Many early inscriptions were discovered in a region of Thailand. Particularly, early remains of Buddhist inscriptions of this land have been suggested the date around the 6th -7th centuries. They are significant as early primary evidence of Buddhism in Thailand. The inscriptions present facts of Buddhism and reflect a social life of Buddhists at that time. With the inscriptions, an evolution of Buddhism in Thailand has been revealed. The region that is Thailand in the contemporary day has been evidenced to have been mainly related with Buddhism from the earliest period, Dvāravatī (6th -12th centuries). The inscriptions present that early Buddhism of Thailand was influenced by differently Buddhist traditions of foreign countries. One interesting inscription, the Noen Sa Bua, which dated around the 8th century indicates the relevance of Buddhists in Thailand and Sri Lanka. It also suggests a practice and social life of Buddhists at that time. Thus, it is interesting to be clarified here.
The Noen Sa Bua inscription was inscribed in 761 CE of the Dvāravatī period. It was discovered at Noen Sa Bua, Dong Si Mahosot, Prachinburi, thus it is called the Noen Sa Bua inscription. Mendis Rohanadeera suggests that it was written by the Pallava Grantha script while Thai scholars, such as Cha-ame Keawglai assumes the script as the Post-Pallava, and Phragandhasarabhivong suggests it as the Pallava script.1 When Rohanadeera visited Prachinburi, he found it was previously located at Wat (temple) Sa Morakot.2 However, it is now located at Prachinburi National Museum. Rohanadeera suggests that the Pallava Grantha script has similar characteristics with the Sinhalese script of the 7th -8th centuries.3 In fact, the emergence of the Grantha script has been clarified according to different hypotheses. The first assumption is that the Grantha script is derived from the Brāhmī script and that it emerged in the 5th century.4 It was the prototype of most alphabets of southern India and it had influenced the Sri Lankan and Thai scripts.5 However, Laksanasiri suggests that the Grantha script had been used as the alphabet of southern India during the 8th -16th centuries.6 Its letters are more curved, more circular in shape and shorter than the alphabets of the early Pallava script or other scripts of North Deccan and Upper Telugu.7 Otherwise, the Grantha script has three periods of evolution. The first period was during the 5th -6th centuries; it has been found in the inscriptions of the Pallava kings, Palakkada and Daśanapura.8 This archaic Grantha has similar characteristics to the alphabets that are found in the ancient inscriptions of the Pallava King Dharmarājaratha.9 The second period is called the middle Grantha; examples have been found in the Kūram copper-plates of King Parameśvara I, around the 7th century and in the inscriptions at the Kailāsanātha temple of his son, Narasiṃha II, around the 8th century.10 The third period has an uncertain date, but examples can be found in the Gaṅga inscriptions and Coḷa-Grantha alphabet of the 1080 CE.11 Thus, the Pallava Grantha script, which has been suggested by Rohanadeera, could be the archaic and middle Grantha scripts used during the 5th -8th centuries. Some characteristics of the early Pallava consonants and vowels had been modified, such as tha, śa, ṣa, a, ā, ka, ra, ba, bha, kha, etc.12 In contrast, some Thai scholars suggest that the Noen Sa Bua inscription is written in the post-Pallava script.13 The characteristics of the consonants tha, ka, kha, ba and ra of the Pallava Grantha script, which have been represented alternatively in Georg Bühler’s research, can be seen that the tha of the Pallava Grantha looks similar to the characteristics of the tha of the Pallava script of the 7th century of the middle group in the table (Pl. 2). The ka of the Pallava Grantha is similar to the ka of the middle group, Pallava-Vijayanagar, of the Grantha-Tamil. The kha of the Pallava Grantha looks the same as the kha of the Pallava script in the 8th century of the middle group. The ba of the Pallava Grantha is similar to the ba of the Pallava script of the 8th century of the middle group. Additionally, the ra of the Pallava Grantha looks like the ra of the Coḷa and Pāndya of the last group in the table. In fact, the tha, ka and kha of the Pallava Grantha have different features from the same consonants that appear in the Noen Sa Bua inscription while only the two consonants, ba and ra of the Pallava Grantha were incised in this inscription. Thus, the letters of the Noen Sa Bua inscription are not the same as the Pallava Grantha script. Some characteristics of consonants, such as ka, ma, ṇa and la had been modified into the local styles of Southeast Asia. Alternatively, the Noen Sa Bua inscription could represent an early stage of the evolution of the post-Pallava script under the influences of the Pallava and Pallava Grantha scripts. The Noen Sa Bua inscription is composed of twenty-seven lines of writing; the first three lines introduce the date of installation in the Saka 683 or the 761 CE, and the name of the person who installed the inscription, Buddhasiri.14 The fourth to sixteenth lines were written in three stanzas of the Pāli language.15 The remaining lines were written in Khmer languages. In fact, the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC) has transliterated every line of the inscription into Thai script and translated the content into a Thai version. This following content will represent the transliteration from Thai to Roman script and the translation of the content from Thai into English.
Script/Language: Pallava Grantha/Khmer/Pāli,
Registered number/ Publication: P.Ch. 14/Charuek Nai Prathet Thai Lem 1, pp.179-186,
Discovered: Noen Sa Bua, Si Mahaphot (Si Mohosot), Prachinburi, 1953.17
1st line: (683 chnama) chlu naksatra mva roca jesṭha
2nd line: Vuddhavāra nu (rāteṅ) vuddhasiri pratisṭha
3rd line: Vra sāsṭa no
4th line: Sri yo savvalokamohito ka–
5th line: ruṇādhivāso mokhāṃ karo (nirama)-
6th line: laṁ varapuṇacaṇḍo ñoyyo da (mo na)
7th line: vikulaṃ sakalaṃ vivuddho lokuttaro
8th line: namatthi taṃ sirasā munendaṃ
9th line: sopānamālamamalaṃ tiraṇā
10th line: layassa saṅsārasāgrasamuttaraṇāya
11th line: setuṃ saṃvvāra tīrāyyapi cajjatta khemama (ggaṃ)
12th line: dhammaṃ namassa ta sadā mūṇiṇā pasatthaṃ
13th line: deyyaṃ ddā pyama piyāttapasanna–
14th line: cittā dātva narā phalamūlaṃ ratta (naṃ)
15th line: sarānti taṃ savvadā dasavalenapi suppasatthaṃ
16th line: saṅghaṃ namassa ta sadā mittapuññakhettaṃ
17th line: vra go neḥ phoṅa ti añ jvana ta kamrateṅa…
18th line: …ta vra pāda noru anāk ta paññā….
19th line: …anāk ta silapaññupapārikhā…
20th line: …vuṃ āc ti prasa (ṇey ta) leṅa pāpa neḥ
21st line: …anāk nauḥ vuṁ āc ti yoka pa oya…
22nd line: …(vuṃ āc ti) yoka pa oy ta kvana…vuṃ āc ti
23rd line: ….ya..daiya…
24th line: …tapa punya neḥ (kiryāpunyapāramī)
25th line: …gotrakūlapādva…
26th line: …vra pāda patisṭha (kamrateṅ)
27th line: ….caracā leka gotrakūlapādva…., 18
1st -3rd lines: On Wednesday, the 1st day of the waning moon of the 7th Lunar Month, the year of the Ox, in the Saka 683 (761 CE), the Most Venerable (mrateṅ) Buddhasiri had installed this Buddha image.
4th -16th lines: May good fortune happen; worshiping the Lord Buddha, who has fully with loving kindness on every being, having liberal from craving, being pure as the brightly full moon and freeing from a circle of life. Dhamma is a Gem; it is a pure stairway ascending from a house, and it is as a bridge for people to cross the ocean which is the mundane world. Dhamma is the insight and a safe path even to cross the narrow channel which is the suffering realm. I pay homage to the Dhamma, which has been praised always by the Lord Buddha. Most people have given (things) to those who should receive, and they love things which should be loved. They have themselves been faithful to the saṅgha. They have regarded the Gem which is a saṅgha and which has been praised, even by the Lord Buddha. I pay homage always to a saṅgha, which is a place of unfathomable merit.
17th line: Including this cow, which I have offered to the Lord Buddha (the pronoun kamrateṅ of this sentence could be referred to the Buddha)
18th line: …to the Lord Buddha, who has wisdom…
19th line: …(the Lord Buddha) who has considered the precepts (sīla) and wisdom…
20th line: …who never forgets to advise people to avoid evil…
21st line: …none can bring for others…
22nd line: …cannot bring for their children…cannot…
23rd line: …gifted articles for alms offering…
24th line: …this good deed is a part of the Perfections…
25th line: …Pādva clan…
26th line: …installed the foot prints of the Lord Buddha.
27th line: …appreciating the Pādva clan…
However, Rohanadeera and Phragandhasarabhivong suggest that the transliteration of the Pali from the ancient script to the modern Thai script that was published in Charuek Nai Prathet Thai, Vol. I, is inadequate.19 The Pāli grammar is wrong in terms of adjective choice, uncommonly used words in Pāli, unclear meanings of sentences and the peculiar phenomena of some vowels and consonants.20 As a result, Rohanadeera has restored the transliteration of the Vasanta tilaka as follows:
4th line: sri yo sabba lokamohito ka –
5th line: karuṇādhivāso / mokhākaro (raviku) –
6th line: lambara puṇa canḍo /ñoyyoda (dhiṃ su) –
7th line: vi (pu) laṃ sakalaṃ vibuddho / lokuttamaṃ
8th line: namatthi taṁ sirasā munindaṃ//
9th line: sopāṇamālamamalaṃ ti (dasā)
10th line: layassa /saṃsāra sāgara samuttaraṇāya
11th line: setuṁ / sabbāgatī bhayya vivajjitta khema maggaṃ /
12th line: dhammaṃ namassata sadā muṇiṇa pasatthaṃ //
13th line: deyyaṃ dadapyamapi yātthapasanna
14th line: cittā / dātvā narā phalamulārattaraṃ
15th line: labhanti /taṃ sabbadā dasa balenapi suppasatthaṃ /
16th line: sanghaṃ namassata sadā mitta puñña khettaṃ /21
These two scholars agree that the 4th -16th lines of the inscription were part of the Telakaṭāhagāthā,22 the Sinhalese Buddhist treatise that was written in around two millennia years ago.23 The treatise was found in Mahavong (5th century) and Rasavāhinī (13th century) texts of Sri Lankan Buddhism.24 The 1st -3rd lines present that the Bhuddhasiri was the leader to arrange the ceremony of Buddha image installation on the 1st day of the waning moon of the 7th Lunar Month in 761 CE. In the 2nd line, the word that is coming before Buddhasiri has been unclear to be read, but the full word could be ‘kamrateṅ;’ it is a designation word for an honourable one, such as a king, a patrician or senior monk. However, it also was applied as a designation of the Buddha in the line 17th of this inscription. Rohanadeera suggests that Kamrateṅ Buddhasiri could be a monk while Supranee Panitchayapong assumes that he could be a person in a high hierarchy, such as a king or a patrician.25 Probably, Buddhasiri would have been a monk, who was the most senior monk of a saṃgha in that region or an abbot of that monastery (vihāra). He would be a chief monk of the ceremony while the Pādva clan that was appreciated in the inscription probably was a great supporter of the ceremony, and it probably was a chief of laypeople of this ceremony. The ceremony of Buddha image installation could have been arranged for purposes of meritorious accumulate, Perfection (pāramī), a unity of laypeople and the saṃgha and other supports to the monastery. The Buddha image which was celebrated could have been significant, such to be a principle Buddha of the monastery or it probably was a sacred one that was imported from different regions or different countries. The 4th -16th lines, the Pāli verses, indicate to the most importance of the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma and Saṃgha) that before doing any Buddhist ceremony, Buddhists usually praise the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṃgha, thus the Triple Gem praise is a Buddhist ritual that ever has been done by Buddhists since the early period. With the grammar analysis above of this Pāli poem, the completed writing of the 4th -16th lines could be a replica of the 1st -3rd verses of the Telakaṭāhagāthā treatise of Sri Lanka. Buddhasiri bhikkhu could have been learnt this Sinhalese treatise and applied these Pāli verses as the Triple Gem praise in the Buddhist ritual. Rohanadeera suggests that the Noen Sa Bua inscription, Bodhi Tree and footprints of the Buddha at Wat Samorakot are the important evidence of the connection between Sri Lanka and Dvāravatī kingdom, at least in the 8th century.26 Panitchayapong suggests that the Telakaṭāhagāthā could have been taught to laypeople in Thailand around 1000 years ago.27 However, the date that she referenced is later than the date of the inscription around 300 years. Incidentally, her research especially focuses on a term of the Dhammakāya in the Telakaṭāhagāthā. She found that the hero of the Telakaṭāhagāthā, Bhikkhu Kalayaniya Thera, encourages people to realise the Dhammakāya that “The Buddha said that people who usually see the Dhammakāya are whom who see the Buddha.”28 She suggests that the Dhammakāya is the insight body that will be visualised by ñāṇadassana of a high skill meditator only, not physical eyes of a human being.29 With the discover of the trace of Telakaṭāhagāthā in Thailand, she assumes that the meditation practice from Sri Lanka that relates to the Dhammakāya knowledge could be taught to people in Thailand since the Dvāravatī period. Likewise, Phragandhasarabhivong, another scholar who gave a comment on the term Dhammakāya in the Telakaṭāhagāthā, suggests that the Dhammakāya could be referred as the Transcendental (Lokuttaradhamma; the Four Paths, Four Fruits and Nibbāna).30 Therefore, the part of the Pāli verses of the Noen Sa Bua inscription is not suggests only the relationship between Sri Lanka and Thailand, but it suggests deeply that probably the Buddhists at that time have widely learnt Telakaṭāhagāthā that encourages people to do not be careless on living, to understand on the Three Characteristics (Tilakkhaṇa) of mundane things, which are dukkha (suffering), anicca (uncertainty) and anattā (non-self), and to practice on the Dhamma, Dāna and meditation that probably relates to the Dhammakāya knowledge.
The translations of the lines 17th -27th provide the information that on that day, the Buddhist ceremony have been composed of parts of alms offering, Buddha worship (pūjā), and footprint (Buddhapāda) establishment. Particularly, the ritual to offer cows to the Buddha at that time could be similar to a ritual of Buddhists in the contemporary day that a temple was a leader of compassionate people to spend money to save some living cows from a meat factory as a worship to the Buddha. Later, those cows were given to poor families who can feed them and use the cows’ labour only, not selling them for money or killing for meat. Likewise, Buddhists in the past could offered cows to the Buddha by an arrangement of a temple, and then the temple gives the donated cows to poor families who will promise to feed them, not kill them in any reasons. Otherwise, the donated cows could have been fed by the temple. This is because some inscriptions of the Dvāravatī period suggest that an elite offered servants, cows, donkeys, farms and other gift articles to a temple.31 That means those servants could have become a temple staff, who had given labour and looked after farm and animals for the temple. Additionally, the inscription, which consists of Pāli and Khmer languages, suggests that those people followed the Theravada tradition, and probably were the people, who were influenced by the Khmer tradition or they were Khmer people.
Furthermore, the remains of footprints also were discovered at Simahosot ancient site. The footprints were designed to have most characteristics similarly as footprints of a human, but they were created with a dhammacakka image at the middle of the feet. Moreover, there is a deep hole appeared between the two footprints, and there are the four deep lines extended out from the hole as similar as a swastika symbol. N. Na Paknam suggests that they are as the Buddha’s footprints, hole and swastika in a tradition of a mantra sect of Mahāyāna while Thida Salaya suggests that the footprints were the Buddha’s footprints, but the hole and the four lines were a magical method of Hinduism, who later occupied the region, to destroy the sacredness of the footprints.32 Nanthana Chutiwong suggests that there are the Buddha’s footprints, and the hole could have held a dhammacakka’s pole or fire pole as appeared in the Indian arts of Sāṇcī and Amarāvatī or it was a hole to hold a pole of catta (umbrella) as similar as the Anurādhapura tradition of Sri Lanka.33 However, Bunloet Senanoon argues that they are the footprints of Harihara (The mixed God, Vishu and Shiva), and the terms “…vra pāda patisṭha…” could not be assumed as the Buddha’s footprints because in the Pāli part of the Noen Sa Bua inscription was no any word referred to the Buddha’s footprints.34 However, the Buddhapādas were discovered near the Noen Sa Bua, where the inscription was found, thus it possibly to be the Buddhapādas that were presented in the inscription. The images of the cakkas on the Buddhapāda remains could not be suggested as a non-Buddhist tradition, because cakka images never had been created with footprints of any gods of Hinduism in early period. Furthermore, it is possibly that the hole was carrying a pole of a catta to show veneration of Buddhists to that Buddhapādas. The crossing lines would have been a trace of magical destroying by following Hindu tradition or breaking lines by taking off the catta. Additionally, the Padva clan that was praised in this inscription would have been an elite family, who was a main supporter of the ceremony of that day.
In summary, the Noen Sa Bua inscription is significant as an evidence of the close relationship between Anurādhapura and Dvāravatī Buddhists in around the 8th century. It also reflects the Buddhist rituals of Triple Gem veneration, dāna and Buddhapāda installation since the early period. In regard to the connection of the inscription with the Telakaṭāhagāthā literature, possibly the text and Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition could have influenced the Buddhist people in the Dvāravatī period. With the characteristics of the script, probably it was an early style of the post-Pallava script in Southeast Asia. The people in that region could have been influenced by the Theravāda Buddhism and local Khmer tradition.
Research by : Dr Natpiya saradum
Bühler, Georg. Indian Paleography. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1980.
Kaewglai, Cha-ame. The Essence of Thai Inscriptions (Vol. I). Bangkok: Dhammachai International Research Institution of Australia and New Zealand, 2013.
Laksanasiri, Churairat. Chak Lai Sue Thai Su Akson Thai. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Printing House, 2011.
Panitchayapong, Supranee. “Dhammakayā in the Telakaṭāhagāthā” In Dhammachai International Research Institute. Lakthan Dhammakāya Nai Khamphi Phutboran Khrangti 3. Bangkok: Liang Chiang, 2016.
Phragandhasarabhivong, trans. Telakaṭāhagāthā. Bangkok: Squareprints 93, 2002.
Rohanadeera, Mendis. “Telakaṭāhagāthā in A Thailand Inscription 761 AD: New Evidence on Cultural Relations between Sri Lanka and the Dvāravatī Kingdom in Thailand.” Vidyodaya J., Soc., Sc., 1, no.1 (1987): 59-73.
Salaya, Thida. (Sri) Dvaravati: Prawatsat Yuk Ton Khong Siam ((Sri) Dvaravati: The Initial’s Phase of Siam’s History). Bangkok: Muang Boran, 1989.
Saradum, Natpiya. “Buddhism in Thailand: Interpreting Epigraphy, Sculptures and Architecture with Special Reference to the Dvāravatī period (6th -12th Centuries CE).” Ph.D. Thesis, Gautam Buddha University, India, 2017.
Wongthes, Sujit. “Muang Simahosot.” Accessed December 12th, 2017. http:sujitwongthes.comsrimahosotwp-contentuploads2009032543_04.pdf.
“Grantha Alphabet.” Accessed September 3, 2016. https://www.omniglot.com/writing/grantha.htm.
“The Inscriptions in Thailand Databases.” The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology
Centre. Accessed September 1, 2016. http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/en/inscribe_detail.php?id=321.
- Mendis Rohanadeera, “Telakaṭāhagāthā in a Thailand Inscription of 761 AD: New Evidence on Cultural Relations between Sri Lanka and the Dvāravatī Kingdom in Thailand,” Vidyodaya J., Soc., Sc., 1, no.1 (1987): p.60. See also: Cha-ame Kaewglai, The Essence of Thai Inscriptions (Vol. I) (Bangkok: Dhammachai International Research Institution of Australia and New Zealand, 2013), p. 84. And: Phragandhasarabhivong, trans., Telakaṭāhagāthā (Bangkok: Squareprints 93, 2002), p. 122.
- Mendis Rohanadeera, op. cit., p.59.
- Ibid., p.60.
- “Grantha Alphabet,” accessed September 3, 2016, https://www.omniglot.com/writing/grantha.htm.
- Churairat Laksanasiri, Chak Lai Sue Thai Su Akson Thai (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Printing House, 2011), p.8.
- Georg Bühler, Indian Paleography (New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1980), p.90.
- See the distinguished characteristics of the archaic and middle Grantha scripts from the early Pallava script in pages 90-91, ibid.
- See: Cha-ame Kaewglai, op. cit., p.84. And “The Inscriptions in Thailand Databases,” The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, accessed September 1, 2016. http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/en/inscribe_detail.php?id=321
- Mendis Rohanadeera, op. cit.
- Cha-ame Kaewglai, op.cit., p.84.
- The content is translated from the Thai version; see the Thai version: “The Inscriptions in Thailand Databases,” The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, op. cit.
- Mendis Rohanadeera, op. cit., 64-66. See also: Phragandhasarabhivong, op. cit., p. 123.
- See: Mendis Rohanadeera, ibid.
- Ibid., p.69.
- The verses of Telakaṭāhagāthā that are corresponded with the Noen Sa Bua inscription are:
Yo sabbalokamahito karuṇādhivāso
Ñeyyodadhiṃ suvipulaṃ sakalaṃ vibuddho
Lokuttamaṃ namatha taṃ sirasā munindaṃ.
Dhammaṃ namassatha sakā muninā paṇītaṃ.
Deyyaṃ tadappamapi yattha pasannacittā
Datva narā phalamulārataraṃ labhante
Taṃ sabbadā dasabalenapi suppasatthaṃ
Saṃghaṃ namassatha sadāmitapuññakhettaṃ.
Mendis Rohanadeera, op. cit., 66. See also Thai script version: Phragandhasarabhivong, op. cit., pp.22-23.
- Mendis Rohanadeera, ibid., 66-67. See also: Phragandhasarabhivong, op.cit.
- Supranee Panitchayapong, “Dhammakayā in the Telakaṭāhagāthā” In Dhammachai International Research Institute, Lakthan Dhammakāya Nai Khamphi Phutboran Khrangti 3, (Bangkok: Liang Chiang, 2016), p. 68.
- Mendis Rohanadeera, op. cit., 60. See also: Supranee Panitchayapong, ibid., p. 71.
- Mendis Rohanadeera, ibid., 72.
- Supranee Panitchayapong, op. cit.
- The verse 93th from the Telakaṭāhagāthā presents the Dhammakāya as follows:
Yo passatīha satataṃ munidhammakāyaṃ
Buddhaṃ sa passati naro itiso avoca
Buddhaṃ ca dhammamamalaṃ ca tilokanāthaṃ
Sampassituṃ vicinathapi ca dhammatā bho.
Phragandhasarabhivong, op. cit., p. 113 (Thai version).
- Supranee Panitchayapong, op. cit., p. 70.
- Op.cit., p. 162.
- Natpiya Saradum, “Buddhism in Thailand: Interpreting Epigraphy, Sculptures and Architecture with Special Reference to the Dvāravatī period (6th -12th Centuries CE),” (Ph.D. Thesis, Gautam Buddha University, India, 2017) pp. 263-264.
- Sujit Wongthes, “Muang Simahosot,” 56, accessed December 12th, 2017, http:sujitwongthes.comsrimahosotwp-contentuploads2009032543_04.pdf.