The Thai Universe In The Founding Of Chiang Mai

by bria4123 on November 3, 2012


Chiang Mai’s history goes back to the 13th century–the same time when Italian artists were using ancient Roman forms to organize the world as their cities were growing.

King Mangrai established it in 1296 and founded Wat Chiang Man (above) in the next year, near his palace (the gilded roofed stupa is a 19th century replica of the original 15th century structure). Stories about the founding of Chiang Mai show that northern Thailand was integrated with different ideas than what the West has emphasized.

Thais liberated themselves from the Khmers in the 13th century, and they began to establish their own states. Mangrai was born in 1239.

He inherited his father’s throne at the age of 20, and within 3 years, expanded his state to the south and west. He first moved his court to Chiang Rai, and then to Chiang Mai.

Mangrai entered a triple pact with northern Thailand’s 2 other kings, and Thais see this as a key event in their history. After Mangrai’s aggressive expansion, the region’s leaders vowed to cooperate and follow Buddhist principles. This was politically smart because the Mongols were rampaging through Asia and Thailand’s kings were linking up to defend their newly-won land. But this pact also institutionalized the sharing of artists, monks, rituals and images between Chiang Mai and the other kingdoms, Sukhothai and Phayao.

Mangrai also established a system of laws that has been known for its humanity.

But Chiang Mai’s founding is also associated with a racier tale. Sukhothai’s king, Ramkhamhaeng, seduced the Phayao king’s wife. Phayao’s ruler, Ngam Muang, had the right to demand his execution, but Mangrai interceded and gave 990,000 cowry shells to Phayao’s ruler as an indemnity.

So Chiang Mai’s court stressed a northern Thai blend of values to order the kingdom:

1. Tolerance and cooperation between political centers.

2. Fusing art and ideas from many places.

3. Humanity.

4. The allowance of fun.

This openness is different from the ideas that Europe was organizing itself with at the same time. But it’s very Thai–it’s the essence of Thai temples. The ideas that each culture holds as its most basic patterns are infinitely rich.


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{ 1 comment }

Nicole February 3, 2015 at 12:46 am

I am absolutly in love with Chiang Mai. It is eailsy my favorite city in the world! To tell you the truth, I will probably end up setteling down there:)There is just sooo much to do, and it still has a lot of cultural charm. You will find that the best trekking in Thailand is found around Chiang Mai. And you can forget about the Tiger Temple just outside of Bangkok, the Tiger Kingdom (just outside the city) is million times better!

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