Dvaravati map
Dvaravati map

The Mon kingdom of Dvaravati (also called Siam) flourished in what is now Thailand from the sixth century c.e. to around the 11th century. The kingdom covered the political area of Nakhon Pathom (west of present-day Bangkok), U-Thong, and Khu Bua.

Dvaravati extended outward from the lower Chao Phraya River valley, to the westward Tenasserim Yoma, and then southward to the Isthmus of Kra. The kingdom also consisted of towns immediately outside this perimeter that paid tribute to the kingdom, while not necessarily considering themselves under its direct rule.

Dvaravati did not yield strong political influence on other established Mon kingdoms or states such as Myanmar or the Mon in northern Thailand. This was because of its isolated geographical location (surrounded by mountainous regions). Dvaravati is considered to be the epicenter of the spread of Indian culture in the region.

The Dvaravati kingdom’s capital was Nakhon Pathom, a city archaeologists and historians believe to have been established around 3 b.c.e. Around 607 Chinese pilgrims wrote of a kingdom called To-lo-poti, which practiced Buddhism. It is widely believed that they wrote of Dvaravati.

While the name Dvaravati is of Sanskrit origins, the kingdom was only referred to as such by the Western world in 1964 when anthropologists and archaeologists found coins in the area inscribed with the words sridvaravati. The presence of coins indicates trade, and the Dvaravati kingdom was famed for its trading culture with India, and its sophisticated economic infrastructure.

The kingdom of Dvaravati actively practiced Buddhism, albeit with a mixture of indigenous Mon and Indic culture. Buddhist pilgrims belonging to Emperor Ashoka disseminated it within Southeast Asia. The kingdom was also the center of Buddhist devotion in Southeast Asia at that time.

Numerous Buddhist artifacts have been found in Dvaravati and range in style and infl uence by the trends found within the Gupta empire (Hindu elements), Theravada, and Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Various objects have been found in Nakhon Pathom that point toward ritual offerings as part of the belief structure.

The period of Dvaravati rule was greatly influenced by Vedic and Indic principles within a Buddhist framework. It maintained strong cultural and religious ties to India, reflected through the use of architecture, art, and language. Pali and Sanskrit were spoken, as was the indigenous Mon language.

Art flourished, as did intellectual pursuits such as literature and poetry. Dvaravati was a highly organized and political society and modeled itself upon the Gupta style of organization where minor princes ruled outer provinces and the king directly presided over his locality.

Dvaravati employed the use of councils and administrative regions to govern the wide area. Moats uncovered by archaeological research point toward a sophisticated system of agriculture and as such agricultural development allowed the kingdom to be relatively self-sufficient. Dvaravati was able to sustain its population for centuries.

The kingdom of Dvaravati predated the Khmers by at least 100 years; however it was eventually eclipsed and absorbed into Khmer and Thai religion and culture. Dvaravati had a tumultuous history from the 10th century onward when it was first conquered by the Burmese, and then captured by the Khmer in the 11th century, who dominated the area right up to the 13th century when it was taken over by the Thai kingdom.