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Tambralinga was an ancient kingdom located on the Malay Peninsula that at one time came under the influence of Srivijaya. The name had been forgotten until scholars recognized Tambralinga as Nagara Sri Dharmaraja (Nakhon Si Thammarat). Early records are scarce but its duration is estimated to range from the seventh to the fourteenth century. Tambralinga first sent tribute to the emperor of the Tang dynasty in 616. In Sanskrit tambra means "red" and linga means "symbol", typically representing the divine energy of Shiva.
By the end of the twelfth century, Tambralinga became independent of Srivijaya as the empire suffered a decline in prestige. At its height between the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century, Tambralinga had occupied most of the Malay Peninsula and become one of the dominant Southeast Asian states. By the end of the fourteenth century, Tambralinga was recorded in Siamese history as Nagara Sri Dharmaraja Kingdom.
References to a country named Poling appear in Chinese chronicles from the Tang period (618-907) down to the early Ming period (1368-1644). They had sent tribute in 640, 648, 818, 860 and 873. Many scholars identify Poling with Maling, and Danmaling (單馬令) was one of the member-states of Sanfoqi (Srivijaya in Chinese language) in the central part of the Malayu Peninsula or now a day southern Thailand. Consequently, Poling may also be equated to Javaka in Sri Lankan materials, Savaka in Tamil inscriptions, Zabaj and Zabaka in Arabic records, Tambralingam and Tambralingarath (rath meaning country) that appear in Indian sources.
Although geographic location of Holing has been never mentioned in the reports of the pilgrims who had visited the kingdom, there are several reasons that suggest a location on Thai southern coast, which is precisely where the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy said that the main port city of Takola Emporium was located during the first century.
References to the Tang's Chronicles (618-907), at Holing on the day of the summer solstice (June), an eight-foot vertical stake of sundial would cast a shadow that was around two feet long at the time of local noon that fell to the south side of the stake. By this information some scholars can determine that Holing was located at the latitude of 6 degrees, 8 minutes north. The only part of Southeast Asia that reaches this particular latitude is located in the central part of southern Thailand above the Equator.
In 671, the Chinese monk Yijing had a journey to seek the Pali Canon in India. After sailing for twenty days, his ship arrived in Foshih, the capital of Srivijaya Buddhist kingdom, where he "...landed and stayed six months, gradually learning the Sanskrit grammar. The king gave me some support and sent me to the country of Moloyu ...."
According to his record, Holing and Foshih were on nearly the same latitude but Holing was due east of the city of Foshih at a distance that could be spanned by a four- or five-day journey by sea while Moloyu was at a distance of fifteen-day journey by sea and had a location near to the Equator.
Tambralinga was mentioned again in Tanjore inscription stone. At Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur, the ancient city of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu are inscriptions dating from 1030 which mentions the victory of Rajendra Chola I over the Southeastern countries of Srivijaya kingdom. The countries that Rajendra Chola I conquered were 13 countries including Madamalingam (or Tambralingam).
This inscription mentions the name of Srivisayam as the capital of the kingdom and Mevilimbangam (assumed Palembang) is another city. From Jue-Tang-Chu and Sin-Tang-chu chronicles in Ming period (1368-1644) described the location of Sanfoqi (Srivijaya) that "the west bordering Topoteng, the north bordering Chenla, the south bordering Tomosang island and east bordering Po-li or Ma-li".
The boundary of this country is explained as follow:
|North to Chenla||Chenla is known as ancient Khmer Empire.|
|East to Po-li or Ma-li||Poli or Poling, Mali or Maling - Danmaling is known as Tambralinga or Nakorn Sri Dharmaraj.|
|West to Topoteng||Topoteng is known as Thap Thiang, one of Tambons (subdistrict) in Trang, southern Thailand.|
|South to Tomosang Island||Tomosang is known as Temasek or Singapore in the fourteenth century.|
According to the inscription no.24 found at Hua-wieng temple in Chaiya near to Nakhon Si Thammarat, the ruler of Tambralinga named Chandrabhanu Sridhamaraja was the king of Patama vamsa (lotus dynasty).:184 He began to reign in 1230, he had the Phrae Boromadhatu (chedi in Nakhon Si Thammaraj, from Sanskrit dhatu - element, component, or relic + garbha - storehouse or repository) reparation and celebration in the same year. Chandrabhanu Sridhamaraja brought Tambralinga reached the pinnacle of its power in the mid-thirteenth century. From the Sri Lankan and Tamil materials, this Chandrabhanu was a Savakan king from Tambralinga who had invaded Sri Lanka in 1247. His navy launched an assault on the southern part of the island but was defeated by the Sri Lankan king.
However Chandrabhanu was able to establish an independent regime in the north of the island over the Jaffna kingdom, but in 1258 he was attacked and subjugated by the south Indian Emperor Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan.:185 He was compelled to pay a tribute to the Pandyan Dynasty of precious jewels and elephants. In 1262 Chandrabhanu launched another attack on the south of the island, his army strengthened this time by the addition of Tamil and Sinhalese forces, only to be defeated when Pandya sided with the Sri Lankan side; this time Jatarvarman Sundara Pandyan's brother Jatavarman Veera Pandyan intervened and Chandrabhanu himself was killed in the fighting. Chandrabhanu’s son Savakanmaindan inherited the throne and submitted to Veera Pandyan's rule, received rewards and retained control over the northern kingdom. His regime too had disappeared following Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I's ascension to the Pandyan empire's throne and another invasion of the island by the army of the Pandyan Dynasty in the late 1270s. Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I installed his minister in charge of the invasion, Kulasekara Cinkaiariyan, an Aryachakravarti as the new king of Jaffna.
In at least two senses, the rapid expansion of Tambralinga is exceptional in the history of Southeast Asia. In the first place, Candrabhanu’s invasion of Sri Lanka and occupation of the Jaffna kingdom marks the only time that a Southeast Asian power has launched an overseas military expedition beyond the immediate Southeast Asian region. In the second place, in the historiography of Southeast Asia the southern Thailand has generally played a secondary role to that of places like Java, the Malacca Strait region (Srivijaya in the seventh~eighth century, Melaka in the fifteenth century), Cambodia, Champa, Vietnam, and Burma. Tambralinga’s sudden appearance on centre-stage in the thirteenth century was thus highly unusual.
By the end of the fourteenth century, Tambralinga had been submerged by the Sumatran Melayu Kingdom which had the backing of Java. Finally, in 1365 Majapahit Kingdom of Java recognized Nakorn Sri Dharmaraja as Dharmanagari written in Nagarakretagama. Despite its rapid rise to prominence in the thirteenth century, that is, by the following century Danmaling, or Tambralinga, the former member state of Sanfoshih – Javaka, had become a part of Siam.
The city chronicle already mentions a fortification when the town was refounded in 1278. The Ram Khamhaeng inscription of 1283 lists Nakhon Si Thammarat as one of the tributary kingdoms of Sukhothai. In the Palatinate law of King Trailok dated 1468, Nakhon Si Thammarat was listed as one of eight great cities (Phraya maha nakhon) belonging to the Ayutthaya Kingdom. During the reign of King Naresuan (r. 1590–1605) it became a first class province (Mueang Aek). After the fall of Ayutthaya, Nakhon Si Thammarat enjoyed a short period of independence, but quickly subdued by King Taksin on his mission to reunite Siam. In 1896, the semi-autonomous mueang was integrated into the Siamese central state created by King Rama V's and Prince Damrong Rajanubhab's Thesaphiban (เทศาภิบาล) reform. It was absorbed into the Monthon Nakhon Si Thammarat which was put directly under the control of the Ministry of Interior (Mahatthai)
The walls spread 456 m from East to West, and 2238 m North to South, thus enclosing an area of about one square kilometre. The northern wall had only one gate, called Pratu Chai Nuea or Pratu Chai Sak, also the southern wall had only one gate. To the east there were three gates, which connected the town with the sea. To the west were five gates. Today only the northern gate still exists, together with a short stretch of the northern city wall.