Posted on April 13th, 2020



Thailand had received Sinhala Buddhism by the   6th century at least. A Mon inscription dated 550-650 AD found in Narai cave in Saraburi province spoke of a group of Anuradhapura persons who had settled in Dvaravati. 

However, Gunawardana says, the earliest Sinhala Buddhist influence  found in Thailand, was  at Nagara Sri Dhammaraja,   known thereafter as Ligor and today as Nakhon Si Thammarat. Vat Phra Borom Mahatit, the main temple at Nakhon, led in the dissemination of Sri Lanka Theravada 

Nakhorn Si Thammarat was strategically located between the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Siam, practically in line with Sri Lanka.  It was open to influences from Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The port mentioned most in connection with visits to Sri Lanka  is Tran, on the western coast of Nakhorn.

Gunawardana said that according to the chronicles, Nakhorn was founded by king, Dharmasokaraja who was forced to leave his kingdom of Hamsavatti in south Burma due to an epidemic.  Before he founded Nakhom, a delegation of a hundred men and four nobles were dispatched by ship to consult the ruler of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka king had approved the idea of the new city, and sent a leading monk named Buddhagambhira back with them. Buddhagambhira was going to an already Buddhist land, said the chronicles.

A manuscript from Badalun monastery, speaks of the arrival from Sri Lanka of a monk named Anomadassi who brought along with him sacred relics. The chronicle of Ma’an Nagarasiri Dharmaraja and the Chronicle of the Holy reliquary of Mo’an Nagarasiri Dharmaraja, discovered at Nakhorn Si Thammarat, contain material from the Sinhala Dhatuvamsa.

Dupont (1942) noted that in a number of Buddhist images in the Chaiya region of Ligor, dated between 8-12 centuries, the major influence was Sri Lanka.  Researchers found that Phra Boromathat ceti   in Nakon Pathom, the first Sinhala style stupa, was modeled after Kiri vehera in Polonnaruwa. Goonatilake (2007) reported that six other Sinhala style stupas built around the same time in the Ligor peninsula were inspired by the Sinhala monks who went there.

Chandrabanu of Ligor invaded Sri Lanka in the 13 century.  In the Vat Hva Vian inscriptions datable to 1230 .Chandrabanu is identified at king Siridhamma of Dhammarajanagara. Dhammaraja nagara has been identified as Nakhorn and the ruler has been identified as the Chandrabanu who invaded Sri Lanka.

Thailand seems to have received some of its Sinhala Buddhism from Cambodia.  Some Pali texts from Sri Lanka, found in Thailand are in the Khmer script. The Noen Sa Busa bilingual inscriptions found in Prachinaburi are partly in Pali and partly in Khmer.   The three verses of the Sinhala  Thelakatahagatha included in it,   were in Khmer script. The Sinhala script   came into use in Thai Buddhism only around 15 century.

Kings of Northern Thailand , such as King Lu Thai ( 1317-1347)  of Sukhothai and king Kilana( (1355-1385) of Chiang Mai, wanted the Sinhala upasampada. They requested Udumbara Mahasami who was living in Muttima in Burma to send a monk to perform upasampada. Udumbara sent Sumana thera  , who had received upasampada  under him in Muttima. Sumana thera established the Sihala sect in Sukhothai ,Chiang Mai, and Haripunjaya  (Lamphun). Gunawardana sees this as  the continuation of the forest dwelling tradition of Sri Lanka .

According to    the   Khmer ‘inscriptions  of  the Mango grove’, a religion dignitary who possessed a profound knowledge of  Theravada  Buddhism ,and had held high ecclesiastical office in his land of Sri Lanka   arrived at Sukhodaya in 1361 during the reign of king  Lu Tai (1347-1368). This would have been Sumana.

Sumana received a magnificent reception from King Lu Thai. The king had staged a grand spectacle in  honor of the bhikkhu.  King Lu Thai  then studied  Buddhism under Sumana.  then abdicated  and became a monk (or received temporary ordination). The ceremony at the Golden Tower of the palace   where the king received temporary ordination was described in detail in inscriptions, said Goonatilake. Lu Tai  emphasized the centrality of Sri Lanka in the Buddhist world, observed Gunawardana. Lu Thai refers to Anuradhapura’s Ruvanveli  in his work, Traibhumikatha

Jinakālamālī, a Chiang Mai chronicle, said that the arrival of the Bhikkhu Sumana  in Chiang Mai during the rule of king  Kilana ( 1355-85) led to the setting up on a large number of Buddhist monuments and sculpture in that region. This is supported by stone inscriptions at Wat Phra Yun in Haripunjaya  written in Pali and Thai script. King Kilana built an artificial cava Wat Umong, in Chiang Mai to house the visiting Sinhala monks.

Goonatilake  says Si Satha, (Sri Sraddha) a ‘prince monk’ from Sukhothai spent ten years in Sri Lanka, learning the Dhamma and visiting the major Buddhist sites . He returned in 1344. Gunawardana   says he  came back with the title ‘Sri Lankapradipa’, bringing along several bodily relics of the Buddha.  A special monastery called Vat Mahadhatu was built for him. The royal monk lived at Vat Mahadhatu, but maintained a link with the forest dwelling tradition.  his preference was to mediate in the forest, observed Gunawardana.

Gunawardana says there was evidently a large Sri Lanka  retinue   at Vat Mahadhatu, belonging to the ‘five groups’ attached to this monastery. In Sri Lanka monasteries, the term ‘five groups ‘ refers to carpenters, ironsmiths, weavers, leatherworkers, and barbers. 

Goonatilake says Si Satha, returned with several craftsmen from Gampola. The craftsmen were settled in five  villages in Sukhothai, and they added Sinhala style motifs of makaras to the Mahathat stupa, the main stupa of Sukhothai. These were based on Lankatilaka temple, which had been built during Sri Sraddha’s time in Sri Lanka . The bell shaped stupas and the standing elephants emerging form niches  were also inspired by Lankatilaka and Gadaladeniya.  

The next recorded link with Sri Lanka is in the reign of Paramaraja (1370-1388) of Ayuthya also known as Boromaraja. the Thai bhikkhu, Dhammakitti  had studied in Sri Lanka and returned to Ayutthaya to live in a monastery named Lankarama  built for him by  king  Paramaraja. He had received upsampada from Sangharaja Dhammakitti  Mahasami of Gadaladeni.

There is also mention of Nanagambhira, a leading figure in the  Chiang Mai group that went to Sri Lanka in 1424. He was responsible for the vigorous expansion of this group in Chiang Mai as well as other placed in Thailand including Sukhothai, and Haripunjaya.

Lanna chronicles of Thailand say that King Tilokaraja (1441 – 1486) of Chiang Mai, had in 1455 planted a bodhi branch brought from Anuradhapura, and built a monastery in Chiang Mai, known as Wat Sinhalaram, today known as Wat Cedi Cet Yod. Wat Sihalaram became the first centre of Pali studies in Thailand. The king   had convened the eighth World Tripitaka Council there in 1477.

King Tilokaraja was a great patron of the Sihala sect. He had invited a Sinhala monk from Lamphun, named Mthangkon, to spend the vas at Ratchamonthian temple and given him the title of Phra Maha Swami.  In the time of this king, a general named Sinhalagotta (Sinhala clan) rebuilt the shrine called Rajakuta in Chiang Mai and deposited in it a sacred relic brought from Sri Lanka.

Three Buddha images from Sri Lanka played an important part in the politics of Thailand and Laos.  One was  the Prabhang Buddha of Laos, which has been discussed earlier.  Thailand eyed it and took it whenever the opportunity arose.  There were two other Buddha statues which became politically important, the Sihinga Buddharupa and the Emerald Buddha.

the Sihinga Buddarupa’s origins seem to be uncertain. It went from Sri Lanka to Thailand. Jinakalamai (1516 AD) refer to a joint mission sent to Sri Lanka by Rocaraja (identified as king Rama Khamheng 1279-1298) of Sukhothai and the king of Nagara Sri Dhammaraja, requesting the Sinhala king to send them the Sihinga Buddharupa. this statue was seen as a symbol of sovereignty.

The kings of      the various kingdoms in Thailand, all wanted it, and the image went from king to king,   spending time in the various Thai capitals, such as Ayutthaya,   Chiang Mai and    Sukhothai. Records indicate that it was installed at Chiang Mai between 1369 and 1371 and treated with great reverence. However, copies had been made and today there are three images all claiming to be the original. They are in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Bangkok, said Goonetilaka.

The third image is the emerald Buddha image, a seated image made of green jade. This has been made in Pataliputra, India, then it was sent to Sri Lanka for protection, and from there to Thailand at the request of the Thai king. King Anawrahta of Burma,  had also asked for the     image.

On the journey, it went by mistake to Angkor, Cambodia and had to be rescued.  In Thailand, it went from kingdom to kingdom,  form Ayutthaya to  Chiang Mai  which was under Kilana. At one time, it was  in Luang Prabang in Laos. Goonatilake observes that at one point of time, all three images were in Luang Prabang. After going to and fro,   the Emerald Buddha is now kept in state in Bangkok.

Sinhala Buddhism influenced the Buddhist art of Thailand. Ayutthaya has hundreds of the Sinhala stupa. The Bo saplings planted in Thailand and elsewhere were from Sri Lanka. Griswold (1966) concluded that Buddha image brought from Sri Lanka played a crucial role in Buddha sculpture in Thailand. The 6 century Buddha image form Khorat is one such example. Boiseller (1963) also argued that the earliest Southeast Asian Buddha images such as those found at Dvaravati were inspired by Anuradhapura .


The introduction of Buddhism to centers in Burma such as Hmawza and Old Prome are dated between 5-8 century AD, said Gunawardana. Hmawza , deep inside Burma,  belonging to the kingdom of Srishetra,( 5-7th AD)yielded many inscriptions on caskets, plates and stupa. De Casparis     studied the gold plates from  Hmawza,written in Pali  and  Pyu languages and concluded that the script resembled 4th century Sinhala.

However, researchers  say that Buddhism  took root in Bagan, the first capital of the future Burmese state. The Bagan kingdom existed from 9th to 13 century. King Anawrahta (1044-77), sent     a request to Sri Lanka  for the Tripitaka  commentaries  and Sri Lanka complied. Sri Lanka refused a request for the Tooth relic and instead sent a duplicate of the tooth relic. The Burmese king had made more duplicates and enshrined the first in Shwezigon Pagoda. King Kyanzitta ( 1084-1112) revised the Tripitaka based on the Sinhala version.

In the time of King Narapatisithu (1174-1211) and his successors, several large monasteries dedicated to Sinhala monks, were built in Bagan. These monasteries are located near the  village of Myinkaba, and the Sinhala monks were known as Tamani sect.

Pali Inscription dated 1271  found in the Tamani complex talks of a mission taken by a Bagan monk to Sri Lanka asking for monks to propagate Buddhism. A Burmese inscription dated 1197 records the enshrinement of four sacred relics sent by king of Sri Lanka . Several stupas  there are in Sinhala style. One complex has three large monasteries near each other. One had two floors and could accommodate 100 monks. Another was for samanera.

Murals depicting Mahavamsa were found in Kubyauk-gyi temple in Myinkaba village. The temple was constructed by son of King Kyanzitha, Prince Rajakumar   in 1113. Major events from Mahavamsa   are recorded such as visits of Buddha to island, Bo tree brought by Sanghamitta, also Dutugemunu, Elara, the justice bell and the cow. Text was given below in Mon language . These paintings were prominently placed on two long walls, facing each other.

‘Manavulu Sandesaya’ speaks of a Mahathera Kassapa, resident in Bagan.  The text included a request to come and purify the Sangha in Bagan.   Manavulu Sandesaya is a 13th century text in Pali written by Nagasena thera at Ramba vihara, Sri Lanka. Godakumbura has set this in the reign of King Narapatisithu.

Successors of king Narapatisithu 1174-1211, patronized the Sinhala monks. Inscription dated 1233 mentions a Sinhala monk called Buddharamsi as head of a monastery  located near the  Sinbaung monastery where Sinhala monk Ananda was chief priest. Post Bagan period also, Sri Lanka monks continued to be respected. Inscription from Sale, 32 miles from Bagan, dated 1409 says monastery was built for Sinhala monks.

A large number of influential Sinhala monks taught at Myanmar. They   enjoyed high prestige. Jinakalamali says Udumbara Mahasami from Sri Lanka arrived in Burma in 1331. He arrived in Hamsavati ( Pegu in Lower Burma) with 12  Mon monks who had re-ordained in Sri Lanka. This group of monks, including Chapata,  had studied under  Udumbaragiri fraternity. On their return they established a centre of the forest dwelling monks at Martaban (Muttima, lower Burma.) headed by ‘Udumbarapuppha Mahasami’. This Udumbara Mahasami has been identified as Sangharaja Medhankara, the author of Lokappadipakasara. His fame attracted the attention of king Lodaiya and King Kilana of Thailand.  

Researchers  say that there would have been a great number of Sinhala bhikkhus in Burma to carry out the task of teaching Pali through Sinhala script and help translate  text on a large scale form Pali to Mon and later to Burmese.

King Dhammazedi who was earlier a Mon bhikkhu, and now king of Bago in Lower Burma received his education in one of the many Sinhala Sangha monasteries in Ava.  Kalyani inscription  of Dhammazedi, says Dhammazedi  sent 22 Burmese mahatheras to Sri Lanka , in 1476  to received upsampada afresh under Vidagama Mahathera. When they returned King Dhammazedi had the Kalyani sima created for them. After three years all the monks in Burma, 15,666 of them were re-ordained there.  In hundred of ordination halls. Bhikkhus from lower Burma, Arakan, Ava, Toungoo, Shan, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai in Thailand, and even Cambodia came and took ordination again.

King Minbin (1531-53) also known as Andaw, king of Arakan, now part of Burma had close relations with Sri Lanka. A replica of the sacred tooth relic was  placed at Andaw stupa during reign of Min bin. Many copies of Tripitaka brought form Sri Lanka were placed around the most venerated Buddha image there.

Inscription indicates that Mahavamsa and Culavamsa were popular texts in Burma. They were in temple libraries.  The libraries also held Anagatavamsa,        Thupawamsa, Bodhivamsa and their tikas.

The Burmese (Myanmar) chronicles were directly modeled on the Mahavamsa.  The first Burmese chronicle, Yazawinkyaw of 1520 was based on Dipawansa. Goonatilake says that six-sevenths of the space is allotted to the Mahavamsa. The rest is a list of Burmese kings and their works of merit. The Maha-ya-zawin-gy, written in 1720, and the Hman-nan-ya-zawin (Glass Palace Chronicle) written in 1821  were also modeled on the Mahavamsa. The Burmese chronicles Mahasammatavamsa, Rajavamsa and Sasanavamsa were all directly modeled after the Mahavamsa.

When Sri Lanka lost its own copies of the Mahavamsa and Dipawamsa, the Southeast Asian countries came to the rescue. Oldenburg says that all the copies of Dipawamsa he saw seemed to be copies from a single Burmese original.  Turnour says his copy was from an original brought from Thailand, reported GP Malalasekera.

Myanmar archeological department identified over 80 stupas of the Sinhala style, said Goonatilake.  Deputy Director General of archaeology, Burma had told Hema Goonatilake that there were over 260 large monuments in Bagan which showed Sinhala influence from 11th to 17 century. The last Sinhala type stupa was Konimhutoau in Sagaing, built in 1648. It was  modeled after the Mahathupa at Anuradhapura.

Goonatilake also records a unique event which took place in modern times.  Vaturegama Dhammadharatissa thera, a Sinhala bhikkhu, ordained in Myanmar in 1800, went to Assam which was then under Burma. He was  very popular teacher of Buddhism there.   Assamese king invited him to be his advisor. The king was killed in 1824, when Britain attacked Assam. But before that, the king had handed over government temporarily to the monk.  The ministers unanimously decided to appoint the thera as king of Assam.   Ven.Vaturegama persuaded Assam to settle for peace with Britain, instead of fighting. The  British in gratitude wanted to grant him anything he wanted. His wish was to be sent back to Sri Lanka safely. This is related by Goonatilake (2018) but no reference is provided.

References are: RALH Gunawardana.  Relations linking Theravada communities of Sri Lanka and Thailand with special reference to Nakhorn Sri Thammarat. In Janaprabha Amaradasa Liyanagamage felicitation volume”. / Hema Goonatilake.  Sinhalese influence on Laos. JRASSL. Vol 53 2007/ Hema Goonatilake, The Mahavamsa illustrated 2018 / Hema Goonatilake, Presidential address, SLAAS annual sessions 2006/ Hema Goonatilake.  Buddhist times. 1(11) march 2003. ( Concluded)

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