The Ayutthaya Kingdom (; Thai: อยุธยา, RTGS: Ayutthaya, pronounced [ʔā.jút.tʰā.jāː]; also spelled "Ayudhya" or "Ayodhya") was a Siamese kingdom that existed from 1350 to 1767. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders, including the Chinese, Portuguese, Indians, Japanese, Persians, Pathans, and later Spaniards, Dutch, English, and French, permitting them to set up villages outside the walls of the capital, also called Ayutthaya.
In the 16th century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the East. The court of King Narai (1656–1688) had strong links with that of King Louis XIV of France, whose ambassadors compared the city in size and wealth to Paris.
By 1550, the kingdom's vassals included some city-states in the Malay Peninsula, Sukhothai, Lan Na and parts of Burma and Cambodia. This part of the kingdom's history is sometimes referred to as the "Ayutthayan Empire".
In foreign accounts, Ayutthaya was called "Siam", but many sources say the people of Ayutthaya called themselves Tai, and their kingdom Krung Tai (Thai: กรุงไท) meaning 'Tai country' (กรุงไท). It was also referred to as Iudea in a painting requested by the Dutch East India Company.[note 1]
According to the most widely accepted version of its origin, the Thai state based at Ayutthaya in the valley of the Chao Phraya River rose from the earlier, nearby Lavo Kingdom (at that time, still under the control of the Khmer Empire) and Suvarnabhumi. One source says that in the mid-14th century, due to the threat of an epidemic, King Uthong moved his court south to the rich floodplain of the Chao Phraya River onto an island surrounded by rivers. The name of the city indicates the influence of Hinduism in the region. It is believed that this city is associated with the Thai national epic, the Ramakien, which is the Thai version of the Ramayana.
Ayutthaya began its hegemony by conquering northern kingdoms and city-states like Sukhothai,:222 Kamphaeng Phet and Phitsanulok. Before the end of the 15th century, Ayutthaya launched attacks on Angkor, the great power of the region. Angkor's influence eventually faded from the Chao Phraya River plain while Ayutthaya became a new great power.
The emerging Kingdom of Ayutthaya was also growing powerful. Relations between Ayutthaya and Lan Na had worsened since the Ayutthayan support of Thau Choi's rebellion In 1451, Yuttitthira, a noble of the Kingdom of Sukhothai who had conflicts with Borommatrailokkanat of Ayutthaya, gave himself to Tilokaraj. Yuttitthira urged Borommatrailokkanat to invade Phitsanulok, igniting the Ayutthaya-Lan Na War over the Upper Chao Phraya valley (the Kingdom of Sukhothai). In 1460, the governor of Chaliang surrendered to Tilokaraj. Borommatrailokkanat then used a new strategy and concentrated on the wars with Lan Na by moving the capital to Phitsanulok. Lan Na suffered setbacks and Tilokaraj eventually sued for peace in 1475.
However, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was not a unified state, but rather a patchwork of self-governing principalities and tributary provinces owing allegiance to the king of Ayutthaya under The Circle of Power, or the mandala system, as some scholars suggested. These principalities might be ruled by members of the royal family of Ayutthaya, or by local rulers who had their own independent armies, having a duty to assist the capital when war or invasion occurred. However, it was evident that from time to time local revolts, led by local princes or kings, took place. Ayutthaya had to suppress them.
Due to the lack of succession law and a strong concept of meritocracy, whenever the succession was in dispute, princely governors or powerful dignitaries claiming their merit gathered their forces and moved on the capital to press their claims, culminating in several bloody coups.
At the start of the 15th century, Ayutthaya showed an interest in the Malay Peninsula, but the great trading ports of the Malacca Sultanate contested its claims to sovereignty. Ayutthaya launched several abortive conquests against Malacca which was diplomatically and economically fortified by the military support of Ming China. In the early-15th century the Ming admiral Zheng He established a base of operation in the port city, making it a strategic position the Chinese could not afford to lose to the Siamese. Under this protection, Malacca flourished, becoming one of Ayutthaya's great foes until the capture of Malacca by the Portuguese.
Starting in the middle of the 16th century, the kingdom came under repeated attacks by the Taungoo Dynasty of Burma. The Burmese–Siamese War (1547–49) began with a Burmese invasion and a failed siege of Ayutthaya. A second siege (1563–64) led by King Bayinnaung forced King Maha Chakkraphat to surrender in 1564. The royal family was taken to Bago, Burma, with the king's second son Mahinthrathirat installed as the vassal king.:111:167-170 In 1568, Mahinthrathirat revolted when his father managed to return from Bago as a Buddhist monk. The ensuing third siege captured Ayutthaya in 1569 and Bayinnaung made Mahathammarachathirat his vassal king.:167
In 1584, four years after Bayinnaung's death, Uparaja Naresuan proclaimed Ayutthaya's independence. This proclamation resulted in repeated invasions of Ayutthaya by Burma which the Siamese fought off ultimately finishing in an elephant duel between King Naresuan and Burmese heir-apparent Mingyi Swa in 1593 during the fourth siege of Ayutthaya in which Naresuan famously slew Mingyi Swa.:443 Today, this Siamese victory is observed annually on January 18 as Royal Thai Armed Forces day. Later that same year warfare erupted again (the Burmese–Siamese War (1593–1600)) when the Siamese invaded Burma, first occupying the Tanintharyi province in southeast Burma in 1593 and later the cities of Moulmein and Martaban in 1594. In 1599, the Siamese attacked the city of Pegu but were ultimately driven out by Burmese rebels who had assassinated Burmese King Nanda Bayin and taken power.:443
In 1613, after Anaukpetlun reunited Burma and took control, the Burmese invaded the Siamese-held territories in Tanintharyi province. The city of Tavoy was held for a while until regained by Siamese and Portuguese forces. In 1614, the Burmese invaded Lan Na which at that time was a vassal of Ayutthaya. Fighting between the Burmese and Siamese continued until 1618 when a treaty ended the conflict. At that time, Burma gained control of Lan Na and while Ayutthaya retained control of Burma's Tanintharyi province as far north as the city of Tavoy.:127-130 :443
In 1662 war between Burma and Ayutthaya (the Burmese-Siamese War (1662-64)) erupted again when King Narai of Ayutthaya attempted to take advantage of unrest in Burma and take control of Lan Na.:220-227 Fighting along the border between the two adversaries continued for two years and at one time Narai seized the Burmese cities of Martaban and Rangoon. Ultimately, Narai and the Siamese ran out of supplies and returned home back within their border.:139 :443-444
Foreign trade brought Ayutthaya not only luxury items but also new arms and weapons. In the mid-17th century, during King Narai's reign, Ayutthaya became very prosperous. In the 18th century, Ayutthaya gradually lost control over its provinces. Provincial governors exerted their power independently, and rebellions against the capital began.
In the mid-18th century, Ayutthaya again became ensnared in wars with the Burmese. The Burmese–Siamese War (1759–1760) begun by the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma failed. The Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767) resulted in the sack of the city of Ayutthaya and the debellation of the kingdom in April 1767.
After a bloody period of dynastic struggle, Ayutthaya entered into what has been called the golden age, a relatively peaceful episode in the second quarter of the 18th century when art, literature, and learning flourished. There were foreign wars. Ayutthaya fought with the Nguyễn Lords (Vietnamese rulers of south Vietnam) for control of Cambodia starting around 1715. But a greater threat came from Burma, where the new Alaungpaya dynasty (Konbaung dynasty) had subdued the Shan states.
The last fifty years of the kingdom witnessed a bloody struggle among the princes. The throne was their prime target. Purges of court officials and able generals followed. The last monarch, Ekathat, originally known as Prince Anurakmontree, forced the king, who was his younger brother, to step down and took the throne himself.:203
According to a French source, Ayutthaya in the 18th century included these principal cities: Martaban, Ligor or Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Tenasserim, Junk Ceylon or Phuket Island, Singora or Songkhla. Her tributaries were Patani, Pahang, Perak, Kedah and Malacca.
In 1765, a combined 40,000-strong force of Burmese armies invaded the territories of Ayutthaya from the north and west.:250 Major outlying towns quickly capitulated. The only notable example of successful resistance to these forces was found at the village of Bang Rajan. After a 14 month siege, the city of Ayutthaya capitulated and was burned in April 1767.:218 Ayutthaya's art treasures, the libraries containing its literature, and the archives housing its historic records were almost totally destroyed, and the Burmese brought the Ayutthaya Kingdom to ruin.
Burmese rule lasted a mere few months. The Burmese, who had also been fighting a simultaneous war with the Chinese since 1765, were forced to withdraw in early-1768 when Chinese forces threatened their own capital.:253
With most Burmese forces having withdrawn, the country was reduced to chaos. All that remained of the old capital were some ruins of the royal palace. Provinces proclaimed independence under generals, rogue monks, and members of the royal family.
One general, Phraya Taksin, former governor of Tak, began the reunification effort. He gathered forces and began striking back at the Burmese. He finally established a capital at Thonburi, across the Chao Phraya from the present capital, Bangkok. Taak-Sin ascended the throne, becoming known as King Taak-Sin or Taksin.
The ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya and "associated historic towns" in the Ayutthaya historical park have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. The city of Ayutthaya was refounded near the old city, and is now capital of Ayutthaya Province.
The kings of Ayutthaya were absolute monarchs with semi-religious status. Their authority derived from the ideologies of Hinduism and Buddhism as well as from natural leadership. The king of Sukhothai was the inspiration of Inscription 1 found in Sukhothai, which stated that King Ramkhamhaeng would hear the petition of any subject who rang the bell at the palace gate. The king was thus considered as a father by his people.
At Ayutthaya, however, the paternal aspects of kingship disappeared. The king was considered the chakkraphat (Sanskrit chakravartin) who through his adherence to the law made all the world revolve around him. According to Hindu tradition, the king is the avatar of Vishnu, destroyer of demons, who was born to be the defender of the people. The Buddhist belief in the king is as righteous ruler (Sanskrit: dharmaraja) who strictly follows the teaching of Gautama Buddha and aims at the well-being of his people.
The kings' official names were reflections of those religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. They were considered as the incarnation of various Hindu gods: Indra, Shiva, or Vishnu (Rama). The coronation ceremony was directed by brahmins as the Hindu god Shiva was "lord of the universe". However, according to the codes, the king had the ultimate duty as protector of the people and the annihilator of evil.
For locals, another aspect of the kingship was also the analogy of "The Lord of the Land" or "He who Rules the Earth" (Phra Chao Phaendin). According to the court etiquette, a special language, Rachasap (Sanskrit: Rājāśabda, 'royal language'), was used to communicate with or about royalty. In Ayutthaya, the king was said to grant control over land to his subjects, from nobles to commoners, according to the sakna or sakdina system codified by King Borommatrailokkanat (1448–88). The sakdina system was similar to, but not the same as feudalism, under which the monarch does not own the land. While there is no concrete evidence that this land management system constituted a formal palace economy, the French François-Timoléon de Choisy, who came to Ayutthaya in 1685, wrote, "the king has absolute power. He is truly the god of the Siamese: no-one dares to utter his name." Another 17th century writer, the Dutchman Jan van Vliet, remarked that the King of Siam was "honoured and worshipped by his subjects second to god." Laws and orders were issued by the king. For sometimes the king himself was also the highest judge who judged and punished important criminals such as traitors or rebels.
In addition to the sakdina system, another of the numerous institutional innovations of Borommatrailokkanat was to adopt the position of uparaja, translated as 'viceroy' or 'prince', usually held by the king's senior son or full brother, in an attempt to regularise the succession to the throne—a particularly difficult feat for a polygamous dynasty. In practice, there was inherent conflict between king and uparaja and frequent disputed successions. However, it is evident that the power of the throne of Ayutthaya had its limits. The hegemony of the Ayutthaya king was always based on his charisma based on his age and supporters. Without supporters, bloody coups took place from time to time. The most powerful figures of the capital were always generals, or the Minister of Military Department, Kalahom. During the last century of Ayutthaya, bloody fighting among princes and generals, aiming at the throne, plagued the court.
The reforms of King Borommatrailokkanat (r. 1448–1488) placed the king of Ayutthaya at the centre of a highly stratified social and political hierarchy that extended throughout the realm. Despite a lack of evidence, it is believed that in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the basic unit of social organization was the village community composed of extended family households. Title to land resided with the headman, who held it in the name of the community, although peasant proprietors enjoyed the use of land as long as they cultivated it. The lords gradually became courtiers (อำมาตย์) and tributary rulers of minor cities. The king ultimately came to be recognized as the earthly incarnation of Shiva or Vishnu and became the sacred object of politico-religious cult practices officiated over by royal court brahmans, part of the Buddhist court retinue. In the Buddhist context, the devaraja (divine king) was a bodhisattva. The belief in divine kingship prevailed into the 18th century, although by that time its religious implications had limited impact.
With ample reserves of land available for cultivation, the realm depended on the acquisition and control of adequate manpower for farm labor and defense. The dramatic rise of Ayutthaya had entailed constant warfare and, as none of the parties in the region possessed a technological advantage, the outcome of battles was usually determined by the size of the armies. After each victorious campaign, Ayutthaya carried a number of conquered people back to its own territory, where they were assimilated and added to the labour force. Ramathibodi II (r.1491–1529) established a corvée system under which every freeman had to be registered as a phrai (servant) with the local lords, chao nai (เจ้านาย). When war broke out, male phrai were subject to impressment. Above the phrai was a nai (นาย), who was responsible for military service, corvée labour on public works, and on the land of the official to whom he was assigned. Phrai Suay (ไพร่ส่วย) met labour obligations by paying a tax. If he found the forced labour under his nai repugnant, he could sell himself as a that (ทาส, 'slave') to a more attractive nai or lord, who then paid a fee in compensation for the loss of corvée labour. As much as one-third of the manpower supply into the 19th century was composed of phrai.
Wealth, status, and political influence were interrelated. The king allotted rice fields to court officials, provincial governors, and military commanders, in payment for their services to the crown, according to the sakdina system. The size of each official's allotment was determined by the number of commoners or phrai he could command to work it. The amount of manpower a particular headman, or official, could command determined his status relative to others in the hierarchy and his wealth. At the apex of the hierarchy, the king, who was symbolically the realm's largest landholder, theoretically commanded the services of the largest number of phrai, called phrai luang ('royal servants'), who paid taxes, served in the royal army, and worked on the crown lands.
However, the recruitment of the armed forces depended on nai, or mun nai, literally meaning 'lord', officials who commanded their own phrai som, or 'subjects'. These officials had to submit to the king's command when war broke out. Officials thus became the key figures in the kingdom's politics. At least two officials staged coups, taking the throne themselves while bloody struggles between the king and his officials, followed by purges of court officials, were common.
King Trailok, in the early-16th century, established definite allotments of land and phrai for the royal officials at each rung in the hierarchy, thus determining the country's social structure until the introduction of salaries for government officials in the 19th century.
Outside this system to some extent were the sangha (Buddhist monastic community), which all classes of men could join, and the overseas Chinese. Wats became centers of Thai education and culture, while during this period the Chinese first began to settle in Thailand and soon began to establish control over the country's economic life.
The Chinese were not obliged to register for corvée duty, so they were free to move about the kingdom at will and engage in commerce. By the 16th century, the Chinese controlled Ayutthaya's internal trade and had found important places in civil and military service. Most of these men took Thai wives as few women left China to accompany the men.
Uthong was responsible for the compilation of a Dharmaśāstra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom. The Dharmaśāstra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century. A bureaucracy based on a hierarchy of ranked and titled officials was introduced, and society was organized in a related manner. However, the caste system was not adopted.
The 16th century witnessed the rise of Burma, which had overrun Chiang Mai in the Burmese-Siamese War of 1563-1564. In 1569, Burmese forces, joined by Thai rebels, mostly royal family members of Thailand, captured the city of Ayutthaya and carried off the whole royal family to Burma (Burmese-Siamese War 1568-70). Dhammaraja (1569–90), a Thai governor who had aided the Burmese, was installed as vassal king at Ayutthaya. Thai independence was restored by his son, King Naresuan (1590–1605), who turned on the Burmese and by 1600 had driven them from the country.
Determined to prevent another treason like his father's, Naresuan set about unifying the country's administration directly under the royal court at Ayutthaya. He ended the practice of nominating royal princes to govern Ayutthaya's provinces, assigning instead court officials who were expected to execute policies handed down by the king. Thereafter royal princes were confined to the capital. Their power struggles continued, but at court under the king's watchful eye.
To ensure his control over the new class of governors, Naresuan decreed that all freemen subject to phrai service had become phrai luang, bound directly to the king, who distributed the use of their services to his officials. This measure gave the king a theoretical monopoly on all manpower, and the idea developed that since the king owned the services of all the people, he also possessed all the land. Ministerial offices and governorships—and the sakdina that went with them—were usually inherited positions dominated by a few families often connected to the king by marriage. Indeed, marriage was frequently used by Thai kings to cement alliances between themselves and powerful families, a custom prevailing through the 19th century. As a result of this policy, the king's wives usually numbered in the dozens.
Even with Naresuan's reforms, the effectiveness of the royal government over the next 150 years was unstable. Royal power outside the crown lands—in theory, absolute—was in practice limited by the laxity of the civil administration. The influence of central government and the king was not extensive beyond the capital. When war with the Burmese broke out in the late 18th century, provinces easily abandoned the capital. As the enforcing troops were not easily rallied to defend the capital, the city of Ayutthaya could not stand against the Burmese aggressors.
Ayutthaya's military was the origin of the Royal Thai Army. The army was organized into a small standing army of a few thousand, which defended the capital and the palace, and a much larger conscript-based wartime army. Conscription was based on the Phrai system (including phrai luang and phrai som), which required local chiefs to supply their predetermined quota of men from their jurisdiction on the basis of population in times of war. This basic system of military organization was largely unchanged down to the early Rattanakosin period.
Ayutthaya's main religion was Theravada Buddhism. However, many of the elements of the political and social system were incorporated from Hindu scriptures and were conducted by Brahmin priests. Many areas of the kingdom also practiced Mahayana Buddhism, Islam and, influenced by French Missionaries who arrived through China in the 17th century, some small areas converted to Roman Catholicism. The influence of Mahayana and Tantric practices also entered Theravada Buddhism, producing a tradition called Tantric Theravada.
The natural world was also home to a number of spirits which are part of the Satsana Phi. Phi (Thai: ผี) are spirits of buildings or territories, natural places, or phenomena; they are also ancestral spirits that protect people, or can also include malevolent spirits. The phi which are guardian deities of places, or towns are celebrated at festivals with communal gatherings and offerings of food. The spirits run throughout Thai folklore.
Phi were believed to influence natural phenomena including human illness and thus the baci became an important part of people identity and religious health over the millennia. Spirit houses were an important folk custom which were used to ensure balance with the natural and supernatural world. Astrology was also a vital part to understanding the natural and spiritual worlds and became an important cultural means to enforce social taboos and customs.
The myth and epic stories of Ramakien provide the Siamese with a rich source of dramatic materials. The royal court of Ayutthaya developed classical dramatic forms of expression called khon (Thai: โขน) and lakhon (Thai: ละคร). Ramakien played a role in shaping these dramatic arts. During the Ayutthaya period, khon, or a dramatized version of Ramakien, was classified as lakhon nai or a theatrical performance reserved only for aristocratic audience. The Siamese drama and classical dance later spread throughout mainland Southeast Asia and influenced the development of high-culture art in most countries, including Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.
Historical evidence shows that the Thai art of stage plays must have already been highly evolved by the 17th century. Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, had a formal diplomatic relation with Ayutthaya's King Narai. In 1687, France sent the diplomat Simon de la Loubère to record all that he saw in the Siamese Kingdom. In his famous account Du Royaume de Siam, La Loubère carefully observed the classic 17th century theatre of Siam, including an epic battle scene from a khon performance, and recorded what he saw in great detail:
The Siamese have three sorts of Stage Plays: That which they call Cone [khôn] is a figure dance, to the sound of the violin and some other instruments. The dancers are masked and armed, and represent rather a combat than a dance. And though every one runs into high motions, and extravagant postures, they cease not continually to intermix some word. Most of their masks are hideous, and represent either monstrous Beasts, or kinds of Devils. The Show which they call Lacone is a poem intermix with Epic and Dramatic, which lasts three days, from eight in the morning till seven at night. They are histories in verse, serious, and sung by several actors always present, and which do only sing reciprocally .... The Rabam is a double dance of men and women, which is not martial, but gallant ... they can perform it without much tying themselves, because their way of dancing is a simple march round, very slow, and without any high motion; but with a great many slow contortions of the body and arms.
Of the attire of Siamese Khôn dancers, La Loubère recorded that, "[T]hose that dance in Rabam, and Cone, have gilded paper-bonnets, high and pointed, like the Mandarins caps of ceremony, but which hang down at the sides below their ears, which are adorned with counterfeit stones, and with two pendants of gilded wood."
The accomplishment and influence of Thai art and culture, developed during the Ayutthaya period, on the neighboring countries was evident in the observation of James Low, a British scholar on Southeast Asia, during the early-Rattanakosin Era: "The Siamese have attained to a considerable degree of perfection in dramatic exhibitions — and are in this respect envied by their neighbours the Burmans, Laos, and Cambojans who all employ Siamese actors when they can be got.":177
Ayutthaya was a kingdom rich in literary production. Even after the sack of Ayutthaya in 1767, many literary masterpieces in the Thai language survived. However, Ayutthayan literature (as well as Thai literature before the modern era) was dominated by verse composition (i.e., poetry), whereas prose works were reserved to legal matters, records of state affairs and historical chronicles. Thus, there are many works in the nature of epic poetry in the Thai language. The Thai poetical tradition was originally based on indigenous poetical forms such as rai (ร่าย), khlong (โคลง), kap (กาพย์) and klon (กลอน). Some of these poetical forms—notably khlong—have been shared between the speakers of tai languages since ancient time (before the emergence of Siam).
Through Buddhist and Hindu influence, a variety of Chanda prosodic meters were received via Ceylon. Since the Thai language is mono-syllabic, a huge number of loan words from Sanskrit and Pali are needed to compose these classical Sanskrit meters. According to B.J. Terwiel, this process occurred with an accelerated pace during the reign of King Boromma-trailokkanat (1448-1488) who reformed Siam's model of governance by turning the Siamese polity into an empire under the mandala feudal system.:307-326 The new system demanded a new imperial language for the noble class. This literary influence changed the course of the Thai or Siamese language, setting it apart from other tai languages, by increasing the number of Sanskrit and Pali words drastically and imposing the demand on the Thais to develop a writing system that preserves the orthography of Sanskrit words for literary purpose. By the 15th century, the Thai language had evolved into a distinctive medium along with a nascent literary identity of a new nation. It allowed Siamese poets to compose in different poetical styles and mood, from playful and humorous rimed verses, to romantic and elegant klong and to polished and imperious chan prosodies modified from classical Sanskrit meters. Thai poets experimented with these different prosodic forms, producing innovative "hybrid" poems such as Lilit (Thai: ลิลิต, an interleave of khlong and kap or rai verses) or Kap hor Klong (Thai: กาพย์ห่อโคลง - khlong poems enveloped by kap verses). The Thai thus developed a keen mind and a keen ear for poetry. To maximize this new literary medium, however, an intensive classical education in Pali was required. This made poetry an exclusive occupation of the noble classes. However, B.J. Terwiel notes, citing a 17th century text book Jindamanee, that scribes and common Siamese men, too, were encouraged to learn basic Pali and Sanskrit for career advancement.:322-323
Most countries in Southeast Asia share an Indianised culture. Traditionally, therefore, Thai literature was heavily influenced by the Indian culture and Buddhist-Hindu ideology since the time it first appeared in the 13th century. Thailand's national epic is a version of the Ramayana called the Ramakien, translated from Sanskrit and rearranged into Siamese verses. The importance of the Ramayana epic in Thailand is due to the Thai's adoption of the Hindu religio-political ideology of kingship, as embodied by the Lord Rama. The Siamese capital, Ayutthaya, was named after the holy city of Ayodhya, the City of Lord Rama. Thai kings of the current dynasty from Rama VI forward, and retroactively, have been referred to as "Rama" to the present day (relations with the west caused the crown to seek a brief name to convey royalty to both Thais and foreigners, following European styles).
A number of versions of the Ramakien epic were lost in the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767. Three versions currently exist. One of these was prepared under the supervision (and partly written by) King Rama I. His son, Rama II, rewrote some parts for khon drama. The main differences from the original are an extended role for the monkey god Hanuman and the addition of a happy ending. Many of popular poems among the Thai nobles are also based on Indian stories. One of the most famous is Anirut Kham Chan which is based on an ancient Indian story of Prince Anirudha.
In the Ayutthaya period, folktales also flourished. One of the most famous folktales is the story of Khun Chang Khun Phaen (Thai: ขุนช้างขุนแผน), referred to in Thailand simply as "Khun Phaen", which combines the elements of romantic comedy and heroic adventures, ending in high tragedy. The epic of Khun Chang Khun Phaen (KCKP) revolves around Khun Phaen, a Siamese general with superhuman magical powers who served the King of Ayutthaya, and his love-triangle relationship between himself, Khun Chang, and a beautiful Siamese girl named Wan-Thong. The composition of KCKP, much like other orally-transmitted epics, evolved over time. It originated as a recitation or sepha within the Thai oral tradition from around the beginning of the 17th century (c. 1600). Siamese troubadours and minstrels added more subplots and embellished scenes to the original story line as time went on. By the late period of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, it had attained the current shape as a long work of epic poem with the length of about 20,000 lines, spanning 43 samut thai books. The version that exists today was composed with klon meter throughout and is referred to in Thailand as nithan Kham Klon (Thai: นิทานคำกลอน) meaning a 'poetic tale'.
The Ayutthaya Buddhist temple falls into one of two broad categories: the stupa-style solid temple and the prang-style (Thai: ปรางค์). The prangs can also be found in various forms in Sukhothai, Lopburi, Bangkok (Wat Arun). Sizes may vary, but usually the prangs measure between 15 and 40 meters in height, and resemble a towering corn-cob like structure.
Prangs essentially represent Mount Meru. In Thailand Buddha relics were often housed in a vault in these structures, reflecting the belief that the Lord Buddha is a most significant being in having attained enlightenment and having shows the path to enlightenment to others.
Three clothing styles were evident in the Ayutthaya period. Each style depended on social class.
1. Court clothing (worn by the king, queen, concubines, and senior government officials):
The Thais never lacked a rich food supply. Peasants planted rice for their own consumption and to pay taxes. Whatever remained was used to support religious institutions. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, however, a transformation took place in Thai rice cultivation. In the highlands, where rainfall had to be supplemented by a system of irrigation to control water levels in flooded paddies, the Thais sowed the glutinous rice that is still the staple in the geographical regions of the north and northeast. But in the floodplain of the Chao Phraya, farmers turned to a different variety of rice—the so-called floating rice, a slender, non-glutinous grain introduced from Bengal—that would grow fast enough to keep pace with the rise of the water level in the lowland fields.
The new strain grew easily and abundantly, producing a surplus that could be sold cheaply abroad. Ayutthaya, at the southern extremity of the floodplain, thus became the hub of economic activity. Under royal patronage, corvée labour dug canals on which rice was brought from the fields to the king's ships for export to China. In the process, the Chao Phraya delta—mud flats between the sea and firm land hitherto considered unsuitable for habitation—was reclaimed and cultivated. Traditionally the king had a duty to perform a religious ceremony to bless the rice planting.
Although rice was abundant in Ayutthaya, rice exports were banned from time to time when famine occurred because of natural calamity or war. Rice was usually bartered for luxury goods and armaments from Westerners, but rice cultivation was mainly for the domestic market and rice export was evidently unreliable.
Ayutthaya officially used cowrie shells, prakab (baked clay coins), and pod duang (Thai: พดด้วง) as currencies. Pod duang became the standard medium of exchange from the early-13th century to the reign of King Chulalongkorn.
Trade with Europeans was lively in the 17th century. In fact European merchants traded their goods, mainly modern arms such as rifles and cannons, for local products from the inland jungle such as sapan (lit. 'bridge') woods, deerskin, and rice. Tomé Pires, a Portuguese voyager, mentioned in the 16th century that Ayutthaya, or Odia, was "rich in good merchandise". Most of the foreign merchants coming to Ayutthaya were European and Chinese, and were taxed by the authorities. The kingdom had an abundance of rice, salt, dried fish, arrack, and vegetables.
Trade with foreigners, mainly the Dutch, reached its peak in the 17th century. Ayutthaya became a main destination for merchants from China and Japan. It was apparent that foreigners began taking part in the kingdom's politics. Ayutthaya's kings employed foreign mercenaries who sometimes joined the wars with the kingdom's enemies. However, after the purge of the French in the late-17th century, the major traders with Ayutthaya were the Chinese. The Dutch from the Dutch East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC), were still active. Ayutthaya's economy declined rapidly in the 18th century, until the Burmese invasion caused the total collapse of Ayutthaya's economy in 1788.
In 1511, immediately after having conquered Malacca, the Portuguese sent a diplomatic mission headed by Duarte Fernandes to the court of King Ramathibodi II of Ayutthaya. Having established amicable relations between the Kingdom of Portugal and the Kingdom of Siam, they returned with a Siamese envoy who carried gifts and letters to the King of Portugal. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit the country. Five years after that initial contact, Ayutthaya and Portugal concluded a treaty granting the Portuguese permission to trade in the kingdom. A similar treaty in 1592 gave the Dutch a privileged position in the rice trade.
Foreigners were cordially welcomed at the court of Narai (1657–1688), a ruler with a cosmopolitan outlook who was nonetheless wary of outside influence. Important commercial ties were forged with Japan. Dutch and English trading companies were allowed to establish factories, and Thai diplomatic missions were sent to Paris and The Hague. By maintaining these ties, the Thai court skillfully played off the Dutch against the English and the French, avoiding the excessive influence of a single power.
In 1664, however, the Dutch used force to exact a treaty granting them extraterritorial rights as well as freer access to trade. At the urging of his foreign minister, the Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon, Narai turned to France for assistance. French engineers constructed fortifications for the Thais and built a new palace at Lopburi for Narai. In addition, French missionaries engaged in education and medicine and brought the first printing press into the country. Louis XIV's personal interest was aroused by reports from missionaries suggesting that Narai might be converted to Christianity.
The French presence encouraged by Phaulkon, however, stirred the resentment and suspicions of the Thai nobles and Buddhist clergy. When word spread that Narai was dying, a general, Phetracha (reigned 1688–1693) staged a coup d'état, the 1688 Siamese revolution, seized the throne, killed the designated heir, a Christian, and had Phaulkon put to death along with a number of missionaries. He then expelled the remaining foreigners. Some studies said that Ayutthaya began a period of alienation from Western traders, while welcoming more Chinese merchants. But other recent studies argue that, due to wars and conflicts in Europe in the mid-18th century, European merchants reduced their activities in the East. However, it was apparent that the Dutch East Indies Company or VOC was still doing business in Ayutthaya despite political difficulties.
Between 1405 and 1433, the Chinese Ming dynasty sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions. Emperor Yongle designed them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin. He also might have wanted to extend the tributary system. It is believed that the Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He travelled up the Chao Phraya River to Ayutthaya on three occasions.
Meanwhile a Japanese colony was established in Ayutthaya. The colony was active in trade, particularly in the export of deer hides and saphan wood to Japan in exchange for Japanese silver and Japanese handicrafts (swords, lacquered boxes, high-quality paper). From Ayutthaya, Japan was interested in purchasing Chinese silks, as well as deerskins and ray or shark skins (used to make a sort of shagreen for Japanese sword handles and scabbards).
The Japanese quarters of Ayutthaya were home to about 1,500 Japanese inhabitants (some estimates run as high as 7,000). The community was called Ban Yipun in Thai, and was headed by a Japanese chief nominated by Thai authorities. It seems to have been a combination of traders, Christian converts (Kirishitan) who had fled their home country to various Southeast Asian countries following the persecutions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and unemployed former samurai who had been on the losing side at the battle of Sekigahara.
Padre António Francisco Cardim recounted having administered the sacrament to around 400 Japanese Christians in 1627 in the Thai capital of Ayuthaya ("a 400 japoes christaos") There were also Japanese communities in Ligor and Patani.
There are 18 versions of Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya (Phongsawadan Krung Si Ayutthaya) known to scholars. See Wyatt, David K. (1999). Chronicle of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Tokyo: The Center for East Asian Cultural Studies for UNESCO, The Toyo Bunko. pp. Introduction, 14. ISBN 978-4-89656-613-0.)
Some of these are available in Cushman, Richard D. (2000). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya: A Synoptic Translation, edited by David K. Wyatt. Bangkok: The Siam Society.