via Nepali Times, 02 January 2021: First of a two-parter about the influence of Hindu religion in predominantly-Buddhist Thailand. The broad strokes are relevant to the archaeological record, but one commenter on Facebook has pointed out a number of inaccuracies in the details, such as the lineage of the Brahmins in Thailand, and the etymology of the word ‘Isaan’.
Thailand is the largest Buddhist country in the world, with 95% of its 69 million population following the religion. Those who consider themselves of the Hindu faith constitute just 0.03% percent of Thais (22,100 people) according to the 2015 census.
Despite the very small number of Hindus here, elements of Hinduism permeate Thailand’s socio-cultural life. Even as the group is a minority, various Hindu elements remain deeply embedded in the traditional culture and social life of the Thai people.
Hinduism arrived in Thailand partly along the land route from India via Burma, but also traversed the Bay of Bengal to Indonesia and was instrumental in the establishment of the maritime Sri Vijaya Empire. It is from Java that Hinduism also spread to Cambodia, and what is now Vietnam and northwards to Thailand – absorbing local cultural elements along the way.
Waves of invasions, and especially the Khmer rule, left the residue of Hinduism in the Thai culture. And as is often the case with external influences, the elements have been absorbed and overlaid with Buddhist rituals seamlessly, giving them Thai characteristics.