Current studies in the epigraphy of Thailand and Laos
Thu 11:00-12:30 Room 3.03
- Gregory Kourilsky École française d'Extrême-Orient
- François Lagirarde École française d'Extrême-Orient
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Epigraphic and archaeological research in the Fang river basin (Northern Thailand)
Gregory Kourilsky École française d'Extrême-Orient
This presentation reports on the preliminary phase of a research project on the epigraphic sources and archaeological remains recently uncovered in the Fang River basin (Chiang Mai province). The aim of this project is to document and publish the inscriptions relating to this region, as well as to contribute to the history of the spread of Buddhism, in the 15th–16th centuries, in this part of the ancient kingdom of Lanna, situated at the edge of Burma.
The earliest historiographical writings of Lanna suggest that the principality of Fang (Kusananagara in the Pali language) occupied a significant place in this kingdom, and even served on certain occasions as a royal residence. The presence of a rich epigraphic corpus as well as signficant centuries-old religious sites confirm this importance.
In addition to the 35 inscriptions referenced in the Fang region, the project focuses on the site of the Dong Som Suk monastery (Mae Ai district), where archaeological excavations are currently being conducted by archaeologists at Chiang Mai University (CMU).
Inscriptions of Ayutthaya: Political history during the reign of Somdet Chao Sam Phraya (r. 1424-1448)
Thissana Weerakietsoontorn Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
This research aims to study twelve inscriptions found at Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Siam, as the primary sources for the reign of Somdet Chao Sam Phraya or King Borom Rachathirat II. These inscriptions provide in several aspects important information on the political situation in Ayutthaya during this period. First, they are among the rare documents that indicate the full title of the king, namely Somdet Phra Borom Rachathibodi Si Maha Chakkraphaddirat. On the other hand, other sources, such as the royal chronicles, invariably mention royal title as Somdet Phra Borom Rachathirat or Somdet Chao Sam Phraya, which was his title before coronation.
Secondly, these sources give a glimpse into the administrative system of the kingdom before the reforms of King Trailok (1431–1488). Epigraphical and other contemporary records – such as Ming Shilu (The Veritable Records of Ming Dynasty) – attest that the title khun referred to the highest rank within the Siamese nobility. After the late fifteenth century, this rank was surpassed by other ones – viz. phra and phraya –, and therefore came to indicate a lower rank of the minor nobility.
Lastly, these inscriptions reveal that the reign of King Borom Rachathirat II was a turning point in the history of Ayutthaya. After the unsuccessful attempts of his predecessor King Borom Rachathirat I (1370–1388), King Intharacha (1408–1424) was able to consolidate his authority over Sukhothai. His successor King Borom Rachathirat II took a further step towards this expansionist policy by sending his armies to Tavoy and Angkor. The collapse of the “sacred capital” of Angkor in 1431 led the Khmer elites to establish a new political centre in the region of Phnom Penh. With regard to Sukhothai, however, the king softened his stranglehold on this principality because of his close relations with the relatives of the Sukhothai royal line at Phitsanulok. This policy initiated a long-term rivalry between Ayutthaya and Lanna in the second half of the fifteenth century.
Pali inscriptions from Sukhothai
Javier Schnake Independent researcher
The religious history of the Sukhothai kingdom (1238–1438) is mainly known through the epigraphy. Inscriptions that have come down to us – written in Thai or Pali – record the events that have shaped the religious landscape that gradually spread in the kingdom, namely the Buddhist doctrine as defined in the Pali canon. These sources highlight the fact political power promoted the religious institution, as well as the ideology it rests upon.
In this context, the epigraphic sources written – fully or partly – in Pali seem to be an essential vector in the emergence of “Theravada” Buddhism in Sukhothai. Thai ruling elite and clergy evidently used the Pali idiom – the sacred language of the Scriptures – as a means to reinforce their legitimacy. In this regard, two aspects are worth of consideration: the first is the specific functions of the Pali language in the inscriptions, as well as its multiple dimensions – e.g. public, symbolic, apotropaic, etc. Second, the message Pali inscriptions aim to convey, both in term of literal meaning and ideological imaginaire, through references to Buddhist conceptions and canonical – sometimes extra-canonical – literature.
The stele inscriptions of the ‘greater’ Lan Xang kingdom (16 –17 centuries)
Michel Lorrillard École française d'Extrême-Orient
Lao epigraphic sources have been little studied until now. However, extensive field surveys carried out in recent years in the different provinces of Laos and in those of northeastern Thailand have made it possible to obtain a relatively precise representation of this corpus, as much for the materials used (stone, metal, wood) as for its numerical importance, its geographical distribution, its periodization, and the nature of the contents. For historical research, the most valuable set of texts is that of inscriptions on steles that were produced during the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century in the regions along the Mekong River, particularly in the areas directly controlled by Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the two capitals of the great Lan Xang kingdom. The present contribution aims to highlight the specific features of these texts, despite the fact they obviously derive from models of neighbouring northern Tai kingdoms.
This panel is constituted of four scholars from France and Thailand. They examine different aspects of the Thai “epigraphic habit” – as Latinist Ramsay MacMullen puts it – relative to specific political areas, namely Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Lan Na and Lan Xang.
The first paper studies the inscriptions of Sukhothai written in Pali language, focusing on two aspects. On the one hand, it evaluates the function that this language occupies in the inscriptions – e.g. public, symbolic, apotropaic, etc. – and in their contents, in order to draw out the elements that participate in the installation and dissemination of the Pali “ideology”, with all that it conveys in terms of references to the canonical corpus. Pali epigraphy was an essential vector in the installation of “Theravada” Buddhism in the kingdom, as a tool embodying a form of religious legitimacy, perfectly manipulated by the Thai religious and royal powers.
The second paper aims to address a little-documented period of the history of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, namely the reign of Somdet Chao Sam Phraya (r. 1424–1448). It will scrutinize the epigraphic corpus of this period, which was overlooked by Western scholars. At the same time, the issue of the scarcity of inscriptions found in the kingdom of Ayutthaya will be raised. The epigraphy of Ayutthaya, in the first centuries, is extremely limited and seems to ignore the model of Sukhothai inherited from the Khmer: the warrior narratives, the long eulogies of the rulers, the lists of foundations, the territorial claims, are all absent. The question arises, therefore, what remains of the Siamese contribution to epigraphy, and also what are the connections with Lanna and Sukhothai inscriptions in terms of historiography and literacy.
The third and fourth papers address ongoing projects dedicated to the epigraphic corpus of the kingodms of Lan Na (present-day in Northern Thailand) and Lan Xang (preesnt-day in Laos) respectively. The former reports a research project on the epigraphic corpus and archaeological remains recently unearthed in the Fang river basin (Chiang Mai province), in cooperation with two researchers at the Chiang Mai University (Thailand). This project aims to document and publish the epigraphic corpus of this region, as well as to contribute to the history of the spread of Buddhism (in the 15th –16th centuries) in this part of the ancient kingdom of Lan Na, on the fringes of Burma. The latter concerns the inscriptions written on stone of the Lao cultural area. It aims to take stock of the first corpus to be edited, i.e. the stele inscriptions of the “greater” Lan Xang kingdom (16th –17th c.), on a territory which corresponded to present-day Laos and the northeastern region of Thailand. It attempts to highlight what characterizes these inscriptions – especially with regard to that of neighboring realms –, and to explain the choices that have been made for their edition on paper and for online database.