Discovering Dvaravati: Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum re-opens
Closed to visitors since April 2019, the Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum is now reopening with a new and spectacular exhibition, which includes the Inscription of Wat Phra Ngam, the most recent Dvaravati epigraphic evidence discovered at the archaeological site in Nakhon Pathom.
The Phra Pathom Chedi Museum, located in Nakhon Pathom province, 57 kilometers west of Bangkok, houses an impressive collection of Dvaravati art discovered all over Nakhon Pathom. Already closed for renovations before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and resulted in its doors being shuttered for almost another two years, the museum held a soft opening with a virtual visit on a digital platform on September 19.
Now aspiring ancient script decipherers, culture buffs, and weekend visitors can visit the Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum and take a look at the new exhibition and layout.
“The Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum has been redesigned to improve exhibitions, transforming it into an important learning center for Dvaravati arts. The new exhibition includes Dvaravati Buddha images, sculptures depicting the Jataka, the Dharmachakra (Wheel of Dharma), and a model of the ancient Dvaravati settlements in Nakhon Pathom province,” says Prateep Phengtako, director-general of the Fine Arts Department.
Largest Dvaravati settlement
The Dvaravati was an ancient civilization that existed in what is now Thailand from around the sixth to the eleventh centuries. People recognize Dvaravati based on its arts and culture rather than its physical location as if it were a lost city.
Though Dvaravati arts and epigraphic evidence have been discovered in archaeological sites across the Chao Phraya Plain, little is known about Dvaravati’s administrative center. The ancient kingdom, which stretched from the upper peninsula’s coastal area to the Chao Phraya River’s riverine region, could have been a loose confederation of chiefdoms rather than a centralized state.
Archeological research and numerous artifacts discovered in Nakhon Pathom, such as two ancient silver medals in Palava character with the words “Sri Dvaravati”, indicate that Nakhon Pathom was home to one of the three largest Dvaravati settlements. According to the Fine Arts Department, the Dvaravati settlement at Nakhon Pathom was approximately 3.6 by 2 kilometers in size, making it the largest Dvaravati settlement compared to other ancient settlements in Suphan Buri and Ratchaburi provinces. A visit to the Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum will give the visitor an idea of what the ancient Dvaravati settlement might have looked like.
Dvaravati Vibhuti, New Evidence
Many artifacts, including an ancient terracotta doll and epigraphy, were discovered in 2019 while the Fine Art Department’s archeology team was excavating a site at Wat Phra Ngam, about one kilometer north of the Phra Pathom Chedi pagoda. The artifacts belonged to the Dvaravati period.
The ancient epigraphy was written in Palava characters and said “Dvaravati Vibhuti”. This new piece of evidence has piqued the interest of academics and Dvaravati fans, though it doesn’t reveal much about the lost city. We have no idea what “Dvaravati Vibhuti” means, but Thai epigraphists have confirmed that it contains the most beautiful Palava character ever discovered in Thailand.
The Wat Phra Ngam Inscription is now on display at the Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum. Visit the museum, examine the ancient inscription, and imagine how people lived during the Dvaravati period.
Returning visitors to the Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum will be greeted by 260 rare Dvaravati era artifacts (6th to 11th centuries). The museum’s facelift that includes improved lighting, modern technology, and creative displays allows visitors to connect with ancient pieces of art.
IF YOU GO
The Phra Pathom Chedi National Museum is located in Wat Phra Pathom Chedi Ratchaworawihan, Nakhon Pathom. It’s open from Wednesday to Sunday, 9am to 4pm.