The Kingdom of Srivijaya

Srivijaya (200s-1400) was an ancient Hindu-Buddhist Kingdom on the island of Sumatra which influenced much of the Malay Archipelago. Records of its beginning are scarce while estimations range from the 200s to the 500s. The kingdom ceased to exist around 1400. In Sanskrit, sri means 'shining' or 'radiant' and vijaya means victory or excellence.

Formation and growth

Around year 500, Srivijayan roots begun to develop around present-day Palembang, Sumatra in Indonesia. Chinese records dated 600 mention two Sumatran kingdoms based in Jambi and Palembang as well as three other kingdoms on Java.

Srivijaya was a coastal trading center and was a thalassocracy. As such, it did not extend its influence far beyond the coastal areas of the islands of Southeast Asia. The empire was organised in three main zones — the estuarine capital region centred on Palembang, the Musi River basin which served as hinterland and rival estuarine areas capable of forming rival power centres. The capital was administered directly by the ruler while the hinterland remained under its own local datus or chiefs who were organized into a network of allegiance to the Srivijaya maharaja or king. Force was the dominant element in the empire's relations with rival river systems such as the Batang Hari which centered in Jambi. The ruling lineage intermarried with the Sailendras of Central Java.

Srivijaya remained a formidable sea power until the thirteenth century.

Vajrayana Buddhism

A stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism, Srivijaya attracted pilgrims and scholars from other parts of Asia. These included the Chinese monk Yijing, who made several lengthy visits to Sumatra on his way to study at Nalanda in India in 671 and 695, and the eleventh-century Buddhist scholar Atisha, who played a major role in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet. Travellers to these islands mentioned that gold coinage was in use on the coasts, but not inland.

Relationship with regional powers

Although historical records and archaeological evidence are scarce, it appears that by the seventh century, Srivijaya established suzerainty over large areas of Sumatra, western Java and much of the Malay Peninsula. Dominating the Malacca and Sunda straits, Srivijaya controlled both the spice route traffic and local trade, charging a toll on passing ships. Serving as an entrepôt for Chinese, Malay, and Indian markets, the port of Palembang, accessible from the coast by way of a river, accumulated great wealth.

The Jambi kingdom was the first rival power centre absorbed into the empire, starting the domination of the region through trade and conquest in the 7th and 9th centuries. Srivijaya helped spread the Malay culture throughout Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and western Borneo. Srivijaya influence waned in the 11th century. The island was in frequent conflict with, and ultimately subjugated by, from Javanese kingdoms, first Singhasari and then Majapahit.

Some historians claim that Chaiya in the Surat Thani province in Southern Thailand was at least temporarily the capital of Srivijaya but this claim is largely disputed. However, Chaiya was probably a regional center of the kingdom. The temple Borom That in Chaiya contains a reconstructed pagoda in Srivijaya style. The Khmer kingdom may also had been a tributary in its early stages. They also maintained close relations with the Pala Empire in Bengal and an inscription that dates 860 records that the maharaja of Srivijaya dedicated a monastery at the Nalanda university in Pala territory. Relations with the Chola dynasty of south India were initially friendly but it deteriorated into actual warfare in the eleventh century.

Golden age

After trade disruption at Canton between 820 to 850, the ruler of Jambi was able to assert enough independence to send missions to China in 853 and 871. Jambi's independence coincided with the troubled time when the Sailendran Balaputra, expelled from Java, seized the throne of Srivijaya. The new maharaja was able to despatch a tributary mission to China by 902. Only two years later, the expiring Tang dynasty conferred a title on a Srivijayan envoy.

In the first half of the tenth century, between the fall of Tang and the rise of Song, there was brisk trade between the overseas world and the Fujian kingdom of Min and the rich Guangdong kingdom of Nan Han. Srivijaya undoubtedly benefited from this, preparatory to the prosperity it was to enjoy under the early Song. Circa 903, Muslim writer Ibn Rustah was so impressed with the wealth of Srivijaya's ruler that he declared one would not hear of a king who was richer, stronger or with more revenue.

Decline

In 1068, Virarajendra, the Chola king of Coromandel, conquered Kedah from Srivijaya. The Cholas continued a series of raids and conquests throughout what is now Indonesia and Malaysia for the next 20 years. Although the Chola invasion was ultimately unsuccessful, it gravely weakened the Srivijayan hegemony and enabled the formation of regional kingdoms based, like Kediri, on intensive agriculture rather than coastal and long distance trade

Islam made its way to the Aceh region of Sumatra, spreading through contacts with Arabs and Indian traders. By the late 13th century, the kingdom of Pasai in northern Sumatra converted to Islam. At the same time, Srivijaya was briefly a tributary of the Khmer empire and later the Sukhothai kingdom. The last inscription dates to 1374, in a crown prince, Ananggavarman, is mentioned.

By 1402 Parameswara, the last prince of Srivijaya founded the Sultanate of Malacca on the Malay peninsula. He converted to Islam in 1414.

The name of the empire was rediscovered by George Coedës in the 1920s, who noticed that the Chinese references to Sanfoqi, previously read as as Sribhoja and the inscriptions in Old Malay refer to the same empire.

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