India and Southeast Asia




India and Southeast Asia:

The trading relations between India and Southeast Asia began in the 1st century B.C.E. and continued through the 1st century C.E. The strait of Malacca was convenient for the Indian merchants to enter the South China Sea. They unloaded their merchandise on the western coast of Malya Peninsula from there transported it to the east coast by land route and again loaded it on the boats. This was easier than proceeding along the coast all the way. This trade by the sea and land route grew to a great extent under the rule of Chola kings at the end of the 10th century C.E.

 Strait of Malacca, a waterway connecting the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea. It runs between the Indonesian island of to the west and peninsular (West) Malaysia and extreme southern Thailand to the east and has an area of about 25,000 square miles (65,000 square km). The strait is 500 miles (800 km) long and is funnel-shaped, with a width of only 40 miles (65 km) in the south that broadens northward to some 155 miles (250 km) between We Island off Sumatra and the Isthumus of Kra on the mainland. The strait derived its name from the trading port of Melaka (formerly Malacca)—which was of importance in the 16th and 17th centuries—on the Malay coast

The term ‘Southeast Asia’ was coined in the times of the second world war. The Buddhist texts mention a ‘Suvarnabhumi’. Suvarṇabhumi appears in many ancient Indian literary sources and Buddhist texts such as the Mahavamsa, some stories of the Jataka stories the Milind Panha, and the Ramayana.

 There is a common misunderstanding that the Edicts of Ashoka mention this name. The truth is the edicts relate only to the king's names and never reference Suvarnabhumi in the text. Moreover, all of the kings referenced in the text reigned their cities in the region located beyond the Sindhu to the west. The misunderstanding might come from a mixing of the story of Ashoka sending his Buddhist missionaries to Suvarnabhumi in "Mahavamsa" and his edicts.

Though its exact location is unknown and remains a matter of debate, Suvarṇabhūmi was an important port along trade routes that run through the Indian Ocean, setting sail from the wealthy ports in Basra, Ubullah, and Siraf, through Muscat, Malabar, Ceylon. Nicobars, Kedah, and on through the Strait of Malacca to fabled Suvarṇabhūmi.The term ‘Southeast Asia’ was coined in the times of the second world war. The Buddhist texts mention a ‘Suvarnabhumi’.

  1. The Mainland - This region is also known as Indo-China. It comprises the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and also the western region of Malaysia.
  2. The Maritime region – It comprises the Malaya peninsula, the eastern region of Malaysia as well as Indonesia. Although all these regions are included under a single umbrella name as Southeast Asia, it is necessary to keep in mind the local diversity of the cultural and historical constitution of each region.

Myanmar :

 ‘Myanmar’ is a neighboring country of India, adjacent to its northeast border. It was earlier known as ‘Brahmdesh’. In the 2nd century B.C.E. there were city-states known as ‘Pyu’ in the north and central regions of Myanmar. Some new Pyu cities came into existence at a later period. Among them the cities of ‘Halin’ and ‘Shrikshetra’ were important. Shrikshetra (near the city which was known as ‘Prome’ during the British period and presently known as ‘Pyay’) was the largest among the ‘Pyu’ cities. King Anawrahta the founder of the ‘Pagan empire’ is known as the greatest ruler in the history of Myanmar. He is credited with the unification of the north and south Myanmar.

The remains of the fortifications and moats around the three Pyu cities of Halin, Beikthano, and Shrikshetra can be seen even today. The archaeological excavations at the sites of these cities have brought into light many remains of buildings of those days, stupas, cemeteries, and the structures built for water management. The three sites have been declared as the World Cultural Heritage.

The Shwedagon Pagoda, situated on Singuttara Hill in the center of Yangon (Rangoon), is the most sacred Buddhist stupa in Myanmar and one of the most important religious reliquary monuments in the world. The proposed property includes the hill atop of which the main stupa is located, the hill-top reliquary stupa and associated religious buildings and sacred statuary, bells, and other emblems situated on the hill, as well as the hill’s surrounding sacred perimeter.  The proposed property comprises a total area of 46.3 hectares.

According to local chronologies dating from the14th century CE, the Shwedagon is believed to enshrine the bodily relics of the historical Buddha, Gautama, as well as artifactual relics purported by long tradition to be associated with the three other most recent previous Buddhas of our present era (Kalpa). The enshrined relics include eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama Buddha, as well as a piece of the robe believed to have belonged to Kassapa Buddha, a water filter attributed to Konagamana Buddha, and the staff of Kakusandha Buddha.

The formal name of the Shwedagon Pagoda is ShwedagonZedi Daw, which translates as The Great Golden Mountain Stupa.

The ‘Anand Temple’ is another important monument built during the reign of Kyanzittha, the emperor of Pagan in the 11th century C.E. It is the finest example of the combined architectural style of India and Pagan.

Thailand :

The ancient Thai people referred to their country as ‘Mueng Thai’. However, it was known in the world as ‘Siam’. In the 20th century, its name was changed to ‘Thailand’. Thailand was ruled from the 6th to the 11th century by ‘Mon’ people. At that time it was known as ‘Dvaravati’. Indian culture was introduced and spread in Thailand in the ‘Dvaravati’ period. The remains of sculptures and architecture of the Dvaravati period have been found in the vicinity of the cities like Lop Buri (Lao Puri) and Ayuttha (Ayodhya)

Various pottery excavated from former Dvaravati sites in central Thailand exhibit the sophistication and complexity of Dvaravati art. Many Buddha statues were created with the Dvaravati style. Some Buddha statues have mudras (hand positions) and others have katakahasta mudra (fingers folded down into palms, suggesting if it is holding something), both of which have evolved before 800 CE. Buddha statues are common artifacts.

The kings of Ayuttha bore names with the prefix ‘Ram’. The popularity of Ramayana may be the reason behind it. Thai Ramayana has been developed into an independent tradition. It is known as ‘Ramakien’ (Ram Akhyana). The stories of Ramakien have been preserved in all Thai art traditions including sculpture, folk music, dance, and theatre.

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia :

In the colonial period Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, these three countries together were known as ‘Indo-China’. During the 8th - 12th century C.E. the Mon and Khmer people ruled over Cambodia. Khmer empire originated in Cambodia This was a kingdom in Vietnam which existed in the Delta region of the river Mekong. Funan is known mainly through Chinese records. The ‘Han’ dynasty ruled in China in the 3rd century C.E. When the rule of the Han dynasty was ended, China disintegrated into three parts. Because of it, the southern kingdom of China was not left with any alternative path to reach the silk route. Hence, the king of the southern kingdom sent some people to explore the sea route. They found a kingdom in the delta region of the Mekong. They named it ‘Funan. The Han Dynasty ruled China from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. and was the second imperial dynasty of China. Though tainted by deadly dramas within the royal court, it is also known for its promotion of Confucianism as the state religion and opening the Silk Road trade route to Europe, permanently altering the course of Chinese history. Han Dynasty art and inventions like paper still influence the world today. ‘Champa’ was an ancient kingdom in the coastal region of Vietnam. Several Sanskrit inscriptions in Brahmi script have been found there. Champa was named after the ‘Cham’ tribe. The names of the cities in Champa were ‘Indrapur’, ‘Amaravati’, ‘Vijay’, ‘Kauthara’, and ‘Panduranga’. The city of Vijay was the capital of the Champa kingdom. The inscriptions of Champa mention the names of it kings and queens and the temples of Hindu deities built by them, especially Shiva temples. Wooden images of Gautama Buddha have also been found. This evidence indicates the existence of more city-states like Funan in Vietnam, which were trade centers from where various types of merchandise were imported and exported. The war that was continued for 20 years in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia is known as the ‘Vietnam War’. The vicinity of My Son temples got damaged to a great extent because of this war. Loas is a landlocked country. The population of Laos is mainly composed of the ‘Lao’ people who came to Laos from southern China. The name of the kingdom of Laos was ‘Lao Sang’. This kingdom was in existence during the 14th-18th century. Lao Sang was attacked by Thailand in the 19th century. Lao Sang could not survive the attack. In the latter half of the 19th century, the French established their administrative center in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Buddhism is the main religion in Laos. The cultural and literary expressions of people are influenced by the stories of Gautama Buddha’s life and Ramayana. Especially, this influence is conspicuous in the sculptural and presentations of performing arts, which are frequently based on the themes from these sources. ‘San Sinxay’ is an epic composed in the 16th century in Laos. It is popular, not only in Laos but also in Thailand. Cambodia was known as ‘Kambujadesha’ in ancient times. Its history is known from the inscriptions installed in the precincts of its temples. These inscriptions are in Sanskrit and Khmer languages. The first kingdom, established in Cambodia was known by the name of ‘Chenla’. The people who established Chenla were known as ‘Khmer’.

The people of Chenla were Khmer. In the 6th century, the kingdom was the scene of dynastic rivalries resulting in civil wars and general disruption of the state and economy. One of the northern vassal states, the kingdom of Chenla, invaded, usurped the throne, and established a new kingdom that was dominant for three centuries. The Chenla royal families intermarried with Fuanese elites and preserved and extended the Indianized culture.

The conquest of Funan was only one step in a series of conquests for the new Khmer state of Chenla. Once they established control over Funan, they embarked on a course of conquest that continued for three centuries. They subjugated central and upper Laos, annexed portions of the Mekong Delta, and brought what are now western Cambodia and southern Thailand under their direct control.

The royal families of Chenla intermarried with their Funanese counterparts and generally preserved the earlier political, social, and religious institutions of Funan. In the eighth century AD, however, factional disputes at the Chenla court resulted in the splitting of the kingdom into rival northern and southern halves. According to Chinese chronicles, the two parts were known as Land (or Upper) Chenla and Water (or Lower) Chenla. Land Chenla maintained a relatively stable existence, but Water Chenla underwent a period of constant turbulence.

Malaysia and Indonesia:

Before the arrival of the Europeans, there have been three kingdoms in Malaysia. The ‘Vayu Purana’ mentions the Malay peninsula as ‘Malaydvipa’. The Chinese Bhikkhu I-Tsing/ Yi-Jing (7th century C.E.) had visited the ‘Malayu’ kingdom. Ptolemy has mentioned Malayu as ‘Maleu Kolon’ and ‘Golden Chersonese’ (golden peninsula). An inscription in the Brihadishvara temple in Tanjore mentions it as ‘Malaiyur’. Malayu was one of the kingdoms conquered by the Chola king Rajendra. The Chinese court records also mention ‘Malayu’.

  1. Srivijaya: This kingdom proved to be more powerful among all kingdoms who competed with each other. This kingdom originated in Sumatra. Malayu and other neighboring kingdoms who were weaker than Srivijaya were gradually merged into it. In the 11th century C.E. Srivijya became weaker while facing the Chola invasion. In the 14th century C.E. ‘Parameswaran’ alias ‘Eskandar Shah’, the last king of Malayu established the first sultanate of Malaya.
  2. Majapahit: In the 13th century C.E., in Eastern Java, arose a kingdom known as ‘Majapahita’. This was the last kingdom, with Indian cultural traits. The name of the founder king of Majapahita was, ‘Vijaya’. King Vijaya was successful in sacking Kublai Khan from Java. He established his supremacy in some of the islands like Java, Bali, and also some other islands and extended the kingdom of Java into an empire. Its existence came to an end with the rise of Islamic states in the 15th and 16th centuries.
  3. Shailendra: According to some Indian historians the Shailendra kings hailed from India. However, this opinion is not accepted by all historians. The Shailendras reached the peak of their political power in the 8th - 9th centuries. The shailendra kings were followers of Buddhism. They built many Buddhist temples and stupas. Among them, the stupa of ‘Borobudur’ is unique for its architecture, sculptural art, and its expression of Buddhist philosophy. It has been enlisted as World Cultural Heritage A group of Hindu temples on the Dieng plateau in Central Java was built in the Shailendra period.
  4. Matram: There was a kingdom called Mataram contemporary to Shailendra. Its founder king’s name was Sanjaya. During the period of Matram kingdom, ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Harivamsha’ were translated in the Javanese language. Poems in ancient Javanese language are composed in Sanskrit meters like ‘Shardulvikridita’. Poems composed in meters are known as ‘Kakvin’. The shadow puppetry show known as ‘Wayang’ is a famous performing art of Indonesia. This show is presented by using cut-outs from leather or wood. The stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana are presented on the stage by the artists in this show.

There are also some forms of ‘Wayang’ played by human characters The Shaivaite temples, and Jaina temples were also built in Indonesia. The group of temples in Prambanan is important. This group has been accorded the status of World Cultural Heritage. The main temple in this group is known as ‘Candi* Prambanan’ or ‘Candi Lara/Rara Jonggrang’. It was built by King Daksha. This is a temple dedicated to Siva and it has a beautiful image of Goddess Durga in it. Local people call her Lara/Rara Jonggrang.

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