TOWERS OF GOLD: AYUTTHAYA'S TREASURES
Those who had removed their valuables and precious things and hidden them by burying them, the Burmese accordingly whipped, beat and
roasted to recover their wealth by making them lead [the way to] and dig up their belongings, gold and silver. Some was recovered and some
was  not. And [the people the Burmese] slashed and slew dead were more than many. Then the Burmese used fire to melt off the pure gold which
encased that figure of the large standing statue of the Holy Buddha within the holy crown preaching hall of the Monastery of the Temple of the
Holy Omniscient One and carried off the entire amount of pure gold. Now they got ready, collected and assembled valuables and brought them to
be kept in each army and each stockade for as long as nine or ten days.
[1]

Then the Burmese went about seizing the property of the people and the royal property. Even the gold and silver ornaments covering objects of
worship of the Buddha in the several great and small monasteries were not spared. They did not make any distinction where they were able to
carry away the property seized. They took away what property they could take away; and when they could not carry it away, such as the gold and
silver covering Buddha images, and the gold covering the Buddha image of
Phra Si Sanphetdayan, the Burmese melted the gold by firing the
image and took away all the molten gold. Not satisfied with what they had seized, they would still seize the property which the people had buried
and concealed in monastery compounds and in their houses. They brought the persons whom they arrested, threatened them or induced them by
deceitful means to reveal such hidden property among themselves. Those who revealed the hidden property of others were set free. Those who
would not reveal their hidden property voluntarily were beaten, struck, and punished in many ways, and some died` in consequence.
[2]


No doubt that the Burmese took away large quantities of gold and valuables as their war loot in the month of April 1767. Though the illegal recuperation of
Ayutthaya's valuables continued deep into the 20th century. The search for gold in the deteriorated and ruined temple sites continued for two centuries. The
looting took such proportions that King Mongkut issued a decree in 1854  "that the people living near the ancient monuments should take care of them in
whatever size and state they were and how important they had been in the past." When in the 20th century the collection of Buddhist amulets became a
lucrative business, illegal digging in ruins received a mere boost. At present many hidden ruined sites bear the marks of these treasure hunters: earth mounds -
formerly the cradle of an ancient temple - show innumerable digging holes comparable to the holes in a Holland cheese.

It was only in the second half of the 20th century, real concern was shown by the government of the prevailing situation in Ayutthaya. Funds were allocated in
1956 to start the restoration and reconstruction of Siam's patrimony. Even under the guarding eye of the Fine Arts Department, active since 1935 in
registering Ayutthaya's history and busy with archaeological excavations at next doors' Wat Maha That and Wat Phra Ram, organized looters could escape
with an unknown amount of gold and valuables out of the crypt of Wat Racha Burana in 1957. Following the Police report it was estimated that the precious
objects stolen on that occasion included about 75 Kg of small gold objects and a large 10 Kg of gold object. The small objects were divided in 30 portions
among the looters. Only a few pieces were recuperated by the police, not even one third of what had been looted. Archaeologists of the FAD excavated the
crypt of Wat Racha Burana shortly after, and found another 2.121 artifacts. [3]

But why these hidden treasures?

Central to Buddhism, but especially to Theravada was the acquisition of "Bun" (lit: merit). The concept of merit was based on the law of karma and was in
fact the basis for the Theravada Kingship. Constructing a temple was regarded as highly meritorious and the deed that brought most merit. By donating the
site to the monkhood, the king could acquire merit at the same time as he showed his reverence for his predecessor or royal ancestor, commemorated in the
temple. To deposit the remains of a former king inside a prang or chedi would also ensure his eventual rebirth as a Buddha. [4]

The same concept of merit was applicable to valuables deposed in crypts. It has long been a funeral custom to deposit  valuable and cherished belongings of
the deceased together with the ashes of the dead. Relatives made votive offerings specially fabricated for the occasion in the gesture of making merit (hence
the many votive tablets found in the different crypts).

Most of the treasures found in the crypt of Wat Racha Burana were the possessions of the two princes (even clothes, the latter although perished instantly
when dug up and came in contact with the air). Some part of them might been inherited by them from their ancestors. A large number of votive objects came
probably from the third brother, King Borommaracha II.  Also close followers donated their treasures to the deceased as a token of their homage and in a
gesture of merit making. [3]

Robert Heine-Geldern explains in his "Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia" (1956) that the religious merit acquired in previous lives, makes
a man born a king or makes him acquire kingship during his lifetime. Merit was as thus political legitimacy. The more merit was accrued (in building temples
and offering valuables), the more legitimacy for the king or the king-to-be was endowed.

Here under an overview of the some of the golden objects found and displayed at the Chao Sam Phraya Museum in Ayutthaya and at the Bangkok National
Museum, both worthwhile a visit.

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That was the first temple to be excavated by the FAD in 1957, thanks to the funding by the Phibun Songkram Government and the set up of a
"Committee of Restoration of Ayutthaya" in 1956. In August 1957, archaeologists discovered a number of golden objects on the site. Workers, found in the
main chamber of the principal prang, half buried in the sand under the pedestal of the pagoda, a solid gold lion, sitting in a fish-shaped container decorated
with a gilded motif and filled with other gold accessories.
Gold. Always believe in your soul
always believe in,

because you are Gold,
glad that you're bound to return
there's something I could have learned
you're indestructible ...

(Text:  Kemp - performed by Spandau ballet)
Numerous votive tablets made of clay and gold plaques depicting Buddha images were found.
Later on a shaft was found in which a hollow stone pillar 3.20 m high with a lid buried in a cemented-brick pedestal. The container was filled with a small
stupa wrapped in a lead sheet containing relics, gold ornaments, a large quantity of bronze images, pewter votive tablets and other valuables. See: "The
Buddha Relics".

Wat Racha Burana

Wat Racha Burana was hurriedly excavated in 1958, when it became clear that looters already entered the crypt and took away an unknown number of
valuable objects. The findings in the crypt under the principal prang of the temple were of an enormous archaeological importance. A great number of royal
objects made of gold were found in both chambers. The objects found, gave hard evidence of the existence of ancient ceremonial use of for example, the
royal regalia of a Tai monarch, only written down in a stone inscription describing the coronation of King Loethai of Sukhothai in the year 1347 and the five
principal royal regalia of the Sukhothai era, carved in a panel now kept in the National Museum of Sukhothai.

Since ancient times, it was a royal tradition linked to Brahman religious rites that the King received five principal royal regalia as symbols of kingship during
his coronation ceremony. The crown was called the Phra Maha Phichai Mongkut or the Great Crown of Victory, while the five principal regalia or Bencha
Racha Ka kuthaphan were: the Sword of Victory (Phra Saeng Khan Chai Sri); the Royal Staff or Scepter (Tharn Phra Korn);  a pair of Royal Fan
(Walawichani) and Fly Whisk (Phra Saw Chammari); and a pair of Royal Slippers (Chalong Phra Bat Cherng Ngorn). The principal royal regalia symbolized
the king as a warrior, protecting his people (the sword); providing justice and equity (the staff); the acceptance of the people (slippers) and the king's
obligation to ward off any evil threatening his people (fan and whisk).

Wat Racha Burana was the cremation site of Chao Sam Phraya's closest family; his father King Intharacha (r. 1409-1424) and his two elder brothers. The
findings could conclude that the cremated remains of the King were buried with his most important belongings: the crown, the five principal regalia, the royal
utensils, a large number of other properties, religious items and offerings. The royal crown and the scepter are said to be one of the looted items, never to be
recovered. Some of the principal royal regalia could fortunately be retrieved.
The royal victory sword probably belonged to King Intharacha. The sword is 115 cm long and contained in a golden scabbard decorated with floral and
double-edged. The knob of the handle is beautiful decorated with precious stones.

With exception of the sword, the other found royal regalia were miniature imitations likely especially made for the funeral.
(Miniature of a royal shoe adorned with gemstones)
(Miniature of a whip and fly whisk made of gold
threads, a sunshade fan, and a royal long handed fan)
A number of Royal Utensils for the personal use of the monarch were also found, comprising water pots, betel-nut sets, trays and boxes.
(fish-shaped container)
Various ornaments such as necklaces, bracelets, bangles and rings were also found in the crypt. Royal clothing unfortunately, with exception of the ones
weaved in gold thread, disintegrated when they came in contact with the air, when the "archaeologists" tried to remove them.
References:

[1] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 521 / Source: Royal Autograph.
[2] Our Wars with the Burmese - Prince Damrong Rajanubhab (re-edited 2001) - White Lotus, Bangkok - page 355.
[3] Khruangthongsamay Ayutthaya - Krom Silpakorn (2005).
[4] The Lord of the Golden Tower- Beth Fouser (1996).