Thailand's Rich and Ancient History of Women in Buddhism

Thailand has a rich and ancient history of women in Buddhism, from the 3rd century BCE, when Asokan-era arahant missionaries Sona and Uttara Thera came from India to the ancient land of Suvarnabhumi first sharing the Buddha's teaching, ordaining more than 3,000 noble men and 1,500 noble women as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. This was the foundation of Buddhism in Thailand, where Buddhism is still very much alive and flourishing to this day, with more than 90% of the population being Buddhists of the Theravada School. Thailand also has many Chinese-Thai Mahayana Buddhists, and an old and recently reviving history of Vajrayana Buddhism. The ancient land of Survarnamubhumi or Suvannabhumi in the Pali-Buddhist language -- the Land of Gold -- used to include all of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and the South of Vietnam and China.

This blog showcases a little of the immense wealth of the rich heritage and history of Thailand's Buddhist women - and of all of the Thai people and culture - from ancient to modern times. We hope you enjoy your Women in Buddhism Tour here and during your stay in Thailand!

(If you enjoy this blog, please be sure to read the "Older Posts" - click link at the bottom of this page. Most more recent posts are focused around Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Older posts are mostly from further afield upcountry in Thailand's Northeast and Northwest.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chedi of Ayutthaya Queen Suriyothai Monument

Stupa of Queen Sri Suriyothai- Ayutthaya

Wat Chedi Sri Suriyothai

This is the chedi (skt: chaitya - like a stupa or pagoda)
containing the crematory remains of the great Thai heroine,
the ancient Buddhist queen of Ayutthaya, Queen Suriyothai.

Chedi Sri Suriyothai is located on the western part of the City Island near the confluence of the Chao Phraya River and the old Lopbur River (Klong Muang). This area is known as the Hua Laem District, and it is still an important for the local military (an old cantonment was based at this site until recent history).

Chedi Queen Suriyothai was situated opposite of
Wat Sop Sawan at the mouth of a canal. The former was located on the southern side, and the latter was built on the northern side of the canal. Both sites are clearly marked on de La Mare’s 1751 map. The canal has since been filled in and has become a small road. Chedi Si Suriyothai was built on the premises of the Royal garden of the Rear Palace (Wang Lang). Unfortunately, there isn’t anything surviving in situ at the Rear Palace, and Chedi Si Suriyothai stands as its last surviving marker.

Chedi Si Suriyothai consists of a single bell-shaped chedi. Its base is square, and it has many indented corners. It has been gilded with gold paint from the relic chamber to the top of its spire. There is an entrance on the northern side, but it is never open to the public for some reason. A locked courtyard has been constructed around this ruin. To its east is a small park that was built to commemorate the site.

According to Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, this monument contains the ashes of Queen Suriyothai. Royal Chronicles describe her as a heroic wife of King Chakkraphat that died in battle while saving the life of the King. As the story goes, King Chakkraphat and two of his sons were leading an army into battle against the Burmese. Queen Suriyothai, fearing for her family’s safety, secretly dressed as a male soldier and rode an elephant into the fight. While fighting a Burmese general on the back of an elephant, King Chakkraphat’s elephant stumbled, which put him at risk to his opponent’s blade. Queen Suriyothai heroically charged in front of the enemy’s weapon, sacrificing her own life in his place. In her honor, King Chakkraphat had a funeral monument and a preaching hall constructed on the site of her Royal cremation. When it was finished, the King bestowed it with the name Sop Sawan Monastery (Cushman 40-41).

Queen Suriyothai survives as a nationalistic image to promote Thai identity. In 2001, a popular movie was released that portrayed the story of Queen Suriyothai. Chedi Si Suriyothai also influenced architecture in Bangkok during the Chakri dynasty. “Sri Suriyothai Chedi served as the prototype for the chedi which King Rama IV constructed at Wat Pho in Bangkok to join the outer three chedi built by the previous Kings on the Bangkok dynasty” (Kasetsiri & Wright 92).

In 2005, another popular movie was made on the life of Queen Suriyothai's predecessor, Queen Regent Sudachan: The King Maker (Thai: กบฎท้าวศรีสุดาจันทร์ , or The Rebellion of Queen Sudachan)

Click here if you would like to learn more about ancient Thai Buddhist queens


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