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Statue of the fictional king Phra Ruang

The Traibhūmikathā ( Sanskrit , "sermon on the three worlds", Thai ไตรภูมิ กถา Traiphumikatha ), later known by his Thai name Trai Phum Phra Ruang (Thai ไตรภูมิ พระร่วง , "The Three Worlds after King Ruang") is a cosmological treatise of Thai from the 14th century. It is one of the oldest surviving works in Thai literature . It is a representation of the universe , which according to the conception of Theravada- Buddhist Thai at that time consists of three different "worlds" or levels of existence and their respective partly mythical inhabitants and creatures. The creation is dated around the year 1345, the authorship is traditionally attributed to the then designated heir to the throne and later King Li Thai of Sukhothai .


In 1340 the famous King Ramkhamhaeng (to whom the "invention" of the Thai writing is attributed) had been dead for 40 years. The ruler of the Sukhothai Empire was his son Loe Thai . Li Thai , the grandson of Ramkhamhaeng, son of Loe Thai, was appointed viceroy in Si Satchanalai at that time .

Si Satchanalai is located 55 km north of Sukhothai, both cities formed the center of the Sukhothai empire, an empire which had made the Buddhist teaching ( Dharma ) its maxim.

Li Thai (in Thai ลิ ไท , also called Phaya Lithai ( พญา ลิ ไท )) prepared here for his role as king: the line of succession determined that he should be the successor to his father Loe Thai. During his seven-year stay in Si Satchanalai, Li Thai surrounded himself with a group of learned monks and ancient Buddhist scriptures. Based on this fund of ancient knowledge, he created one of the greatest masterpieces of traditional Thai literature: Traibhumikatha, "The Three Worlds".


The three worlds are the world of sensuality ( Kamaphum ), the world of pure form ( Rupaphum ) and the world of non-form ( Arupaphum ). It is at the same time a description of the concept of rebirth: three main levels building on each other, consisting of a total of 31 regions of existence. The axis in the middle is Mount Meru .

  • In the first world there are the eight hells, above the region of the animals, the hungry spirits , the asura demons , the region of the people and on top the 6 lower heavens of the devata. At the bottom there is the world of the 4 Guardian Kings, above is "Indra's Heaven", also called Tavatimsa Heaven or even "World of the 33 Gods".
  • The second world consists of 16 metaphysical levels that are increasingly lofty towards the top, here desireless deities live in subtle bodies.
  • Finally, the third world has four regions whose inhabitants are not subject to any external material form and have been immersed in meditation for thousands of years.
  • Beyond these zones lies nirvana , which cannot be described because it is beyond human comprehension.

Two of the zones were arguably of particular interest to Li Thai: the fifth, consisting of four great continents on which people live, and the seventh level: the Tāvatiṃsa heaven of the thirty-three devas .


Both regions were ruled by kings, who centuries later served as models for Southeast Asia's Theravada rulers. Like Indra , whose palace was on the very top of Mount Meru, the kings built their palaces as the symbolic center of their kingdoms. The Bangkok 20th century carries in its official name twice the name of Indra; the Erawan , the 33-headed elephant, Indra's traditional mount, is a predominant emblem above the entrances to Bangkok's official buildings.

The three worlds and their inhabitants find their counterpart in Thai Buddhist architecture, embodied both in the various physical levels of the bell-shaped chedi and in the Khmer- influenced prang . Both can be found as typical components in many Thai temples ( wat ).

Despite the complexity of the traiphum, every Thai villager is familiar with it, be it in its architectural manifestation or as the subject of the murals traditionally found on the western wall of the Buddhist assembly halls, the viharn .

While King Rama I (r. 1782-1809) had promoted the drafting of a new edition of the Traiphum, King Rama IV. (Mongkut; r. 1851-68) and the monks of the Thammayut order he founded withdrew the validity of this Cosmology in doubt. They questioned all doctrines that cannot be traced back to the Buddha ( Siddharta Gautama ) himself and were particularly anxious to reconcile Buddhism with modern science. If one takes them literally and does not understand them as allegory, the statements of the Traiphum are in obvious contradiction to scientific knowledge.


  • Frank E. Reynolds, Mani B. Reynolds (translation, introduction, and notes): Three worlds According To King Ruang . Berkeley 1982. ISBN 0-89581-153-7

Individual evidence

  1. Lourens P. van den Bosch: Voices of a critical Buddhism in modern Thailand. In: Criticism within Religions and Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Southeast Asia. Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, pp. 10-11.