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 This is Ancient Land of Dinosaurs Pt.VIII

Man's earliest true ancestor appeared on earth more than 2 million years ago, but it was not until 10,000 to 15,000 years ago that his descendants had peopled almost the entire globe. The first man known to have roamed beyond the continent of Africa was Homo erectus, who appeared about 500,000 years ago. During the 200,000 years of his existence, he moved around through Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman, South Persia, Pakistan, Central Bharata (India), Burma to reach Kanchanaburi and migrated to Baan Chiang that slowly spread to different directions. Sometime, somewhere __ the migration could go back to the same area and changed to the several other directions later on. Migrations depended on several factors __ geography, Climate, environment, food, living conditions, and their intelligence development.

From the last two Parts ... The Khorm probably made a greater contribution to this region's cultural and political development than any other people with the possible exception of the Morn. The two peoples had much in common and in many prehistory references the term Morn-Khorm is used to denote the people who first inhabited mainland South East Asia and institutionalised the agrarian culture, the sanskrit based languages, the basic religion and the many art forms.

The arrival of the Tais (continued)

Whilst Lanna was struggling to maintain a coherent Kingdom in the 14th century the development of the Thai nation was proceeding apace several hundred kilometres to the south at Ayutthaya, named after the Indian town of Ayodhya, Sanskrit for 'invincible', that features in the Hindu epic the Ramayana. It was founded in 1351 at the confluence of the Pa Sak, Lopburi and Chao Praya rivers by Prince U-Thong, :Prince Golden Cradle", in response to the ravages of smallpox on his city of Lopburi which, throughout the growth of Lanna, Prayao and Sukhothai had maintained its independence. U-Thong assumed the title of King Ramathibodi I and united the states of the lower Chao Praya valley about him. Ramathibodi chose the best from the Lopburi elite and defined the style of government for Ayutthaya adopting the elaborate rituals from the Angkor Khorm. Unlike the openness displayed by the kings of Sukhothai, however, he remained aloof from the common people who had to be silent in his presence and were forbidden to even look at him when he passed by.

Ayutthaya was best placed in the region to serve as a port of international status and grew in importance throughout the 14th century making the most out of being en-route of the increasing trade between China and India. With revenue to spare Ayutthaya spread its reaches and in 1438 the once mighty Sukhothai succumbed and became a province of the kingdom. They did not have the same success with Lanna where over 100 years of conflict proved inconclusive. As a further demonstration of its power Ayutthaya conquered Angkor taking large numbers of prisoners and purloining the Khorm royal regalia. As a result of this attack the royal palace at Angkor was abandoned forever and the royal family moved to a new capital at Phnom Penh. Faced with the same problems that had confronted and destroyed earlier kingdoms, that of success producing a large and unwieldy kingdom, King Borom Trilokanart (1448-1488) of Ayutthaya made reforms. Amongst other things he introduced the complex Law of Civil Hierarchy by which everyone at every level of society knew their exact standing in the social hierarchy.

In 1511 the Portugese became the first western power to open trade with Ayutthaya. King Ramathibodi II (1491-1529) undertook an enormous project in public works with the huge wealth that the kingdom had amassed and by 1540 the Kingdom of Ayutthaya ruled the majority of the territory that constitutes modern day Thailand.

Like most successful kingdoms of this region before, however, their good fortune was not to continue. By the mid 16th century bad relations with Burma had caused King Maha Jakkrapaat (1548-1568) to strengthen his army and construct protective walls around the city as a defensive measure against a likely invasion. The Burmese, with a army said to be approaching 1.5 million men, laid siege to the city in 1568 and in August 1569 the city finally fell. As the Tais had done at Angkor the Burmese did her, taking thousands of Tais prisoner and looting the city. The Burmese installed a vassal king to ensure order and that was how things were to remain for 20 years. In 1593 King Naresuan (1590-1605) raised a large army, defeated the Burmese personally killing the Burmese Crown Prince, and retook control of Ayutthaya.

Naresuan has a conflicting press who on one side extol his military virtues whilst on the other are repulsed by his actions. It is said that whilst he ruled he was responsible for the deaths of 80000 with a favourite torture being to cut off pieces of a persons flesh and feed them to the individual whilst the king watched.

King Naresuan advocated the extension of international trade from Ayuthaya and in 1598 enjoined a treaty with Spain. This trend continued after Naresuan and Holland, 1608, and England, 1612, quickly following in setting up trade relations with the kingdom. At one time 40 different nationalities were resident in Ayutthaya, mostly living in their own ghettos. Foreign architects, Japanese Samurai for a royal guard and even foreign prime ministers - to distance them from internecine court intrigue - could be found here. King Narai (1656-1688) entered into relations with Louis XIV of France but Louis harboured alternative motives to convert the Tai to Christianity. After this experience, and the death of Narai, westerners were no longer trusted and contact was curtailed.

Built around a network of canals Ayutthaya became an enormous city and as early as 1685 was estimated to have had a population of 1 million people.

The first half of the 18th century saw Ayutthaya prospering and Thai Buddhism had attained such status in the kingdom that in 1751 they were asked to assist Sri Lanka, the original source of Thai Buddhism, in strengthening the religion in that country. The period of King Borom Gote's reign (1732-1758) is widely regarded as the peak of the city's attainments. Boromkot literally meant 'the King in the urn [waiting for cremation]' and as things turned out he was the last Thai monarch to be honoured in this manner. Bormokot's sons were never to be the equal of their father and troubles began to set in.

The Burmese were never far from the minds of Ayutthaya and in 1760 Alaunghpaya of Burma led another assault on the city. The attack was unsuccessful with Alaunghpaya himself dying in the attempt, but in 1766 the Burmese were back again and in 1767 the city fell for the last time. It was said that Ayutthaya was razed “in such a savage manner that it is hard to imagine that they shared the same religion with the Siamese”. Once again tens of thousands of prisoners were taken and although King Suriyart Amarin (1758 - 1767) escaped by boat he died only days later. Ayutthaya, like Angkor, was never rebuilt but by just the following year a new king, Taaksin, was crowned in a new capital city further south along the Chao Phraya, at Thonburi.(This is where we will continue next month.)

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