A brief history of the Dvaravati, the first civilization of ancient Thailand who built massive brick ruins and introduced Buddhism to the region.

During your travels throughout the remnants of ancient Thailand, there are some terms you’ll see often —Khmer Empire, Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Lanna — and these are all massively influential cultures throughout the country’s history. However, a culture long pre-dating them laid the groundwork for the cultural amalgam that would become modern Thailand’s history: the Dvaravati civilization.

Who are the Dvaravati?

The Dvaravati Culture, sometimes referred to as the Mon Kingdoms, were a collection of early city-states originating in the Central Plains of Thailand and then expanding into the northeast. They are the first civilization of ancient Thailand, predating the Thai and Khmer Empires by centuries, building walled cities, spectacular monuments, and crafting unprecedented Buddhist artworks throughout the regions that would become Thailand and Laos. 

Given the protohistoric and widespread nature of the Dvaravati civilization (and the subsequent generations of Khmer, Thai, and Lao civilizations that emerged after them) very little evidence of the Dvaravati existed. For a long period, they were considered semi-legendary. However, more recent research has begun piecing together the ancient record of this previously lost civilization, as just how the Dvaravati laid the foundations of modern Thailand.

Origins of the Dvaravati

The Dvaravati culture traces its origins to the migrations of Mon settlers from central Burma (Myanmar). The Mon ethnic group is believed to have originally migrated into the Irrawaddy River Valley from southern China around 3000 BCE, and they were one of the first groups to begin establishing state-level societies in Burma, along with the Pyu. Chief among these Mon cities was Thaton.

During this era, the Mon had close relationships with ancient India and Sri Lanka and were among the first to receive Buddhist missionaries from Sri Lanka, resulting in the Theravada sect of Buddhism becoming deeply ingrained in their culture. This solidified the Mon culture and helped in establishing their own writing system based on the Pallava script. 

Around the 7th Century CE, the Bamar (Burmese) people began migrating from southern China, overtaking the Pyu kingdoms to the north, and eventually the Mon Kingdoms in the south. Although sparse, evidence suggests that this might be one of the contributing factors to a migration of Mon eastward across the lower passes of the southern Thanon Thongchai Range and becoming the founding members of the Dvaravati culture.

Name Origins

The name Dvaravati (Ta-wa-ra-wad-dee) originates from the Sanskrit word dvāravatī, meaning “which has gates”, “being a gateway to the port”, or “she of many gates”. The key term in all translations being the Sanskrit work “Dwar”, which means door or gate. The use of the name for this culture stems from an inscription found at U Thong, which referred to “the King of Sri Dvaravati” as well as several coins inscribed with the same phrase.

This term has been hypothesized to refer to the gates involved in the Dvaravati culture’s city planning, or potentially, its ports for shipping — from which the culture became quite renowned and wealthy.

The culture also appears mentioned in Chinese records from the Tang Dynasty. In the journals of the Chinese monks who traveled through Southeast Asia, they write of a state or kingdom they call “To-lo-po-ti” or “Tu-ho-po-ti”. This locale was located southeast of the Pyu city of Sri Ksetra in Myanmar and west of ancient Cambodia (Isanapura). This reference to “To-lo-po-ti” was interpreted by Samuel Beal as Dvaravati.

Culture and Beliefs of the Dvaravati

As Indianized culture made its way eastward overland, changes took hold more slowly than they did along the coastal trade routes. Cultures like the Rakhine, Pyu, and Mons were established for several centuries in modern-day Myanmar before the Mon descendants began migrating to Central Thailand. 

However, this arrival signified a blossoming of new culture, as demonstrated by how quickly local populations embraced and spread the Dvaravati culture over the regions of Central and Northeastern Thailand in 300 years. This same feat would take the contemporary Khmers, who adopted their Indianized culture from maritime trade routes, nearly a millennium to accomplish.

Current State of the Dvaravati

The Phra Pathom Chedi is among the most famous Buddhist monuments in Thailand.
The Phra Pathom Chedi is among the most famous Buddhist monuments in Thailand.

The Dvaravati culture itself became extinct long ago as it was conquered, overrun, and integrated into the successive Khmer and Thai cultures that ruled the region. However, the Mon people that made up the majority of the Dvaravati kingdoms still exist in Thailand to this day, both in ethnically Mon communities, and as part of the genetic makeup of the general Thai populace. Mon ethnic communities can be found dotted around Thailand, such as Bangkok’s Ko Kret or Sangklaburi in Kanchanaburi province.

There is also an isolated ethnic group named Nyah Kur that is believed to be the direct descendants of the Dvaravati Mons, retaining their language and writing system. Today, the Nyah Kur are spread in small pockets of western Isaan.

Migration from Burma

There is no written record of the Mon migration from Burma into Indochina, but the first evidence for the Mon people appears near U Thong. The establishment of the Dvaravati culture coincided with the arrival of the Bamar people into modern Myanmar. It is likely the two events are related, though this has not been definitively established.

Moated Cities

One of the defining characteristics of Mon settlements is the moated cities they left throughout the landscape. Dvaravati cities were often surrounded by rounded or irregular moats, and can often be easily identified from above via aerial or satellelite maps. These cities dot the landscape throughout Thailand’s Central Plans and the northeastern Isaan region.

Researchers have found city walls at some of the settlements, but not all. More often, the moats are accompanied by ramparts. These moats and ramparts were not uniform, but were often several meters deep and high.

Researchers have found that these moats tended to be irregular at first, but became standardized as city planning elements became more prevalent, likely from the further extension of the Indianized culture that the Dvaravati proliferated. 

The earliest Dvaravati moats were quite irregular, but seem to standardize as time went on, with most cities using a rounded moat. Some cities, such as Nakhon Pathom, Muang Sema, and Si Thep had later extensions to their city moats, greatly expanding their area.

Introduction of Buddhism

Sema stone depicting a scene from the Kulawaka Jataka. Found at Muang Fa Daet Song Yang and on display at the Khon Kaen National Museum.
Sema stone depicting a scene from the Kulawaka Jataka. Found at Muang Fa Daet Song Yang and on display at the Khon Kaen National Museum.

Perhaps the single greatest legacy of the Dvaravati culture is the Indianization of the area that is now Thailand. While cultures in the Mekong delta and along coastal Sino-Indian trade routes had been influenced by these cultural juggernauts for some time, the mainland interior of Thailand and Laos, and to some extent, even northern Cambodia, remained entrenched in their traditional ways of life long into the 1st Millennium CE. 

This changed with the arrival of the Dvaravati, who were an Indianized culture who practiced Theravada Buddhism. While their initial settlement of U Thong was a well-established Buddhist center, it was not until after settling and establishing themselves at Nakhon Pathom (“first city”) that Dvaravati culture began expanding outward. This eventually brought them into contact with the Khmer, and the resulting combination of culture would become heavily influential in forming the basis for modern-day Thai culture.

Dvaravati Art – Introducing Sophisticated Artwork to Southeast Asia

Carved Dvaravati stone images on display at the U Thong National Museum.
Carved Dvaravati stone images on display at the U Thong National Museum.

Artworks created by the Dvaravati people were heavily rooted in their Theravada Buddhist beliefs, and reflected styles from ancient India, particularly the Gupta and Amaravati art styles. Dvaravati art was commonly ceramic or carved from stone, but they were also among the first to utilize metalworking into the artwork of ancient Thailand.

Common motifs found in Dvaravati art include: 

  • The Dharmachakra (Wheel of Law) – considered a symbol of the Buddha’s teachings, Dvaravati Dharmachakras were often suspended atop a stone column or pedestal.
  • Crouching Deer – a symbol of Siddhartha Gautama’s first sermon at the deer park at Sarnath, India.
  • Buddha images – A large variety of sitting and standing Buddha figures were created from ceramics and metal

Dvaravati Architecture – Thailand’s Forgotten Age of Pyramids

The Phra Prathon Chedi is the largest ruin in Nakhon Pathom.
The Phra Prathon Chedi is the largest ruin in Nakhon Pathom.

Like the majority of ancient structures around the world, much of the ancient Dvaravati architecture has not lasted into the modern day. Residential buildings and the majority of other structures were made of wood and other perishable materials, which would degrade and rot away not long after maintenance ceased or the settlement was abandoned.

However, in addition to residential buildings, Dvaravati public buildings, such as their temples, are some of the first examples of monumental architecture in ancient Thailand, the very first in Central Thailand. Dvaravati used brick architecture to construct their important religious sites, from the small stupas that surrounded U Thong to the massive anf monumental pyramids found at Nakhon Pathom, Khu Bua, and other Dvaravati cities.

Unlike the later Thai stupas that would be bell-shaped, and reflect Sri Lankan influence, the Dvaravati stupas usually had a squared base and took on a more pyramidal shape. Some of their largest monuments, such as Khao Klong Nai (Si Thep), Phra Prathon Chedi (Nakhon Pathom), and Wat Suwanna Khiri (Khu Bua) have more in common with the large paya-style stupas of Bagan and Mrauk U. Many of these would be almost unrecognizable as Buddhist temples by modern Thai standards, were they not marked as such or built over by future construction.

Sema Stones

Sema stones surronding Monument No. 12 at U Thong.
Sema stones surronding Monument No. 12 at U Thong.

Sema (“boundary”) stones are found throughout Theravada Buddhism, however, very few cultures implemented them to the same degree as the Dvaravati. The purpose of sema stones was to mark the boundaries of sacred sites. Sema stones may take a variety of forms. Sometimes sema stones appeared as only roughly cut stones, while others were finely cut and included detailed relief carvings and inscribed writing. In many instances, they are paired stones back-to-back, one marking the outer profane land, and the inner marking the sacred space.

There are some modern temples, such as Wat Pho Chai Semaram in Kalasin, which have recovered so many sema stones that they have no space to put them other than displaying them in the grounds of the temple. There are modern examples of sema stones surrounding the important buildings of Thai temples, but they are no longer as common as they seem to have been during the Dvaravati period.

Sema stones on display at Wat Pho Chai Semaram in Kalasin Province.
Sema stones on display at Wat Pho Chai Semaram in Kalasin Province.

History of the Dvaravati

The Mon kingdoms that made up the Dvarvati culture endured for nearly 700 years, with the prime Dvaravati Period recognized between 600-1000 CE. It’s unknown whether they were entirely independent cities that shared a similar culture, ruled by a single capital, or some political situation between.

Ancient Geography of Thailand

During the era the Mon-Dvaravati were settling Thailand, it’s important to note that the central region of Thailand had a much different geography than the present day. Today, the Bangkok Metropolitan Region is the most highly populated region of the country, containing ~15 million people, about 20% of the country’s population.

These cities sprung up surrounding the region’s low-lying and fertile river deltas. However, 1500 years ago, these deltas where cities such as Bangkok, and even Thailand’s historic capital Ayutthaya stand, did not exist. Instead, the coastline went much further inland, placing cities such as Lopburi, Ratchaburi, and Saraburi on or near the coast.

It is odd to consider today, but most of these ancient cities that are sevral hours away from Bangkok now were once on the ancient Thai coastline.

Pre-Mon Ruins in Thailand

Early chiefdoms and agricultural settlements appeared in Thailand as early as 2000 BCE, including most famously at sites like Ban Chiang (Udon Thani province), which evidence points to bringing Southeast Asian cultures entering the Bronze Age many centuries earlier than previously thought. These agricultural settlements persisted throughout many centuries, with those further inland significantly more isolated than those along the coastal trade routes.

Meanwhile, along the coast, contact and trade between China and India had existed since before the 1st Century CE, and it is in the next 200 years that evidence of intermediary contact between India and Southeast Asia begins to appear particularly in the Indianized states that began to emerge along the Strait of Malacca and the Mekong Delta. This is reflected in social structures, and eventually in the architecture and mobilization of public construction, such as moats, city walls, and eventually, temples.

Further inland, there exists some evidence of early expansions (4th-6th Century CE) of Indianized culture into western Thailand, mostly Brahmanic (Hindu) with some traces of Buddhism. There is also evidence that some of the settlements that would later come to embody Dvaravati culture existed for some time prior to the accepted start date of the Dvaravati Period. 

U-Thong and the Legend of Suvarnabhumi

Model of Dvaravati artisans creating the Dharmacakra and pedestal.
Model of Dvaravati artisans creating the Dharmacakra and pedestal — from the U Thong National Museum.

The earliest clear evidence for Mon settlement, and the beginning of Dvaravati culture— exists at U Thong, a town in modern Suphanburi province. Evidence of continuous settlement at U Thong exists from the prehistoric period, about 2000 years ago. 

Despite being inhabited for many centuries, beginning in approximately 600 CE, numerous temples, artworks, and other artifacts begin to appear in the archaeological record. The relics uncovered here mark the beginnings of the Dvaravati Period and began to define the style that would expand into Nakhon Pathom and then the greater regions of Thailand.

U Thong is considered a contender for being the semi-legendary Suwannabhum (or Svarnabhumi) Kingdom, the ancient “Golden Land” mentioned in Indian texts as a state or kingdom where foreign trade and commerce prospered. This kingdom was located somewhere along the eastern trade routes and has been placed in, and claimed by, the likes of Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, among others.

Settling at Nakhon Pathom

Map of the ancient moated city of Nakhon Pathom.
Map of the ancient moated city of Nakhon Pathom.

The Dvaravati settlement at modern Nakhon Pathom, known as Nakhon Chai Sri, maintains the distinction of being the largest moated Dvaravati settlement throughout their almost 700-year-long history. It appears to have remained the pre-eminent cultural center of the Dvaravati, undergoing moat expansion, hosting some of the largest monuments within the Dvaravati domain and still retaining many of these ancient monuments, including the famous Phra Pathom Chedi. This stupa competes for the claim of being the largest in the world which bears the mark of Thai architecture today, but began its life as a smaller, pyramidal Dvaravati stupa.

The late Dvaravati-era history of Nakhon Pathom is not well-documented (like most of the Dvaravati Period), however, there appears to be some consolidation of power in Nakhon Pathom by the end of the 1st Millennium CE. For much of its existence, Nakhon Pathom was one of the larger settlements with its size approximately equal to other potential regional capitals. However, its final moat expansion seems to have doubled the city’s size, placing it well above those other competitors. 

However, it would seem that the influence of Nakhon Pathom faded as the Khmer Period began. No significant traces appear at Nakhon Pathom of the later Khmer intrusion into the region that many of its sister cities would demonstrate, such as Khu Bua (Ratchaburi) and Lavo (Lopburi).

Lavo Kingdom

Main article: Ancient Lopburi

While the Dvaravti settlement at Nakhon Pathom seems to have been the catalyst from which the culture spread throughout the entirety of Thailand, the small moated city of Lavo played an increasingly significant role in the region’s history as the Dvaravti began to be absorbed by the encroaching Khmer Empire. There is still much debate about the social connections and power structure of the varying Dvaravati cities and regions, however, ancient Lavo has been suggested as both a successor to Nakhon Pathom, or possibly a powerful satellite city from which the eastern side of the Bay of Bangkok was ruled.

Lavo also appears referenced in the legends in distant parts of ancient Thailand, namely the founding legends of Hariphunchai (modern-day Lamphun). Here, the legends state that a Lawa hermit named Wasuthep founded Hariphunchai, and invited the princess of Lavo to rule the new kingdom. Along with her, she brought artisans and religious teachers to lay the foundation of civilization — in effect expanding Dvaravati culture to the northern regions of Thailand c. 750 CE.

The earliest Khmer Hindu monument located in Lopburi is Prang Khaek, which is dated to the 9th Century CE. Meanwhile, the sole remaining Dvaravati structure (Wat Nakhon Kosa) is tentatively dated to the 10th-11th Century CE, although it has been rebuilt and added to over several eras, including being a Brahman shrine at one point. However, the rest of the ancient Lopburi’s Dvaravati past has been lost to the subsequent construction throughout the Khmer, Ayutthaya, and modern Thai periods.

Fall to the Khmer Empire

Around the same time as the Mon began establishing their kingdoms throughout the domain that would become Thailand, an ethnically related group, the Khmer, were beginning to establish their own state-level polities throughout the Mekong Delta and its banks further north. These kingdoms were known as Funan and its successor, Chenla.

While it remains unclear if the Dvaravati Mon Kingdoms ever operated as a single unified state, there is clear evidence that Khmer did. After the dissolution of Chenla into separate rival polities, they were once again united under a single strong ruler, the first Khmer God-King Jayavarman II. Under his rule, the Khmer Empire was born.

Prior to Jayavarman II, The Khmers had been in Northeastern Thailand, and to some extent, Central Thailand for a few centuries. Ruins such as Muang Teui and Prasat Phum Pon, which long predate Jayavarman II, still stand as a testament to their presence.

However, under the banner of the Khmer Empire, the Khmer people began expanding their influence like never before. They overtook Dvaravati cities in Isaan such as Si Thep and Muang Sema, where Khmer Hindu monuments were built which still stand alongside the more ancient Dvaravati Buddhist temples.

By the time the Khmers reached the western part of Central Thailand, it seems that Nakhon Pathom had diminished in its influence, replaced with ancient Lopburi and the Lavo Kingdom. Whether Lavo was directly administered by the Khmers or simply a regional tributary state capital, it bears some of the Khmer’s most impressive monuments in Central Thailand.

Geography of the Dvaravati

Dvaravati in Central Thailand

Ruined stupa from Khu Bua in Ratchaburi Province.
Ruined stupa from Khu Bua in Ratchaburi Province.

The earliest of the Mon Kingdoms to settle in Thailand did so along the western coastline of the ancient Bay of Bangkok, at a time when the ocean went much farther inland. This placed them along the maritime trade routes that had spawned many other Indianized states.

Early evidence suggests that many of these Dvaravati cities began as independent, and perhaps even competing city-states. One study by Karen M. Mudar identifies up to 5 regional capitals within the city-states, based upon both the cities’ size and food-production sustainability in relation to the Dvaravati settlements around it.

She suggests that successive moat expansions were indicators of the growing importance of regional centers and socio-economic integration of the nearby cities, with the regional capital cities expanding, 

U Thong

Monument No. 2 and the northern City moat at U Thong, Suphanburi Province.
Monument No. 2 and the northern City moat at U Thong, Suphanburi Province.

U Thong is the first significant Dvaravati settlement located in the far west of Central Thailand, with signs of Buddhist culture appearing in the archaeological record as early as the 3rd Millennium CE, and coins bearing the inscribed name “Dvaravati” appearing in the 6th-7th Centuries CE. The city was roughly rectangular with earthen walls and a moat surrounding it, with mountains spanning the length of its western side, providing a defensive barrier. 

The city was connected to waterways leading to the Gulf of Thailand, making it a maritime port and important economic stopover for oceangoing vessels given its close proximity to the ancient coastline. T

his coastline has since receded, placing U Thong far inland in Suphanburi Province. The modern city is now quite remote and retains much of its original city moat and several ruins — however, the highlight of ancient U Thong is the National Museum, displaying excellent examples of Dvaravati culture, artifacts, and maps to find the remaining ruined temples.

Nakhon Pathom

Ruined Dvaravati stupa at Wat Dhammasala in Nakhon Pathom.
Ruined Dvaravati stupa at Wat Dhammasala in Nakhon Pathom.

The ancient city of Nakhon Pathom soon eclipsed U Thong as the cultural center for much of the Dvaravati Period, only diminishing in influence after the annexation of Dvaravati territory by the Khmer Empire. The city contains some of the largest Dvaravati temple sites and caches of artifacts to be found throughout Thailand.

Many of the ancient monuments still exist hidden throughout the modern city of Nakhon Pathom, which has essentially become a highway town on the far western edge of Bangkok’s urban sprawl. Chief among these monuments is the Phra Pathom Chedi, which began its existence as a modest Dvaravati stupa, but was built upon over many generations, resulting in tha giant, golden stupa that exists today.

Lavo

The Dvaravati stupa of Wat Nakhon Kosa in Lopburi.
The Dvaravati stupa of Wat Nakhon Kosa in Lopburi.

Lavo seems to have been the last prominent Dvaravati city in the Central Plains. As the thriving city of Nakhon Pathom faded from memory, Lavo continued on under Angkor’s control. Along with Sukhothai farther to the north, Lavo served as the regional capital for the western boundaries of the Khmer Empire.

Dvaravati in Isaan (Northeastern Thailand)

U-sa Tower is the largest monument in the Dvaravati mountain sanctuary of Phu Phrabat.
U-sa Tower is the largest monument in the Dvaravati mountain sanctuary of Phu Phrabat.

Although the core of the Dvaravati culture became well-established in Central Thailand, they very quickly began spreading their influence to Thailand’s northeastern region, known collectively as “Isaan”. This new frontier would quickly bring them into greater contact with the fledgling Khmer Empire, who would eventually annex and absorb the majority of Dvaravati territories, both in Isaan and Central Thailand.

Muang Sema

Main article: Bo Ika Inscription 

The Dvaravati Reclining Buddha Image at Wat Dhammachraksemaram in Muang Sema.
The Dvaravati Reclining Buddha Image at Wat Dhammachraksemaram in Muang Sema.

Muang Sema sits in Nakhon Ratchasima, where the Central Plains meet the Khorat Plateau, in what has become a crossroads between all of Thailand’s overlapping civilizations. Not only the Dvaravati, but also the Thais and several generations of Khmers had seen fit to place a planned city in this region for proper administration. 

The Dvaravati city of Muang Sema began as an irregular moated city (later expanded) which served as one of the primary entry points of the Dvaravati into Isaan (the other being Si Thep). The Bo Ika Inscription is a Khmer stone inscription found at Muang Sema which references the kingdom of Sri Canasa, which had interactions with the Khmers, and may have actually been the historic name of Muang Sema.

Although a handful of ruined temples exist within Muang Sema, the most noteworthy Dvaravati monument is the reclining Buddha found at Wat Dhammachaksemaram. This ancient sandstone carving is over 13 meters long, depicting the famous image of Siddhartha Gautama on his deathbed. This reclining Buddha dates from the 10th Century CE and is located just outside of Muang Sema’s southern moat.

Si Thep

Want Khao Klang Nai is a large, ruined Dvaravati stupa in Si Thep Historical Park.
Want Khao Klang Nai is a large, ruined Dvaravati stupa in Si Thep Historical Park.

Si Thep is another Dvaravati city whose importance seemed to increase later in the city’s lifespan. The city received a lengthy moat extension later in its history, which nearly tripled its size. The ancient city center is within the smaller moat, and includes the Dvaravati stupa of Khao Klang Nai, while just outside of the city moat to the north is Khao Klang Nok, a massive pyramidal stupa, and perhaps the largest monument built by the Dvaravati culture.

Si Thep was later annexed and occupied by the Khmer Empire, who constructed a series of Angkorian-style prangs, including the city’s namesake temple, Prang Sri Thep.

Muang Fa Daet Song Yang

Ruined stupa base and Lan Xang style restoration at Phrathat Ya Khu in Kalasin Province.
Ruined stupa base and Lan Xang style restoration at Phrathat Ya Khu in Kalasin Province.

Muang Fa Daet Song Yang (Fa Daet for short) is perhaps the farthest extent of the large, moated Dvaravati cities. Fa Daet sits hidden amidst rice fields in Kalasin province, not far from Roi Et city. Little of the Dvaravati era architecture remains, with the bases of some brick chedis outside the city moat, and one ancient Dvaravati stupa, Phra That Ya Khu, which was later rebuilt in the style of a Lan Xang stupa.

Today, the ancient city moat and earthen wall are still prominent, with a lengthy portion of the wall turned into a makeshift dirt road for local farmers. However, in the small village of Nong Paen, which sits inside the ancient city moat, is Wat Pho Chai Semaram. This local temple has dozens of ancient Dvaravati sema stones on display throughout its grounds. It’s unclear if these are all from Muang Fa Daet Song Yang, or have been gathered from a larger area, but it’s certainly worth the visit if you’re in the area.

The Hariphunchai Kingdom

The Hariphunchai Kingdom was an exceptional case among the Dvaravati city-states. The city of Hariphunchai (modern-day Lamphun) and its surrounding sphere of influence remained a thriving kingdom of Dvaravati culture long after the rest had faded away to growing influence of the Khmer Empire. It ruled over the northern area of Thailand as a successful state and a renowned center of Buddhism. 

Hariphunchai may have evaded direct control by the Khmer, but Angkorian influence did appear in some aspects of Hariphunchai art and culture (and by extent, the later Lanna Kingdom), though not to the degree that was seen in those Dvaravati and Thai kingdoms further to the south. 

However, in the 1200s CE, after nearly three centuries of being the last Dvaravati standing, Hariphunchai faced the same existential threat as the Khmer cities farther south: the migration of the Thai people.

Farther south, the Khmer cities of Central Thailand were being overtaken by Thais and becoming the kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, while the invasion of the Lanna Thais from Chiang Saen conquered the last remaining Dvaravati city of Hariphunchai, officially ending the last remnants of the Dvaravati civilization in 1292 CE.

What Happened to the Dvaravati?

The legacy of the Dvaravati lives on in much of the culture in modern Thailand. When the Thai kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya were founded, they adopted much of their culture from the both the Khmer and Dvaravati traditions which had existed throughout Central Thailand for many centuries.

Meanwhile, in the far north, the Lanna Kingdom directly absorbed the architecture, writings, and Theravada traditions of the Hariphunchai Kingdom. Although the Hariphunchai had developed and diverged stylistically from the already-extinct Central Plains cousins, they retained the essence of Dvaravati tradition. This provided a direct continuity of Dvaravati into Thai culture when Hariphunchai and its kingdoms were conquered and absorbed by the Lanna Kingdom.

Cities of the Dvaravati

Nakhon Chai Si (Nakhon Pathom)
Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
GPS: 13.81347, 100.09715

U Thong
Suphanburi, Thailand
GPS: 14.37575, 99.88993

Khu Bua (Ratchaburi)
Ratchaburi, Thailand
GPS: 13.48799, 99.83498

Lavo (Lopburi)
Lopburi, Thailand
GPS: 14.79862, 100.61389

Hariphunchai (Lamphun)
Lamphun, Thailand
GPS: 18.57941, 99.00708

Khelang (Lampang)
Lampang, Thailand
GPS: 18.29558, 99.51047

Muang Sema
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
GPS: 14.92504, 101.79841

Si Thep 
Phetchabhun, Thailand
GPS: 15.4678, 101.14284

Muang Fa Daet Song Yang
Kalasin, Thailand
GPS: 16.31733, 103.51748

Phutthaisong
Buriram, Thailand
GPS: 15.54101, 103.00554

Chansen
Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
GPS: 15.1172, 100.45243

Phu Phrabat 
Udon Thani, Thailand
GPS: 17.73067, 102.35755

Monuments of the Dvaravati

Wat Nakhon Kosa 
Lopburi, Thailand
GPS: 14.80132, 100.61534

Wat Khlong Suwankhiri
Ratchaburi, Thailand
GPS: 13.48654, 99.83568

Phra Prathon Chedi
Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
GPS: 13.81518, 100.09702

Ku Kut Chedi (Wat Chamdevi)
Lamphun, Thailand
GPS: 18.58172, 98.99617

Wat Neua Chedi
Roi Et, Thailand
GPS: 16.06119, 103.64539

Khao Klang Nai
Phetchabun, Thailand
GPS: 15.46557, 101.14429

Khao Klong Nok
Phetchabun, Thailand
GPS: 15.48698, 101.14431

Phu Po Reclining Buddha
Kalasin, Thailand
GPS: 16.62518, 103.62418

Muang Sema Reclining Buddha
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
GPS: 14.91607, 101.79351

Phra That Ya Khu
Kalasin, Thailand
GPS: 16.31927, 103.5202

Fast Facts

Glossary

Ayutthaya
City in central Thailand and historic capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which was succeeded by the Thonburi Kingdom in 1767.

Bay of Bangkok
The narrow northern tip of the Gulf of Thailand which runs along the coast from Hua Hin to Rayong. In the past, the Bay of Bangkok extended much farther inland.

Chenla
Early period (6th-9th Centuries CE) of independent Khmer states before being united into the Khmer Empire by Jayavarman II.

Dvaravati
Mon-Burmese ethnic group based in modern Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Responsible for the introduction of Buddhism (Theravada sect) to Thailand.

Funan
Early Khmer culture (2nd-5th Centuries CE) along the Mekong Delta coast who were among the first to adopt Indianized culture ports along the China-India maritime trade routes.

Hariphunchai
Ancient name of Lamphun, Thailand and the historic capital of the Dvaravati Hariphunchai Kingdom.

Hariphunchai Kingdom
Dvaravati kingdom in northern Thailand (c. 750 – 1292 CE) centered in the modern town of Lamphun. Eventually conquered by the Lanna Kingdom.

Hinduism
Dharmic religion centered on the belief of karma and release from the cycle of reincarnation. It stems from Vedic teachings and one of the oldest extant religions in the world.

Indianization
A culture adopting Indian culture, religion, and social structures.

Isaan
Common name for the northeastern region of Thailand.

Khmer Empire
Hindu-Buddhist kingdom which ruled much of Southeast Asia from their capital at Angkor.

Khu Bua
Dvaravati city outside of modern Ratchaburi.

Lampang
City in northern Thailand historically known as Khelang Nakhon. Founded by the Hariphunchai Kingdom to control the Wang River Basin, the city was later absorbed by the Lanna Kingdom.

Lamphun
City in northern Thailand and the historic capital of the Hariphunchai Kingdom.

Lanna Kingdom
Thai kingdom based in northern Thailand and northwestern Laos. Its capitals included Chiang Rai, Wiang Kum Kam, and Chiang Mai.

Lavo Kingdom
Dvaravati kingdom in central Thailand centered in the modern town of Lopburi. Eventually conquered by the Khmer Empire.

Lawa
Ethnic minority group who constructed three walled cities in the Chiang Mai valley: Wiang Nopburi, Wiang Chet Lin, and Wiang Suan Dok. They are also referenced in historic writings as Lua, Milukku, Tamilla, and La.

Lopburi
City in northern Thailand and historic capital of the Lavo Kingdom founded by the Dvaravati culture. It was subsequently ruled by the Khmer Empire and the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

Mon
Ethnic group originating in Myanmar who established the first civilizations in modern Thailand. The Mon kingdoms in Thailand are collectively referred to as Dvaravati.

Muang Sema
Abandoned Dvaravati city in modern Nakhon Ratchasima Province. The Muang Sema ruins contain both Dvaravati Buddhist and Khmer Hindu temples.

Nakhon Pathom
The first settlement of the Mon-Dvaravati culture which existed from c. 500-1000 CE. Also known as Nakhon Chai Si.

Phra Pathom Chedi
Buddhist stupa in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand which originated as a Dvaravati temple and claims to be the largest in the world.

sema stone
Boundary stones used to mark the sacred inner areas of a Theravada Buddhist temple, particularly in Thailand.

Si Thep
Dvaravati city in Phetchabun Province that was 

Sri Canasa
A polity referred to in the Bo Ika Inscription discovered at Muang Sema. 

Sukhothai
City in central-northern Thailand and abandoned capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

Sukhothai Kingdom
Thai kingdom establishing in north-central Thailand after overthrowing Khmer Empire rulers of Sukhodaya. The kingdom prospered for over a century before succumbing to the growing power of Ayutthaya.

Theravada Buddhism
“The “Doctrine of the Elders” branch of Buddhism which draws its teachings from the Pali Canon. This sect is popular in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Three Pagoda Pass
Mountain pass in western Kanchanaburi Province linking Thailand and Myanmar. 

Sources

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi all, my name is Ben. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in archaeology and writing, pursuing a career in the latter. However, I never quite lost that fascination for archaeological theory. For the past 9 years, I’ve been living and travelling in Asia, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at PathsUnwritten.com.

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