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Lord Ram’s Ayodhya is not confined to India. Historical evidences suggest the ancient city of ‘Ayutthaya’ was indeed named after Ayodhya. Hinduism spread far and wide through mighty rulers like Ashoka, who propagated first Hinduism and then Buddhism in the South East Asia. Though we may never be able to prove the coincidences between Ayodhya and Ayutthaya, the mysteries and evidences never cease to suggest that Lord Ram, the incarnation of Vishnu, might have walked upon this mystic land of Ayyuthaya. Or was it just the spread of Hinduism? Ranvir Mehta travels to Thailand in search of clues.
During my recent visit to Bangkok, I skipped Pattaya and went straight to see the World Heritage site of ‘Ayutthaya’ – Ayodhya -- the ancient capital of Siam (now Thailand). It gets its name from the ancient capital of Ayodhya in northern India, the city of Lord Ram. The name of the site indicates Hinduism did spread to these countries in the South East Asia. Ancient Hindu temples exist in as far as Bali in Indonesia and Singapore, and Hinduism spread through mighty rulers like Ashoka.
Ayutthaya remained the capital of Thailand for 417 years from 1350 AD to 1767 AD. The ruins of this historic city and its associated towns in the ‘Ayutthaya Historical Park’ have been listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1981. The site of Ayuthaya is located about 100 km from Bangkok, about two to three hours away. Bangkok is famous for its traffic jams, but the flyovers easen it a bit. Ayutthaya has about 300 old ruins of temples, with images of Buddha made out of gold, besides ruins of palaces and churches.
History in Ruins
The Burmese Army invaded Ayutthaya and its temples in 1776 AD. The ancient site was seized by them for one year after the invasion. The temples and palaces were looted, precious metals and stones taken away, and finally deserted. The king decided to leave the capital with 500 soldiers by escaping to ‘Chanthaburi’, which he inhabited and later named ‘Thonburi’. It is currently known as ‘Wat Arunachwara Ram’ or ‘Wat Arun’, which is now the famous ‘Temple of Dawn’, a must see for all tourists. The structures were also damaged due to earthquakes and harsh weather conditions like rains and windstorms.
With a number of temples, palaces and monasteries, Bangkok appears to be the hub of exquisite wood and mirror temples. Incidentally, the first king who constructed Ayutthaya was King Ramathibodi. The walls of the city were made of wood, and can be seen even today. There is an image of the ‘Golden Buddha’ similar to the one in Bangkok. The ruins of a Portuguese village in the south of the island city suggest the Portuguese also came there in 1511. Settlements of other foreigners like the Chinese and Indian villages, and Japanese memorial can also be seen, lured here by the riches of Ayutthaya.
A number of structures that must have been significant in those times, like the Wat Phra Ram temple, the huge Buddha images built in 1374 AD, and the royal palace are all in ruins now. The Buddha image, in a reclining position, can be seen lying in the open. Made of copper and gold, it’s unbelievable in size (37 m long and 8 m high) and carvings. Its head is on a lotus in such a way that all the religious signs on the back of Buddha’s legs can be easily observed. King Rama, who left his capital of Ayutthaya in 1767 AD, made Bangkok the capital of his kingdom and the golden Buddha image was transferred to the present site. The history of Ayutthaya is long, but it’s sufficient to say the subsequent rulers built structures in Bangkok in a similar style as existed in Ayutthaya.
A Healthy Mix of Religions
During the seventeenth century, Christianity came to Ayutthaya by chance, through a missionary. Intending to go to China, he came to ‘Ayutthaya’ instead, thanks to a shipwreck. Later, he also opened a school and a hospital with the help from the then King ‘Narai’, a great emperor of his times. The school was later named ‘Narai’, meaning ‘Narayan’ or ‘Vishnu’. Even today, comparatively big hotels in Bangkok are named Narai. I stayed in one such hotel during my official visit to Bangkok in 1985. Here, the visitors’ lounge has a huge mural depicting the Hindu God ‘Narayana’ reclining on a ‘Sheshnag’.
The ‘Temple Tour’ is one of the most popular tours among tourists in Bangkok. The kings of Thailand had their names as King Rama I, II, III. Interestingly, Bangkok has a ‘Bank of Ayodhya’ on one of its main streets! The present King Bhoomi Bol Adulyadej, has just completed 60 years of his rule. His Queen is a university professor. The Thai people have great respect for the King. The Diamond Jubilee Celebrations were held in Bangkok in May 2006. The city landmarks, temples, palaces and the Government buildings were decorated with bright lights and mirrors. The function was attended by various monarchs from all over the world.
Bangkok is famous for its breathtaking sights, excellent beaches, exciting islands, water sports, besides clothes and leather goods. It is exotic and mystic; I was overwhelmed by the influence of Hinduism and Ram in that part of the world. The mysteries lying in the womb of the bygone times can never be unfolded now, perhaps. Another South East Asian country I know, Cambodia, is an abode to the ancient temple ‘Watankur’. I soon hope to explore that mystery.