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The Dvaravati (Thai: ทวารวดี listen (help·info)) period lasted from around the 6th to the 11th century. Dvaravati refers to a culture, an art style, and a disparate conglomeration of principalities. Archaeological research over the past two decades or so has revealed the presence of a "proto-Dvaravati" period which spans the 4th-5th century, and perhaps earlier.
The culture of Dvaravati was based around moated cities, the earliest of which appears to be U Thong in what is now Suphan Buri Province. Other key sites include Nakhon Pathom, Phong Tuk, Si Thep, Khu Bua and Si Mahosot, amongst others. Legends engraved on royal urns report the following kings: Suryavikrama (673-688), Harivikrama (688-695), Sihavikrama (695-718).:86 A Khmer inscription dated 937 documents a line of princes of Chanasapura started by a Bhagadatta and ended by a Sundaravarman and his sons Narapatisimhavarman and Mangalavarman.:122 But at that time, the 12th century, Dvaravati began to come under the influence of the Khmer Empire and central Southeast asia was ultimately invaded by King Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century. Hariphunchai survived its southern progenitors until the late 13th century, when it was incorporated into Lan Na.
The people of the region used the Mon language, but whether they were Mon people is unknown. There is evidence that these principalities may comprise many cultural groups of people, including Malays and Khmer people. The theory of Thai migration into Dvaravati has been refuted and is now known to have happened much later.
The term Dvaravati derives from coins which were inscribed in Sanskrit śrī dvāravatī. The Sanskrit word dvāravatī means "that which has gates":301 (from dvāra "door, gate, entrance"). Its name may derive from the city of Dvārakā in ancient India.
Little is known about the administration of Dvaravati. It might simply have been a loose gathering of chiefdoms rather than a centralised state, expanding from the coastal area of the upper peninsula to the riverine region of Chao Phraya River. Hinduism and Buddhism were significant. The three largest settlements appear to have been at Nakhon Pathom, Suphanburi, Praak Srigacha, with additional centers at U Thong, Chansen, Khu Bua, Pong Tuk, Mueang Phra Rot, Lopburi, Si Mahosot, Kamphaeng Saen, Dong Lakhon, U-Taphao, Ban Khu Mueang, and Sri Thep.:303–312
The traditional chronology of Dvaravati is mainly based on the Chinese textual account and stylistic comparison by art historians. However, the results from excavations in Chansen and Tha Muang mound at U-Thong raise questions about the traditional dating. Newly dated typical Dvaravati cultural items from the site of U-Thong indicate that the starting point of the tradition of Dvaravati culture may possibly date as far back to 200 CE. Archaeological, art historical, and epigraphic (inscriptions) evidence all indicate, however, that the main period of Dvaravati spanned the seventh to ninth centuries. Dvaravati culture and influence also spread into Isan and parts of lowland Laos from the sixth century onward. Key sites include Mueang Fa Daet in Kalasin Province and Mueang Sema in Nakhon Ratchasima Province.
Dvaravati itself was heavily influenced by Indian culture, and played an important role in introducing Buddhism and particularly Buddhist art to the region. Stucco motifs on the religious monuments include garudas, makaras, and Nāgas. Additionally, groups of musicians have been portrayed with their instruments, prisoners, females with their attendants, soldiers indicative of social life. Votive tablets have also been found, also moulds for tin amulets, pottery, terracotta trays, and a bronze chandelier, earring, bells and cymbals.:306–308
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