The Hindu Presence in World Culture

European travelers to the Indian subcontinent and colonial scholars did everything to encourage the idea that India was a stagnant country and its people largely immobile, but this view betrayed Europe’s own parochialism and the inability of Europeans to confront some of the exceedingly cosmopolitan cultures of the Indic world. Buddhists and later Hindu kings were carriers of Indic culture to Southeast Asia in the second half of the first millennium, and though Bali is generally characterized as the Hindu “paradise” or “getaway” in Muslim Indonesia, the Prambanan plains of central Java are a striking testimony of the infiltration of Hindu culture into all of Southeast Asia. Down to the present day, the Javanese are steeped in the culture of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

India also developed extensive links with central Asia, Aden and the Gulf, and the east coast of Africa, and one effect of the European presence in India was the excision of the memory of these forms of interculturality. Gujaratis, Hakkas, Cantonese, Malayalis, Arabs, Bataks, Acehnese, Malays, Minangs, and Parsis mingled together. Before European hegemony commenced in the modern period, the Indian ocean trading world provided the conditions for a multiculturalism that the Western world, which did everything to eliminate diversity and plurality, now claims as its signal contribution to world history. There is evidence of Indian settlements in east Africa extending back to the 12th century.

Source: Diaspora Purana --The Indic Presence in World Culture by Vinay Lal

Kadaram or Bhujanga

Kadaram (the ancient Kedah Kingdom), or Kataha Nagara or also called Bhujanga (Bujang Valley) was one of the important ancient Hindu Kingdoms of South Asia. Kadaram was situated in region of southern Thailand, and northern peninsular Malaysia. It is presently known as Kedah. Being situated in a strategic place which commanded the northern approaches of the Straits of Malacca, it became a center of power and economy. It had very close connections with many countries of the ancient world. Trade connections between western Indonesia and Southern India seem to have been close during the reign of the Pallavas, from the 4th to 9th centuries CE. These relations helped spread Hindu culture and religion to the Malays, and also lead to the emergence of Hindu Kingdoms like Kadaram (Old Kedah), Langkasuka, Funan, and Champa.

The word "Bujang" in a modern Malay Language means bachelor but the proper spelling is actually in Sanskrit, "Bhujanga" or dragon. Add the prefix 'Lembah', which means valley, and you get Dragon Valley.

Vinayaka statue found in the site of ancient Kadaram.

The site covers an area of 224 square kilometres. When you make your way around the cluster of temple ruins, you will note the dominant influences of Hinduism and Buddhism. Researchers have concluded the ruins and artefacts found here dating back to the 5th century AD. Both civilisations practised trade relations with old empires of India, Cambodia and Srivijaya. It was even visited by the Chinese monk I-Tsing in 671 AD.

It is the richest archaeological area in Malaysia. Archaeological research indicates that an ancient Hindu Kingdom ruled here as early as 300 AD. Relics of the kingdom found at the site and now on display at the Archaeological Museum include inscribed stone caskets and tablets, metal tools and ornaments, ceramics, pottery, and Hindu icons. More than fifty ancient tomb temples, called candi, have also been unearthed, many of which were built during the Bujang Valley civilization's heyday.

What remains now to be seen are some remnants of this ancient society which includes temples, tablets and drainage channels which have been found across more than 300 sq km surrounding the "Gunung Jerai" (means Mount Jerai) which happens to be the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia located at the northern region.

Archaeological Excavation

There are ruins, including temples (Chandi), that may date more than 1,500 years old in Kadaram.

If we were to look for proof of the existence of the earliest Malay kingdoms on the peninsula, it is inevitably Kedah that has yielded the most ancient archaeological evidence so far discovered.

Since the first excavation in 1936 by British archaeologists, H.G Quatrich Wales over 50 archaeological sites have been discovered. This gives evidence to the daily living of people long ago. The temple grounds are sacred where few of the temples have been restored while others are left as it is and is still undergoing research.

The two most prominent sites containing 600-year old candis were unearthed in 1997. Most prominent is the 1,000-year-old Candi Bukit Batu Pahat (Temple of the Hill of the Chiselled Stone) believed to be built in the 17th Century on the summit of a small hill. These sites of temple ruin stretch all the way from Gunung Jerai to Kuala Muda in the south.

Throughout the course of the excavation, archaeologists have found various artifacts such as pottery, jewellery, stone pillars, stone carvings and statues. These findings are displayed at the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum nearby.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Captain James Low found:

“undoubted relics of a Hindoo colony, with ruins of temples …’ and ‘… mutilated images. ..’ extending ‘along the talus of the Kedda mountain Jerrei.’

Among his later finds were fragments of a Sanskrit inscription of the fourth century A.D. written in the oldest Pallava alphabet as well as a slab found in the estuary of the Muda River bearing a Sanskrit prayer in fifth-century Pallava script for the success of a voyage about to be undertaken by a sailing-master (mahdndvika), indicating the estuary was a home port for Indian traders during the fifth century A.D. Later excavations in the valley of the Bujang River (an tributary of the Merbok River further north) uncovered various sanctuaries, palace halls of audience, temples, stapas, forts, as well as a number of other unidentified buildings. The shrines in the Bujang Valley were later abandoned in favour of sites nearer the Merbok estuary.

Indian ships found a sheltered anchorage and probably a small community of indigenous folk practicing subsistence cultivation and fishing. No doubt these folk had diversified their simple economy by casual trading with Indian merchants entering the Straits of Malacca. Their settlement, at first a mere village, had grew to become the collecting point for the forest products of the surrounding hinterland, aided also by its strategic location at the western end of a trans-peninsular route to the east.

Head of Nandi found in the vicinity of Kedaram.
One of the six stone boxes, which were found buried beneath Candi Bukit Batu Pahat.

Metal-smelting Workshop

The archaeologists found a metal-smelting workshop replete with a network of furnace nozzles which was unearthed in an oil palm plantation in "Sungai Batu" (means Stone River). The system of metallurgy found here similarly resembles the techniques used in ancient India. There were also like ceramics, pots, bracelets and beads. "This is the first time that an advanced metal industry from such a period has been confirmed to have existed in this region", says Associate Prof Dr. Mokhtar Saidin from the Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR) from the USM. He points out that they are gradually uncovering the remaining mounds which requires a lot of patience.

Early References

Figure of a dancer carved in high relief found at Batu Lintang, south of Kedah.

There are also a great deal of references in ancient and medieval Indian literature to locations which have been identified as Kedah. One of the earliest presumed references to Kedah (called, at varying times, Kadaram or Kataha) is contained in the Tamil poem Pattinappilai, was written at the end of the second century A.D. It described goods from Kadaram “heaped together in the broad streets” of the Chola capital.

Vimana Mandapa.

The seventh century Sanskrit drama Kaumudimahotsava called Kedah Kataha-nagara and described it as a country famed for its social attractions and gay life. The Agnipurina also mentions a territory known as Anda-Kataha, with one of its bounds delimited by a peak, which scholars have assumed to be Gunung Jerai. There are two further references to Kataha in a Prikrit work, the Samaraiccakaha written about the middle of the eighth century, relating voyages to Kataha-dvipa. Stories from the Kathasaritsagara described the elegance of life in Kataha, calling it ‘the seat of all felicities’.

After a period of independence, Kedah then attained its height of greatness as the seat of power for the Sri Vijaya empire on the peninsula. It was clearly the chief power on the peninsula and in many ways surpassed Palembang in terms of trade and its strategic links with India and the rest of the region. Its fortunes, however, began to wane after the great raid by Rajendra Chola on the Sri Vijaya empire in 1025 A.D. Kedah was a primary military objective and despite what the Cholas described as the “fierce strength” of the defenders, it fell to the raiders, its king losing “large heap of treasures” to the new conquerors. Kedah later tried to assert its independence from the Sri Vijaya empire and another Chola King Vira Rajendra raided Kedah in 1068 A.D. to aid its king.

But the great city-state sinks into obscurity after that. The Kingdom of Ligor takes over the mantle of power from Sri Vijaya on the peninsula and its king Candrabhanu uses Kedah as a base for attacks on Sri Lanka. The Thais were to later subjugate this kingdom, leading to Thai domination of much of the northern peninsula in the centuries to come.


The most detailed description of the early Malay kingdom of Langkasuka is found in the Liang-shu, a Chinese history written in the early seventh century. Referred to as Lang-ya-hsiu, Langkasuka’s frontiers were described as thirty days’ journey from east to west, and twenty from north to south. Its capital was said to be surrounded by walls to form a city with double gates, towers and pavilions.

“When the king goes forth he rides upon an elephant. He is accompanied by banners, fly-whisks, flags and drums and he is shaded with a white parasol. The soldiers of his guard are well-appointed. The inhabitants of the country say that their state was founded more than four hundred years ago. Subsequently the descendants became weaker, but in the king’s household there was a man of virtue to whom the populace turned. When the king heard of this he imprisoned this man, but his chains snapped unaccountably. The king took him for a supernatural being and, not daring to injure him, exiled him from the country, where upon he fled to India. The king of India gave him his eldest daughter in marriage. Not long afterwards, when the king of died, the chief ministers welcomed back the exile and made him king.”

This account, and that of other Chinese histories, describe a kingdom that began in the second century A.D., located somewhere along the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. The most important piece of evidence as to its location is provided by the Wu-pei-chih, which firmly places a Lang-hsi-chia to the south of Songkla (Singora), up to the Patani River.

Early Malay literature, however, is quite explicit in indicating a location on the west coast. From the Hikayat Marong Mahawangsa (a king who is said to have sailed from India) we can extract the following relevant passages:

Then King Marong Maha-Wangsa asked an old wise man in his ship, who answered, ‘That large island, almost touching the mainland, is Pulau Seri, the small one is Pulau Jambul, and further landwards from there is Pulau Lada, my lord’. Then King Marong Mahawangsa said, ‘Let us land at the cape of that island’.

King Marong Mahawangsa came upon good land, very beautifully situated. He did not return to his ships, so eager was he to build a fort and a hall, very large and beautiful. When the palace hall was completed, he called it Langkasuka. The city, grew more and more populous from month to month and from year to year … One day King Marong Mahawangsa was granting audience to great numbers of ministers, courtiers, commanders, chamberlains, pages and officials, who were all crowded into his palace hall Langkasuka… Then King Marong Mahawangsa said to the Roman envoys, ‘I have installed my son as King. Now we should give our country a name’ … ‘We shall name this our country Kedah Zamin Duran’ … King Marong Mahawangsa saw how Pulau Lada had joined the mainland, finally being called Bukit Lada, just as Pulau Jambul was finally called Bukit Jambul. Pulau Seri was almost joined to the mainland and was eventually called Gunong Jerai on account of its height.’

Thereupon King Marong Mahapodisat [son of Mahawangsa] made his son mount the elephant Gemala Johari … The elephant raised its head and set off towards the rising sun, accompanied by the ministers, commanders and soldiers. They entered a vast forest; later a plain came into sight. The King, on the elephant Gemala Johari, crossed several hills and mountains. After some time, when they had almost reached the sea, they came upon a great river flowing into the sea. On that plain the elephant Gemala Johari stopped.

The princess-consort said, ‘Go back to Kedah, to my royal father, and tell him that this is the country called Patani’ … Now King Sari Mahawangsa did not wish to stay at Langkasuka as it was very far from the sea. So he ordered his four ministers to gather lime and mussel-shells with which to build a fortress downstream, for the river was big and wide, broadening out and with a very swift current. The ministers carried out the royal command. King Sari Mahawangsa unceasingly visited the downstream area where the moated fortress was to be built. Upstream in that area he built a small palace called Sirukum.”

It is clear from these passages that Langkasuka has passed into Malay folklore as a west-coast kingdom, the predecessor of modern Kedah, with its capital at the foot of Gunong Jerai. The evident association of its rulers with Patani “beyond the forests and hills” may suggest a kingdom that spanned the peninsular to the east coast, where most of the Chinese accounts place Langkasuka. It is evident that the fortunes of Langkasuka ebbed and flowed with that of its larger neighbours. It seems to have entered a decline when it was conquered by the Funan Empire of Cambodia between the third and sixth century. It then experienced a resurgence after the fall of Funan, only to succumb to the Sri Vijaya Empire some time in ninth century.

Indian and Javanese texts also suggest a western kingdom. Ilangasoka is named as one of Rajendra Chola’s conquests in his expedition against the Srivijaya Empire, described as a kingdom that that was “undaunted in fierce battles”. The Majapahit epic of 1365, the Nagarakartagama, described Lengkasuka as a west coast state subject to the overlordship of Majaphit (though it is more likely that, at the time, Langkasuka was part of the territory of Majaphit’s arch-enemy Sri Vijaya). Langkasuka then mysteriously disappears from written history – leaving only a legendary name to peasant mythology. The spirit land of Lakawn Suka still features in the mythology of Patani Malays, while Kedah peasant folklore interpret the realm of Alang-kah-suka as the domain of the fairy princess Puteri Sadong, ‘who rules over the Little People and wild goats of the limestone hills, and persistently refuses all suitors, be they never so highborn or otherwise eligible”.

Finally, when it had been erased from the map of the peninsula after some many centuries, the name ‘Langkasuka’ again appeared in our history when it was mooted by our founding fathers as a possible name for independent Malaya.

Ramakien - from the Ramayana to the National Epic of Thailand

Ramakian (Ramayana in India) is the tale of the God Vishnu who incarnated as Rama to punish the Yaksa Totsagan. This is the story of Phra Ram and his Consort Sita (Naang Siidaa). Ramakian is one of the foundations of Buddhist Literature in Thailand, and is taught in every Primary school.

The Ramayana, came to Southeast Asia by means of Indian traders and scholars who traded with the kingdoms of Khmer (such as Funan and Angkor) and Java (Srivijaya), with whom the Indians shared close economic and cultural ties.


The spread and popularity of Ramayana over the centuries may be seen in the number of variations of the story in the region. By the Dhonburi period of Thai history, the Thai version of the Ramayana (The Story of Rama) had been renamed Ramakien (The Glory of Rama) while the same story became known as Ram-Lak in the Lao version. Although older versions of Ramakien are extant, such as a book dated to the Dhonburi period, the most complete version of the Ramakien is the "Rama I version", an epic poem composed by King Rama I in the 18th century.

In the late first millennium, the epic was adopted by the Thai people, who had migrated to Southeast Asia from southern China. The oldest recordings of the early Sukhothai kingdom, dating from the thirteenth century, include stories from the Ramayana legends. The history of the legends was told in the shade theater (Thai: หนัง, Nang), a shadow-puppet show in a style adopted from Indonesia, in which the characters were portrayed by leather dolls manipulated to cast shadows on a nearby screen while the spectators watched from the other side.

The Thai version of the legends were first written down in eighteenth century, during the Ayutthaya kingdom, following the demise of the Sukhothai government. Most editions, however, were lost when the city of Ayutthaya was destroyed by armies from Burma (modern Myanmar) in the year 1767.


The version recognized today was compiled in the kingdom of Siam under the supervision of King Rama I (1736-1809), the founder of the Chakri dynasty, which still maintains the throne of Thailand. Between the years of 1797 and 1807, Rama I supervised the writing of the well-known edition and even wrote parts of it. It was also under the reign of Rama I that construction began on the Thai Grand Palace in Bangkok, which includes the grounds of the Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The walls of the Wat Phra Kaew are lavishly decorated with paintings representing stories from the Ramakien.

Rama II (1766-1824) further adapted his father's edition of the Ramakien for the khon drama, a form of theater performed by non-speaking Thai dancers with elaborate costumes and masks. Narrations from the Ramakien were read by a chorus to one side of the stage. This version differ slightly from the one compiled by Rama I, giving an expanded role to Hanuman, the god-king of the apes, and adding a happy ending.

Since its introduction to the Thai people, the Ramakien has become a firm component of the culture. Though many consider it only an adaptation of a strange work from an archaic system of beliefs, it is firmly embedded in the cultural history of the country and the people. The Ramakien of Rama I is considered one of the masterpieces of the Thai literature. It is still read, and is taught in the country's schools.

Source: Encyclopedia II - Ramakien - From the Ramayana to the National Epic of Thailand

The Birth of the Cosmos at Angkor Wat

The east-facing temple wall at Angkor Wat portrays the Hindu creation story known as the "Churning of the Sea of Milk." These panels are best seen around the time of sunrise. Former University of Michigan professor Eleanor Mannikka has discovered that the sun interacts with several of the panel's images on important dates of the annual solar cycle. The entire scene contains a total of 183 figures that collectively represent the number of days between the Winter and Summer solstices that take place each year during the months of December and June, respectively.

Angkor Wat

At the pivot point of this magnificent relief is the figure of the Hindu solar deity Vishnu (right), who occupies the one position in the panel that is directly illuminated by the rising sun on the day of the vernal equinox each March. In addition to the relief, the temple of Angkor Wat features solar alignments in which the Sun appears to rise out of its central tower on the day of the vernal equinox each March from at observation point located at the western end of the long causeway that leads up to the temple gates.

Set at the beginning of the Golden Age, the Churning of the Sea of Milk explains how the forces of light (devas) and darkness (asuras) once worked together to generate the elixir of immortality that the Hindu scriptures call the amrita. At the beginning of the world, the devas fought bitterly with the asuras for a thousand years.

Churning of the Sea of Milk

Each side was separately attempting to generate the elixer called the amrita, which would render immortal anyone who drank it. Unable to generate the amrita, both sides asked Lord Vishnu for assistance. After explaining to the celestials that they would have to work together in order to generate the amrita, Vishnu organized the forces of light and darkness into two groups. At Angkor Wat, the asuras are arrayed on the left. They are led by their captain Bali, who holds the head of the serpent king that served as the churning rope.

Angkor Wat full view

To the right are arrayed the forces of light, led by the monkey king Sugriva who can be seen holding onto the serpent king's tail. At the center of the entire operation is Vishnu, who guides the churning operation from his commanding position on the pivotal mountain of Mandara, around which the serpent king has wrapped his body. To keep the Mandara from sinking into the Sea of Milk, the king of the tortoises acts as the mountain's support. After two thousand more years come to pass, the churning operation finally succeeds, generating not only the much coveted elixir of immortality, but also the sun, the moon, and the celestial nymphs called the apsaras. They rise like stars and hover over the Milk Ocean, which symbolizes the Milky Way galaxy.

Like the revolution of the sun, moon, planets, and stars that eternally revolve about the dome of the firmament, the visitor to Angkor is part of a cycle that must periodically return to the beginning. Having assimilated Angkor's cosmic perspective, the visitor walks back through the temple proper, down the long western causeway and steps back into the world of the present.

The Srivijaya Empire

Srivijaya is an ancient kingdom on the island of Sumatra. Known to be existed around 1400, it was found by Dapunta Hyang Çri Yacanaca. Buddhism was then spread, and records describe the Srivijayan capital Palembang as a center of Buddhist learning. The time the Buddhist monk, I-Ching, came to Srivijaya, he recommended it as a centre of Buddhist learning. He spent the whole of six months learning Sanskrit there. At the time the growing trade and shipping between India and China, controlled by Srivijaya, had attracted the rivalry of both East Java and the Cholas of south India. So later in 1025, the Cholas attacked Srivijaya, captured its king, and devastated the country.

Srivijaya Empire Map

The Indian influence over South-East Asia expanded a lot during the time of Pallavas between the fifth and seventh centuries and the influence was mainly seen in Cambodia. In Srivijaya, a maritime power and dynasty which controlled the empire (stretching from Sumatra to Malaya, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) arose from obscurity in the 8th century. Srivijaya was an Indianised polity, more Buddhist than Brahminical with its capital near Palembang in South Eastern Sumatra.

Rival to the Srivijaya dynasty was the joint kingdoms of Sailendra and Sanjaya based in central Java. It was during their time (after 780 CE) that the temple building activity flourished in the island. These temples were based on the layout and elevation of the Pallavan and Chalukyan temples. An exception to this style of construction is the colossal temple at Borobudur, which apparently started as a Hindu temple and was converted to a Buddhist place of worship.
One of the largest Hindu temples in the region is Prambanan, located in central Java. This temple, which was built around 850 CE during the time of the Sanjaya dynasty is dedicated to the Trimurtis. There are about 200 temples in this complex and the bas-relief of the temple depicts the story of Ramayana. Parts of this temple was damaged in the recent earthquake that hit Indonesia.

The longest axis of the island runs approximately northwest - southeast, crossing the equator near the center. The interior of the island is dominated by two geographical regions: the Barisan Mountains in the west and swampy plains in the east.To the southeast is Java, separated by the Sunda Strait. To the north is the Malay Peninsula, separated by the Straits of Malacca. To the east is Borneo, across the Karimata Strait. West of the island is the Indian Ocean.

The Hikayat Seri Rama

The Ramayana helped to mold concepts of state and kingship in Malaysia. The epic probably reached Malaysia by way of Javanese traders who brought their shadow play, Wayang Kulit. Many changes developed in the Malay version Ramayana and those changes depended upon the local traditions and politics. Religious beliefs also influenced these changes since the Malays were followers of Islam.

There are literary and folktale versions of Ramayana in Malaysia. The Hikayat Seri Rama exists in both written and oral form, and the Wayang Kulit Siam is a shadow play from Kelantan on the border of Malaysia and Thailand (Siam). The Ramayana in Malaysia is used more for entertainment and social education rather than for spiritual or religious purposes. Kelantan is strongly Islamic, but it is also the main base for the Malay shadow puppet theatre.

The main purpose of the Hikayat Seri Rama is to show the ideals of righteousness, love, loyalty, and selfless devotion. This Malay version has combined elements of the Indian Sanskrit Ramayana with local traditions and beliefs to create a highly developed story which is enjoyed by many.

Watching “wayang kulit” or shadow play is a favorite past time in the countryside. “Wayang kulit” plays are influenced by Ramayana epic and said to be the leftover of Hindu empires which ruled the Malay archipelago as early as 2nd century.

All Kelantan dalangs (shadow puppet puppeteers) are Muslims. The wayang (shadow play) is disliked by the conservative Muslims. They criticize the rituals and practices associated with the art which appear to them to be outlawed by Islam. The religious conservatives are also concerned with the effect that the music has on the people and the dalang during the performance. They object to the trance-like effect which seems to be produced by the gamelan (gong orchestra). The dalang usually performs 200 - 300 shows a year and probably no more than two are held for purposes other than entertainment. The literary and folktale versions include variations, changes, omissions, and additions based upon the particular region. Another version entitled Wayang Kulit Gedek appears to have come from Southern Thailand.

In Malaysia, the Ramayana episodes are divided into two categories, those that concern the fundamental plot, pokok, (base,trunk) and those non-fundamental episodes, rantings (twigs), which consist of Rama's adventures and those of the other main characters. These extensive ranting stories are performed by local puppeteers (dalang) or performers.

Rama and Shinta (Sita) from Ramayana.

Some wayang kulit Melayu dalang claim that there are well over 1,000 flat leather puppets in a complete set, encompassing all the character needed to tell the Panji and Pandawa stories. The puppets used to this day, retain a form, style, and design very similar to the Javanese leather puppets of the wayang kulit purwa. The stage itself, however, follows the traditional Malay shadow play roofed operating hut raised on stilts, with a white screen stretched over a frame to partition off the unwalled side of the hut for viewing by the audience. Like the Malay wayang kulit Siam folk village form of shadow puppet theatre, the wayang kulit Melayu orchestra players sit inside the hut behind the dalang. While the manipulation of the leather puppet movements as well as the pace at which the story progresses is much slower in the wayang kulit Melayu type when compared to the fast-paced, village folk style of the wayang kulit Siam.

The Malays do not look for the Hindu/Buddhist concepts of dharma, karma, and moksha in the hero Rama. They only view him as a righteous and virtuous model for mankind. With these traits he was able to triumph over evil. When comparing the Sanskrit Ramayana and the Hikayat Seri Rama we find they share the basic universal theme that goodness, righteousness, and justice will prevail over evil. These values and ideals appealed to the people in all the countries of South East Asia influenced by India.

Malay storytellers however show the legacy of their particular civilization in their version of the epic. Malay writers and storytellers produce variations in which Lakhsmana, the younger brother, becomes more important than Rama the elder prince. Rama, although righteous and virtuous was perceived to be weak and his character is often moved to the background. The younger Lakhsmana's courage and willingness to react decisively appear to be traits which are more appreciated by the Malays.

(Source: SEA Rmayana; Wayang Kulit Melayu)

India's Chola kings

The Cholas initially occupied present Tanjore and Trincnopoly districts with of South India and, up to the eight century A.D. the Chola kingdom was very small. However, the Cholas rose to prominence when in 850 their ruler Vijayalaya defeated the Pallavas and snatched Tanjore from them, making it the capital of the Chola kingdom. Aditya Chola dynasty defeated the last Pallava ruler in 987 A.D.and the Cholas later captured Madurai from the Pandyas who had controlled the lower tip of the peninsula from early times. Rajaraja (985-1014) extended Chola domination throughout South India and Sri Lanka, and challenged the Chalukyas who had controlled the north-eastern Deccan. His son Rajendra Chola conquered the Andaman and Nicobar islands and advanced past the Ganges up to Bengal, assuming the title of “Gangaikonda” (the victor of Ganges). The powerful Chola state was now prepared to contest the maritime supremacy of Sri Vijaya Saliendras.

At the dawn of the eleventh century, inscriptions indicate that ties of friendship still existed between the two empires, but it was only to be expected that the Chola kings should resent, and eventually seek to break, the commercial monopoly claimed by the Maharajas of the Straits. What finally precipitated the conflict between them is unknown. Possibly Sri Vijaya was restricting Indian trade with the Archipelago and China, or possibly the Cholas simply felt themselves strong enough to assert their undoubted maritime strength in a digvijayaydtra through foreign territory. Whatever the cause, in c. 1025 Rajendra I mounted a great raid against the Sri Vijaya empire, a record of which is preserved in a praiasti inscribed on the south wall of the Rajarajesvara temple in Tanjore:

Rajandra despatched many ships in the midst of the rolling sea and caught Sangrama - Vijayottungavarman, the king of Kadaram (Kedah — one of the states in Malay Peninsular). Together with the elephants in his glorious army, he took the large heap of treasures which that king had accumulated and captured the arch called Vidyadharatorana at the war-gate of his extensive capital; Sri Vijaya (Palembang) with the jewelled wicket-gate adorned with great splendour and the gate of large jewels; Pannai (the east coast of Sumatra) with water in its bathing ghats; the ancient Malaiyur (Jambi) with the strong mountain for its rampart; Mayirudingam (on the Isthmus of Kra), surrounded by the deep sea as by a moat; Ilangasoka (Langkasuka/Patani), undaunted in fierce battles; Mappappalam having abundant deep water as a defence; Mevilimbangam guarded by beautiful walls; Valaippanduru, possessed of cultivated land and jungle; Talaittakkolam (Trang), praised by great men versed in the sciences; Madamalingam (Ligor), capable of strong action in dangerous battles; Ilamuri-desam (northern Sumatra), whose fierce strength rose in war; the great Nakkavaram (Nicobar islands) …; and Kadaram of fierce strength, which was protected by the deep sea.”

While it does appear from that desciption that the Chola expedition managed to reach the furthest-flung frontiers of the Sri Vijaya empire, it did not seem to have destroyed it. Even with their conquests in South India, the Cholas seldom displaced the ruling dynasties of conquered territories, being satisfied with just tribute. The aim of the Cholas was probably just to force the empire to open its shipping lanes. Furthermore, Sri Vijaya was some 1,500 miles distant - and difficult to control. While the Saliendra Maharaja of Sri Vijaya may have acknowledged the overlordship of the Cholas and opened the Straits to Indian shipping for a few years, he certainly retained his independence intact.

The subsequent relations of Sri Vijaya and the Cholas were certainly not wholly harmonious. In 1068, another Chola king, Vira Rajendra, mounted an expedition which conquered Kadaram (Kedah). This was apparently on behalf of its king, and we may assume that this was a possible attempt by Kedah, Sri Vijaya’s chief peninsular possession, to secede from the Empire. Relations seem to have normalised after this, but both Empires were by now already in decline. Sri Vijaya certainly was by now preoccupied by threats from other quarters and seeing the last days of its greatness.

(Source: The Cholas), Malaysia Uncut — A Repository of Malaysian Stuff and More.)

The Influence of India on Malay Cultures

HINDU influence in the Malay Peninsula was initially limited more or less rigidly to the upper class of old Malay society - the ROYALTY. Malay royalty was essentially Hindu royalty descended, accoding to the Malay Annals, "SEJARAH MELAYU", from a legendary half-Indian and half-Greek monarch, Raja Suran (decendents of Alexander the Great), whose sons all bearing Indian proper names, Sang Nila Utama, Krishna Pendita, Nila Pahlawan, then descended on Bukit Siguntang Mahameru in Sumatera from whence Malay royalty spread.

Early Malay literature is almost completely derived from Hindu epics, from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Even today, a major portion of Malay vocabulary is made up of Sanskrit words. Today, when a Malay speaks a sentence of ten words, probably five of them will be Sanskrit words, there Arabic and the remaining either of English, Chinese, Persian, Portuguese or some other origin. One expert even made the sweeping claim that there are only four words in the Malay vocabulary which are genuinely Malay i.e. :-

"Api" (fire), "besi" (iron), "padi" (rice), and "nasi" (cooked rice).

Words such as :-

"putera" (son), "puteri" (daughter), "asmara" (love), "samudra" (ocean),
"belantara" (jungle), "kenchana" (gold), "sukma" (soul),

and literally thousands of other words are all Sanskrit words, either in original or in modified form.

What of the influence of India on the religious developments of the Malaysian peoples ?

Malay folk-lore and Malay literature show that during the period before the coming of ISLAM, about 1400 A.D., the greater Gods of the Malay pantheon were really borrowed Hindu divinities. They were, in some respect, modified by Malay ideas, but only the lesser Gods and Spirits were actually native to the Malay religious system. It is true that these native Gods and Spirits can be identified with the great powers of nature, such as the Mambang Angin (Spirit of the Wind), the Mambang Air (Spirit of the Water) and the Mambang Kuning (Spirit of the Sun). But none of them appears to have the status of the chief Gods of the Hindu system. Both the land and water, Shiva and Betara Guru or Kala, are supreme.

In Malay folk-lore we find Vishnu, the preserver, Brahma the creator, Betara Guru (Kala) and S'ri all invoked in Malays, especially by Malay mystics (Pawang and Bomoh). Of all the greater deities of the Hindu system, Betara Guru is unquestionably the greatest. In Hikayat Sang Sembah, the tales of Sang Sembah, Betara Guru appears as a supreme God with Brahma and Vishnu and some subordinate deities. It is Betara Guru who alone has the "water of life", the elixir of life, which can restore life to dead humans and animals. To the Malay of old, then, and to the Malay bomohs even of the present day in whom are preserved these notions, "Tok Betara Guru" or any one of the corruptions which his name now bears, was all-powerful God who held the place of Allah before the advent of Islam, and was a Spirit so powerful that he could restore the dead to life. All prayers were addressed to him.

Of the lesser deities of Hinduism, the most notable who have remained in Malay superstition and folk-lore are the "gergasi", half-human forest spirits of Hindu epic represented in Malay folk-lore as tusked orgres that feed on human flesh. Then there is "Raksaksa", a race of cannibal giants ruled, according to the Hindu Puranas, by Ravana. A tribe of raksaksa is mentioned in the Kedah annals, Hikayat Merung Mahawangsa, which tells of a giant king, Merung Mahawangsa, who led a tribe of giants and founded the present state of Kedah which they called Langkasuka. All in all, that a form of Hinduism was the accepted religion of the Malays prior to the advent of Islam is certain, and it is a fact amply proved by Malay folk-lore and superstition, Malay literature, Malay customs and various archaeological inscriptions.

Muslim religious teachers in Malaysia today still preach the Islamic concept of heaven in a terminology which is neither Malay nor Arabic, but Hindu. The Sanskrit word "Syurga" is always used in connection with the Islamic concept of paradise. The proper Arabic word for this is actually "Al-Jannah". In the same way, the Hindu religious term "neraka" or hell is used by Muslim Malays to explain the Islamic concept of hell. The Arabic word for hell is "Al-Nar" or the place of fire. Then the Muslim fast, the annual religious abstention from food and drink, is known by the Sanskrit term "puasa". A Muslim religious teacher is often called "guru", another Hindu religious term, in fact the name of a Hindu deity, Betara Guru. The Muslim prayer is among the Malays, called "sembahyang". "Sembah" in Sanskrit means to pray, and "yang" is a Sanskrit term meaning divinity or conjuring respect, as in "Sang Yang Tunggal", the most divine one, and "Yang Dipertuan".

There are many other Hindu religious terms that have lost their original meaning and are being freely and unconsciously used by Muslim Malays in connection with the religion of Islam. This shows that Hinduism exerted a profound influence on Malay culture before the coming of Islam to Malay peninsula. And this influence has survived, despite the strict monotheistic restrictions of the Islamic faith, to the present day. So, in religion as well as in other aspects of Malaysian culture, we cannot treat the influences of India as something belonging to the past. The political influence of old India which was climaxed by the great Empires of Sri Vijaya and Majapahit is today at an end, but the cultural influence of India which began at the beginning of the Christian era is still very much alive, and it will be alive for many, many centuries to come because it has become part of life of the Malaysian peoples.

Source: SUVARNABHUMI -- The Influence of India on Malay Cultures

Suvarnabhumi Airport - Churning of the Milk Ocean

If you've ever departed from the new Bangkok airport - Suvarnabhumi Airport, you will be greeted by an impressive statue the moment you clear immigration.

The churning of the ocean of milk

The statue depicts one of the famous scenes from Puranas (Hindu literature) — Samudra manthan (Devanagari: समुद्र मंथन) aka the churning of the ocean of milk. This story is celebrated in a major way every twelve years in the festival known as Kumbha Mela.

Mahavishnu dancing on top of the serpent adisesha.

The Churning of the ocean of milk tells of the story where Asuras and Devas (Celestial Beings) cooperated to churn the sea for thousands of years in order to extract the elixir of immortality, coveted by both groups.

As you can see from the pictures, the Devas are engaged in a tug of war with the Asuras. Each team is holding onto one end of the king of serpent - Vasuki (aka Naga). The center of the serpent is coiled around Mt. Mandara (which is a pivot) and at the base of this pivot would be Vishnu, incarnated as a huge turtle.

As the ocean churned, a deadly poison known as halahala emerged. Shiva drank this poison and his wife stopped it in his throat with her hands, causing the throat to turn blue. (explaining why Shiva is sometimes called Nīlakantha meaning Blue Throat). From the churning, numerous opulent things were also produced including Dhanvantari (Heavenly Physician) carrying the pot of Amrita - the heavenly nectar of immortality.

In the end, the cooperation between Devas and Asuras was shattered with Vishnu taking the form of Mohini — a beautiful and enchanting damsel who served to distract the Asuras while distributing the nectar to the Devas. (a little cheating and deception seems to be happening here). The Devas having fulfilled their plan of acquring all the Amrita banished the Asuras out of Heaven and into the underworld.

(Source: Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) - Churning of the Milk Ocean depicted from Jamie Tan's blog.; Suvarnabhumi Airport Photo Gallery)

India's influence on South East Asia (SEA)

HISTORY is repeating itself in South-East Asia, says Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, speaking of past, present and future Sino-Indian interaction, but it 'will not be reproduced in exactly the same form' because 'nothing ever is reproduced exactly the same'. The form it takes will depend to a large extent on the lessons South-East Asia is able to draw from its past. The region's Indic underpinning is its best-kept secret. In fact, ASEAN, the 10-nation grouping, can be called the 'Indianised states of South-East Asia' - in the words of French orientalist George Coedes — in modern garb.

Asean's members enshrine the traditions of Temasek, Champa, Funan, Kataaha, Mataram and all the other lost kingdoms of the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires that ancient Indians knew collectively as Suvarnabhumi — Land of Gold.

'When we refer to 1,000-year-old ties which unite us with India, it is not at all a hyperbole,' former king Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia said when dedicating a boulevard in Phnom Penh to India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. 'In fact, it was about 2,000 years ago that the first navigators, Indian merchants and Brahmins, brought to our ancestors their Gods, their techniques, their organization. Briefly, India was for us what Greece was to the Latin Occident,' he said.

Language, religion, art, architecture, governance, institutions, temples, folk culture and — above all — a buoyant tradition of maritime trade and merchant guilds also marked the mission goals and influence that more than 50 eminent scholars from a dozen Asian and European countries will discuss at this conference. The event is jointly organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the National Library Board, the Institute of South Asian Studies and the Asian Research Institute.

Singapore's first foreign minister, the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, saw Chinese-majority Singapore's retention of its Sanskrit name as an affirmation of British historian A.L. Basham's thesis 'that the whole of South-east Asia received most of its culture from India'.

And an Indian word — bumiputera — encapsulates Malaysia's most cherished political concept. Making images of the elephant — headed Hindu God Ganesha is a cottage industry in Java, while Thailand's Buddhist kings claim spiritual descent from India's legendary God-king Rama.

For Minister Mentor Lee, ASEAN's Indic past resonates in the fun and frolic of Indonesian politics as opposed to the religious austerity of Malaysian election campaigns. Indonesians might also have succumbed to the passions that sweep Kelantan and Terengganu without 'that underpinning of Buddhism and Hinduism that gives them, particularly the Javanese, a certain balance'. He blames Jemaah Islamiah leaders of Arab descent for corrupting some Javanese.

The 'Indian influence came from the west, in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Malaysia, Indonesia', he said. 'The Chinese influence came through Vietnam and the city ports, the coastal ports of South-East Asia.' The porcelain cargo of sunken ships from before Admiral Cheng Ho's time bears this out.

But the past was not only a time of peace and plenty. About 10 conference papers will focus on the naval might of India's Chola kings, who interacted extensively with South-East Asia in an age that has left behind some vexed questions with an intriguingly contemporary ring.

Did Rajendra Chola raid Sumatra and Malaya because the Srivijayans obstructed his shipping? Did Mataram attack Srivijaya over the spice trade? Why did Majapahit overthrow Srivijaya? Undoubtedly, commerce was a major cause for the rise and fall of empires for, as the Portuguese Tome Pires who visited Malacca in the 1500s wrote: 'Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.'

Politically, did the Cholas accept Sung suzerainty or was this another Celestial Empire pretension? The suggestion that while South-east Asia saw India as the land of Hinduism and Buddhism and a major trading center, it also viewed China as exerting political and economic power sounds familiar.

'I see now, with the revival of these two great powers, the same thrust coming in from the East and the West,' said Minister Mentor Lee. Much will depend on how Asean composes its internal differences to manage great-power mingling.

(Source: Lasting impressions of dynasty by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, for the Straits Times. The writer is visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.)


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