into territories, and, as the Indian culture took root, adopted the system of absolute monarchy in emulation of India and established themselves under a state-ruled system.

Taking advantage of Funan's decline in the sixth century AD, the Mon began to establish independent kingdoms, among them Dvaravati in the northern part of the area formerly controlled by Funan and farther north at Haripunjaya. The Mon were receptive to the art and literature of India, and for centuries they were the agents for diffusing Hindu cultural values in the region. The frequent occurrence of Sanskrit place-names in modern Thailand is one result of the long and pervasive Indian influence.

In the eighth century, missionaries from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) introduced the Mon to Theravada Buddhism. The Mon embraced Buddhism enthusiastically and conveyed it to the Khmer and the Malay of Tambralinga. The two Indian religious systems -- Hindu and Buddhist -- existed side by side without conflict. Hinduism continued to provide the cultural setting in which Buddhist religious values and ethical standards were articulated. Although Buddhism was the official religion of the Mon and the Khmer, in popular practice it incorporated many local cults.

In the now central area of Thailand the land was within the empire of the Mon (Dvaravati Kingdom), ethnologically akin to the Khmer, who subsequently became included in the Empire of the Khmer. In spite of cultural dominance in the region, the Mon were repeatedly subdued by their Burmese and Khmer neighbors. In the tenth century Dvaravati and the whole of the Chao Phraya Valley came under the control of Angkor. The Khmer maintained the Hindu-Buddhist culture received from the Mon but placed added emphasis on the Hindu concept of sacred kingship. The history of Angkor can be read in the magnificent structures built to glorify its monarchy.

Lawo rose after AD 957 and replaced Dvaravati, moving the center to the Lopburi River basin. Lawo was influenced by both the ancient Dvaravati and Khmer (Angkor Wat) cultures, the civilization advancing until it became the most prosperous in this region. While the power of Lawo deteriorated in the 18th Buddhist century (around AD 1100), Sukhothai was emerging. Within Sukhothai, states like Lawo played a less important role although they did not totally degenerate; they maintained their cultural and artistic heritage and continued to develop into the later Ayutthaya Period.

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