Drawing Lessons from Ayodhya & Ayutthaya

by K SUBRAHMANYAM, Times of India, July 6, 2005

Ayutthaya, Thailand -- Ayutthaya was a flourishing Buddhist kingdom in Thailand for 400 years, from the 14th to 18th century. The name was derived from the original Ayo-dhya of the Raghus on the banks of the Sarayu. Founded by Ramathibodi I, Ayutthaya became one of the most powerful kingdoms of South East Asia. One day this kingdom was invaded and the capital Ayutthaya occupied and destroyed by invading Burmese forces.

<< A temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Fifteen years later, Thailand's General Chao Phraya Chakkri became king and moved the capital to Bangkok, to the eastern bank of river Chao Priya. The Chakkri rulers adopted the name Rama and today the ninth ruler of that dynasty occupies the throne as King Bhumibol Adulyadej with the title, King Rama IX. Though Thailand is Buddhist, the dominant influence of the Ramayana is as evident here as it is in India, perhaps even more. The royal palace has scenes from the epic painted on its walls.

Though Ayutthaya, its 200,000 people and 4,000 Buddhist temples, got looted and des-troyed, it was restored by the Chakkri dynasty, and the res-plendent Buddhist temple in the ruins of Ayutthaya is today a major tourist attraction.

Ironically, the violence wrought on Ayutthaya was the handiwork of fellow Buddhists of the Ava kingdom in Myanmar. They desecrated places of worship of their own faith.
Buddhism promotes compassion. Lord Buddha, whom many Hindus believe to be an incarnation of Vishnu, preached ahimsa or non-violence. Then why did two Buddhist states go to war? Are all Buddhists compassionate? Do all Hindus follow the dictum, "Ahimsa Paramo Dharma?"

Walking among the ruins of Ayutthaya, my mind turned to Ayodhya in India, plagued by political and religious controversy since long. The dynasty bearing the name of Rama left the ruins of Ayutthaya alone even while rebuilding one major Buddhist temple there. The havoc wrought in Ayutthaya showed that when temples are destroyed, differences in religion need not be the motivation. Greed and inhumane behaviour leads to destruction, regardless of one's religion.

Thailand today is 95% Buddhist. Still, the Thais are imbued with the history of the Ramayana ? perhaps even more so than we are. Thailand is a Buddhist state where the king can only be a Buddhist. Yet, he protects all religious faiths. Temples are maintained in spotless condition. The Thais allow peoples of all faiths to enter their temples provided the entrants take off their shoes and maintain devotional posture.

Thailand perhaps comes closest to the civilisational culture of the subcontinent. The contrast between the happenings at Ayutthaya of Thailand and Ayodhya of India leaves one puzzled. The Thais appear to have come to terms with their history though their grievance is more recent than the Indian one.

Ayutthaya is today a UN heritage site. Tourists from all over the world visit it and learn about the Ramayana, while Ayodhya has tight security and is inaccessible to foreign tourists. As I sailed back from Ayutthaya to Bangkok in the Chao Priya river in a modern boat I wondered ? which is the better way of cherishing the epic Ramayana and its hero, Rama?

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