Historical Ties India and Thailand

  • By Wanna Sudhit
  • September 2003


Several Thai ceremonies have been adopted from Indian tradition. These include ceremonies related to ordination, marriage, merit making and cremation. Though the Lord Buddha is the prime inspiration of Thailand, Brahma and other Hindu deities are widely worshipped among the Thais, due in part to the popularity of the Hindu ceremonial rites, which are used especially for royal ceremonies.

The Royal ceremonies traditionally performed in the Ayutthaya period were spread over 12 months. Some obsolete ceremonies have been abolished though others are still maintained with vigor. Some of the major royal ceremonies are:

(1) The Triyampawai Ceremony or the Giant Swing Ceremony. Originally a Brahmin ceremony performed to pay homage to the God Shiva, it was traditionally held front of War Suthat, while the King and Queen watched the ceremony from a gold silk pavilion. Though the ceremony was abolished during the reign of King Rama VII due to a severe economic fall, Brahman priests are still allocated money to make offerings to God Shiva.

(2) The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which is officiated by H.M. the king at Sanam Luang in May every year with pomp. Originally a Brahmanic rite, it was adopted to mark the beginning of the farming season as also to bless all farmers with fertility for the year.

(3) The Royal Ceremony for preparing Celestial Rice or Khao thip which was said to be originally prepared by celestial beings in honor of God Indra. A portion of the celestial rice is offered to monks while the remainder was divided in varying quantities among the royal family, courtiers and household members. The making of the ambrosial dish has come to a natural end since custom demanded that virgins alone should perform the preparation and stirring of celestial rice.

(4) The Kathin Ceremony or the period during which Buddhist monks receive new robes, which generally falls in the months of October- November.

(5) Loy Krathong – the Festival of Lights which is celebrated on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, when the rainy season has ended and the rivers and streams are filled with water. The floating of lanterns, which began in the Sukhothai period, continued throughout the different stages of Thai history. Prior to setting their krathong afloat, people place in it a lighted candle, incense sticks, flowers, a coin and some food offerings. They make a silent prayer of thanks for the water received, a request for forgiveness for wrongs done, and a wish for the fulfillment of a secret dream. The present day understanding is that the festival is celebrated as an act of worship to Chao Mae Kangka-the Goddess of the Waters for providing the water much needed throughout the year, and as a way of asking forgiveness if they have polluted it or used it carelessly.

(6) Songkran Festival: Songkran day marks Thai New Year day. “Songkran” signifies the sun’s move into the first house of the zodiac. On the eve of Songkran Day, important Buddha images are assembled in the Dusidabhirom pavilion where a chapter of monks chant special passages to bestow blessings upon the palace and its dwellers. The festival is normally attended by H.M the King, who graciously present food and other offerings to monks and sprinkles fragrant water on the Buddha images.

For the public, Songkran is a time for rejoicing and merit making. The day begins with the early morning food-offerings to monks. People may go to the temple to make merit, sprinkle fragrant water over Buddha images and ask for blessings from the monks. Some also build sand pagodas or sand mounds in the grounds of the temple as a form of traditional merit making so that the temple authority may make use of the offered sand in maintenance work. Songkran is also a time for people to pay respect to elderly members of their family and those of superior rank by pouring fragrant water into their hands. In return they receive their blessings.

(7) Visakha Puja Day which is considered as the greatest Buddhist holy day as it commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha. On the eve of Visakha Puja Day, food is offered to monks who chant their blessings in the Grand Palace and temples throughout the country. Royal urns containing the relics of past kings and queens are blessed by monks of the same number as the urns. Four lanterns and a flag are given as royal offering to each royal temple, and twenty royally sponsored sermons are given during the three-day observation. Nowadays, Buddhists all over the country participate in ceremonies marking Visakha Puja Day in order to renew their faith and devotion to Buddhist principles.

Other famous ceremonial holy days include Magha Puja day, in February and Asalha Puja day in July which commemorates the day on which Lord Buddha delivered the First Sermon to his five disciples, namely, Konthanya, Vassapa, Bhattiya, Mahanama and Assashi at Esipatanamaruekathayawan forest and there explained his theory of the Four Noble Truths (Ariyasai).

Besides ceremonial expertise, Indians were also famous for their expertise in the field of astrology. Astrology still has a great impact on several important stages of Thai life. Thai people still seek advice from knowledgeable Buddhist monks or Brahman astrologers about the auspicious or inauspicious days for conducting or abstaining from ceremonies for moving house or getting married.

According to the Thai monk Venerable Buddhadsa Bhikku’s writing, ‘India’s Benevolence to Thailand’, the Thais also obtained the methods of making herbal medicines from the Indians. Some plants like Sarabhi of Guttiferae family, Kanika or hursinghar, phikun or mimusops and bunnak or the rose chestnut etc. were brought from India. He pointed out that Thai food too was influenced by India. He claimed that Thai people learned how to use spices in their food in various ways from Indians.

In short, Thailand has drawn great inspiration from India. theatre and arts, language and ceremonies or even food habits. This has bonded the two countries in a unique and intimate manner. Way back in 1871 H.M. King Chulalongkorn visited India. Then again during the reign of H.M. King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) a senior court official visited India to collect relics of the Lord Buddha that had been enshrined in the Wat Sa-ket Pagoda.

This friendship received a strong boost when India and Thailand established diplomatic relations on 30th July 1947. After the Cold war, favorable circumstances led to a significant improvement in the atmosphere of bilateral relations. This was reinforced by increasing economic and commercial links, exchange of high-level visits from both sides, beginning with the visit by India’s Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi in 1986 and the Thai Prime Minister Gen. Chatichai Choonbavan in 1989. H.R.H. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn visited India in April 1992 for 15 days. Former Prime Minister Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao’s visit to Thailand in April 1993 set the stage for a substantive consolidation of bilateral relations.

Bilateral cooperation grew as such high level visits continued. H.R.H. Princess Chulabhorn, the youngest daughter of H.M. the King of Thailand, visited India from 19th November to 1st December 1996 in connection with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Award Ceremony. H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, second daughter of H.M. the King of Thailand, visited Andaman and Nicobar Island from 21st 26th December 1996. The present Thai Prime Minister Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra had visited India in November 2001 and in the beginning of this year.

Currently too, India and Thailand share an excellent rapport and I hope this friendship steadily grows thicker in the future. Here we are today, helping to make this bond stronger by sharing the riches of knowledge regarding each other’s customs and traditions. Participating in the festivities of Diwali reminds me so much of our own Thai festival – Loy Krathong. The lights of Diwali and Loy Krathong signify for me the promise of a new India and Thailand in a new world scenario. If one lighted candle can dispel the darkness, then two candles together can shed enough light to lead the way to prosperity. It is my fervent hope that through concerted efforts and mutual help and cooperation, India and Thailand will be able to surmount all obstacles and scale great heights in the future.

Thank you.

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