Facts and Fiction: The Myth of Suvaṇṇabhūmi Through the Thai and Burmese Looking Glass

by Nicolas Revire

Burma Painting2W

Publication: TRaNS: Trans –Regional and –National Studies of Southeast Asia Vol. 6, No. 2: 167–205 | Institute for East Asian Studies, Sogang University 2018

Published: June 2018

Author: Nicolas Revire

Pages: 39

Language : English

Suvarnabhumi (Sanskrit) or Suvaṇṇabhūmi (Pali) may be rendered in English as ‘Golden Earth’, ‘Golden Land’, or ‘Land of Gold’. This fabled Indian name partially corresponds to the western myth of ‘El Dorado’ in European traditions: a far off, mysterious place associated with great wealth and prosperity, that does not necessarily consist of gold.

The author explores many Siamese and Burmese traditions related to the myth, often stressing the way the Khmer Empire spread and modified them. He adds: "Since I completed this manuscript, an important and unique epigraphic discovery was made in Cambodia that somemay perceive as pertinent to the issues raised in the article. In December 2017, Dr Vong Sotheara (Royal University of Phnom Penh) discovered a Pre-Angkorian stone inscription in the Province of Kampong Speu, Baset District, which he tentatively dated to 633 AD. According to him, the inscription would shed light on the location of the fabled realm and “prove that Suvarṇabhūmi was the Khmer Empire”. To my knowledge, this would be the earliest occurrence of ‘Suvarṇabhūmi’ in South and Southeast Asian epigraphy known to date, since no other inscriptions mentioning this name have yet been found in Southeast Asia before the second millennium AD."

(Photo: The gift of eight hairs to Tapussa and Bhallika. Modern mural painting; Shwedagon, Yangon, Burma. by N.Revire)

Tags: Thailand, Burma, Khmer Empire

About the Author

Nicolas Revire

Nicolas Revire

A specialist in Southeast Asian Buddhism, Early Art and Archaeology studies, Nicolas Revire is post-doctoral research fellowship at the Art Institute of Chicago since early 2023, after lecturing at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, Thailand, and being a guest lecturer at Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, Bangkok, for more than 20 years.

With a research focus on Buddhist iconography and Dvāravatī with special focus on Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, Nicolas Revire has contributed several articles and reviews in the Journal of the Siam Society and other academic publications, and translated numerous scholarly publications from Thai and English into French.

He edited (with Stephen A. Murphy) Before Siam: Essays in Art and Archaeology (2014).