"The Golden age"

Sukhothai, meaning the ''Dawn of Happiness'' was the first free Thai city founded in 1238, by two Thai chieftains, Khun Bang Klang Tao and Khun Pa Muang , this ending Khmer rule from Angkor Wat. In the early 1300s, Sukhothai enjoyed suzerainty over the Chao Phya River basin, westward to the bay of Bengal and the entire Peninsula.

The State that is still regarded by Thai historical tradition as the "First Thai Kingdom" was Sukhothai. There were, in fact, contemporaneous Thai states such as Lanna and Phayao, both in present-day northern Thailand, but the Thai historical imagination has been most stirred by Sukhothai. Even today, the evocative ruins of Sukhothai conjure up images of material prosperity, artistic greatness, and serene Buddhist piety. Indeed, Sukhothai is remembered as much for its art and architecture as for its political achievements.

Sukhothai began life as a chiefdom under the sway of the Khmer empire: the oldest monuments in the city were built in the Khmer style or else show clear Khmer influence. During the first half of the 13th century the Thai rulers of Sukhothai threw off the Khmer yoke and set up an independent Thai kingdom. One of the victorious Thai chieftains became the first king of Sukhothai, with the name of Si Inthrathit [Sri Indraditya].

Sukhothai's power and influence expanded in all directions by conquest [the Khmer were driven southwards], by a farsighted network of marriage alliances with the ruling families of other Thai states, and by the use of a common religion, Theravada Buddhism, to cement relations with other states. Si Inthrathit's son and successor was King Ramkhamhaeng, undoubtedly the most famous and dynamic monarch ever to rule the Sukhothai kingdom.

Much of what we know about Sukhothai in the 13th century derives from King Ramkhamhaeng's stone inscription of 1292. The inscription is problematic, but it is considered to be a seminal source of Sukhothai history as well as a masterpiece of Thai literature. It eloquently extols the benevolence of King Ramkhamhaeng's rule, the power and prosperity of Sukhothai. The king was accessible to his people. For example, he had a bell hung in front of a palace gate so that any subject with a grievance could ring it and ask for justice: " King Ramkhamhaeng, the ruler of the kingdom, hears the call; he goes and questions the man, examines the case, and decides it justly for him. So the people of.....Sukhothai praise him. "

According to the inscription, the king did not levy road tolls or taxes on merchandise. His liberality was such that he did not tax his subjects' inheritance at all. Such a paternalistic and benevolent style of kingship has caused posterity to regard the Sukhothai kingdom's heyday as a " golden age " in Thai history.

The political decline of Sukhothai was not wholly owing to deficiencies in leadership. Rather it resulted from the emergence of strong Thai states further south, whose political and economic power began to challenge Sukhothai during the latter half of the 14th century. In 1378, the Ayutthaya King Borommaracha I subdued Sukhothai's frontier city of Chakangrao, and henceforth Sukhothai became a tributary state of Ayutthaya.

In 1978 the Thai government designated Sukothai a Historical Park. With large amounts of financial and technical assistance from Thailand's Fine Arts Department and UNESCO, 200 archeological sites were inventoried; monuments were repaired and made accessible; and landscaping, according to the descriptions in Inscription I on the stone of King Ramkhamhaeng, commenced. after 10 years of arduous work, in honor of the present King, Rama IX's, sixtyest birthday, The Park was officially opened. Two thousand, five hundred and thirty-one monks were invited to attend the opening ceremonies, and 60 new monks were ordained.

Sukhothai style Buddha images are distinctive for their elegance and stylized beauty, and Sukhothai's artists introduced the graceful form of the "walking Buddha" into Buddhist sculpture.