- Contemporary Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, where Hinduism, ani-mism, Islam, and Christianity are also practiced. The Hindu minority constitutes only about 1 percent of the population. Nevertheless, the his-toric influence of Hinduism is still apparent. The king of Thailand is always referred to as RAMA, the name of the title character of the Ramakien (the local version of the SANSKRIT RAMAYANA), and he is considered an AVATA R of VISHNU. Though the Thai monarchies date to the formation of the kingdom of Sukothai, the first king to take the title of Rama was Phraphutthayotfa Chulalok, who was named Rama I during the 18th century. The most famous Thai king was Rama V, also known as King Chulalongkorn, who defended Thailand’s independence from European coloniz-ers and introduced democracy. The West knows of him primarily as the child prince of King Mon-gkut (Rama IV) in the book Anna and the King of Siam. The current king, Adulyadej the Great, who rose to power in 1946, is called Rama IX.The Ramakien is a central part of Thai culture. The epic is illustrated in the artwork of many temples and is often performed in dance and puppet plays. The best known image is a massive fresco painted on the wall of the Royal Temple (Temple of the Jade Buddha). Other Hindu imagery, such as YAKSHAS, who act as guardians of the doors, can be found within many Buddhist temples.Monuments to the Hindu gods SHIVA and Vishnu are found in Thai Buddhist temples. The Royal Temple has a small group of BRAHMINS to conduct royal rituals, as Buddhist monks cannot preside over these rites. Thai Buddhism shares many beliefs with its parent religion Hinduism, most particularly the belief in liberation from the cycle of births, the cosmology of Hinduism, and the four major eras or YUGAs. Many of the laity fuse Hindu belief and ritual with Buddhist reli-gion. Several Hindu temples exist in Thailand and most of the major deities are recognized. There are even temples and PUJAS (worship services) dedicated to the creator god BRAHMA alone, a rarity in India itself.Further reading: Eliezer B. Ayal, ed., The Study of Thai-land: Analysis of Knowledge, Approaches, and Prospects in Anthropology, Art History, Economics, History, and Political Science (Athens: Ohio Center for International Studies, South East Asia Program, 1978); John M. Cadet, The Ramakien: The Thai Epic: Illustrated with the Bas-Reliefs of Wat Phra Jetubon (Tokyo: Kodansha Inter-national, 1971); Georges Coedès, The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Edited by Walter F. Vella translated by Susan Brown Cowing (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968); Rajiv Malik, “Thailand Hinduism,” Hin-duism Today (July–August–September 2003); Stanley J. O’Conner, Hindu Gods of Peninsular Siam (Ascona, Switzerland: Artibus Asiae, 1972).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.