In Indian Mythology, the world was a better place when “Ram Rajya” or the Kingdom of Lord Rama flourished across the sub continent. And till today, politicians across Rural India promise it in their election speeches. But far from the dusty by lanes of what was once Ayodhya, lie a kingdom ruled by a dynasty who call themselves Rama and whose destroyed capital was once called Ayuthhya.
It is a tragedy that people associate Thailand with its pristine beaches and shopping in Bangkok. But Thailand’s history is worth noting. The kingdom has been defeated time and again but never destroyed, not always by valour but often through diplomacy. And nowhere is its history more alive than in Ayuthhya.
Destroyed by the Burmese Army, the once proud capital now stands in ruins. Rows after rows of headless Bodhisatwas sit in their lotus seats carrying the teachings of The Buddha within their heart. Tourists roam around the destroyed temples while elephants wait to give you a ride. This was the kingdom where once the king gifted white elephants to competing kings in order to drain their exchequer.
The summer palaces and other palaces of the kingdom are strangely bereft of grandeur. But one look at the temples across Thailand and we realize how the royalty in Thailand emphasized the importance of their places of worship. If you visit Thailand, stopover at Wat Pho and Wat Arun and you’ll realize how religion is integrated into the fabric of Thailand. The paintings on the walls of the Grand Palace talk of Ramakian, the Thai version of Ramayana. While the earlier versions during the Ayuthhya reign are lost, what remains is an epic with a happy ending, composed around 1700s with Royal patronage.
The Buddha is everywhere, but so is the King and deities remnant of the country’s long association with Indian spirituality. The Erawan Shrine in the heart of Bangkok everyday sings hymns to the praises of Brahma, the airport has one of the best depiction of the ‘churning of the ocean’ that I have seen.
But if nothing else, Bangkok is true as a destination for street shoppers. Every walkway is full of bargains and more bargains and the true Indian street shopper would feel perfectly at home. The shopkeepers love this Indian clientele and like the most industrious traders welcome you with a sprinkling of Hindi.
One of my favourite places to visit in the world, Bangkok is also my most visited and I never get tired of it. How could I? The country invented the Green Curry and the Phad Thai.