Indianization In Southeast Asia History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
What is Indianization and explain how it had happened to Southeast Asian countries from 1st century to 13th century.
The spread of the influence of Indian civilization started in Southeast Asia region dating back to the first century. This influence was given the term ‘Indianization’ by Coedes who defined it as ‘the expansion of an organised culture’ that was formed upon Indian conceptions of royalty, Hinduism and Buddhist cults and the Sanskrit language. For the peoples of Southeast Asian countries, what exactly does Indianization mean? According to Brian Harrison, to the peoples of Southeast Asian, Indian influence meant the introduction of a developed culture based on the art of writing, the Sanskrit language and culture, the cults of Brahmanism, Hindu mythology, the distinctive artistic styles: also, where they came under direct ‘Indianized’ rule upon the Hindu conception of monarchy, codes of law and methods of administration which occurred slowly and gradually. So, whatever definitions are used for Indianization, the shared and main characteristic can be classified in to: 1. Indianized faith and belief mentioned above like Brahmanism and Buddhism 2. Indianized language and literature such as Sanskrit and Ramayana 3. Indianized kingship and administrative institutions 4. Indianized art and architecture revealed by building designs and 5. Indianized way of social construction such as caste system and the rites of passages and so forth. There are a number of early Indianized kingdoms throughout history of Southeast Asia namely Funan, Champa, Khmer, Srivijara which covered nearly all of South Asia areas at that time. The evidences from those kingdoms can demonstrate the Indianization process in Southeast Asia.
Firstly, let take stand point on the spread of Indianized faith and belief in those kingdoms. Indianized faiths and beliefs can be seen in Funan, situated along the Mekong delta, where the earliest record found there were rock-inscriptions in Vocanh, Buddhist documents in Sanskrit and a south Indian script belonging to the first half of the third century. Furthermore the Hindu cult of Siva worship and its coexistence with Buddhism was supposedly well established by the fifth century. Indianized faith can also be seen in the Sanskrit inscriptions of Qaung Nam and Phu-Yen and the three rock inscriptions found in the Tra-kieu ,a presumed area of Champa capital, that tell of the founder of the worship of the Shiva Bhadreshavara shrine. (Coedes, 1966, pp.64). In the case of Cambodia, the still existing grand temples reflect the worship of Siva, Vishnu and Buddha during the time of the Khmer kingdom. Meanwhile the establishment of Mahayana school, Siva cults and Brahman temple were recorded in the Sanskrit inscriptions found in Malay Archipelago (Harrison, 1967, pp.25). All of these evidences listed above indicate that Indianized religions were widespread across Southeast Asia from as early as the third century.
Secondly, taking a look to the language and literature influence, it is obvious that nearly all of inscriptions found in Southeast Asian countries are written in Sanskrit. Indianization is sometimes referred as Sanskritization due to the fact that Sanskrit brings Hindu mythologies, literature and culture development of India to Southeast Asia countries. Sanskrit is always regarded as the holy language in Southeast Asia. The Sanskrit scripts are the first form of writing known to have reached Southeast Asia, but similar alphabets were soon adapted to the local language as well. All of the local variety and adaption, the alphabets used today for Burmese, Thai, Laos and Cambodia all derive originally from Indian prototypes (Majumdar, 1963,pp.18,28). A large number of inscriptions discovered in different parts of the Southeast Asia are written in Sanskrit and in Indian alphabets of about the fourth and fifth century .Indians literature and Indian mythologies have delighted generation of Southeast Asians. Puppet shows, shadow plays, and live dramatic performances based on the tales of the Ramayana have been popular everywhere. The Indian epics, the puranas and the Jakarta tales have been taken over. The art and sculpture of Southeast Asia have utilized themes from Indian literature, and their forms clearly show the influence of Indian style (Burling, 1965, pp.69). Taken collectively, the inscriptions show that the Sanskrit language and literature was highly cultivated.
Moving to the third point of Indianized kingship, codes of law and public administration, especially the concepts of God-king; Devaraja, Cakravatin and Mahameru; was adopted widely by the kings of southeast Asia kingdoms. Wolters (as cited in Bentley, 1984, p.280) affirmed that in 7th century Cambodia, kingship marked leaders of extraordinary prowess, and Saivite cults imported from India provided a symbolically rich means of measuring and explaining prowess. Burling reinforced this statement that when Hindu ideas were strongest, the kings were considered to be incarnation of a god or a descendent of the one of the Hindu deities. Later when Buddhism became dominant, this view was modified, but even then the king’s position in the world was considered to parallel the position of the important deity in the cosmos. The kings of the Funan Jayavarman and his successors were addressed by the title of “King of the mountain”, and built his palaces and religious buildings on the peaks of hill (Coedes, 1966, pp.61).One of the important reasons why Brahmas were allowed to serve in the royal palaces is supposed to empower the status of the kings using the Indian concepts of the absolute power of kingship.
If we look to the Indianized codes of law and administration, certain sacred laws of Hinduism, the Dharmashastra, and particularly the so-called laws of Manu, as taught by the Brahman were institutionalized in all Indianized kingdoms. For instance, the design of administrative system in Khmer kingdom was also strongly integrated by the Indian model. Both Cambodian and Cham inscription contain many references to Indian legal treaties. At the court of justice, there was a reciter of dharmashastra (treaties of Indian jurisprudence) whose duty was to cite the Sanskrit text appropriate to the case being also judged. Sanskrit terminology is used for all the legal aspects, which factual aspects are described in the vernacular. Exactly like in India, the higher the social status of the accused, the more severe the punishment was sentenced (Coedes, 1966, pp.56 and 233). The use of Indian framework of code of laws was mentioned by inscriptions and we can see how early kingdoms were strongly Indianized.
Shifting to the fourth point, the art and architecture of Southeast Asia were also adopted from the Indians. The temples from Cambodia are the sound evidence reflecting the patterns of India. Since pre-Angkor period, they directly borrowed the Indianized culture but after the Angkor period, the architecture was localized by modifying Indian features. So also, the remaining Indianized temples such as in Thailand, central Java, Malay Peninsula and Pagan in Burma indicated that the undeniable influence of Indianized architecture in Southeast Asian region. Taking at some examples throughout mainland and peninsula Southeast Asia , Borobudur , Bodisatva Avalokitesvara, Mendut, Lara Jongorand in Java, Phra that temple in Malay peninsula, Po Rome temple, Po Klong Gorai temple in Champa, Anada temple in Burma and other scattering around the Southeast Asia, it can also determine the extent of Indianization in Southeast Asia ( Majumdar,1963).Though after 13 century, there architecture designs were varied according to the local modification, it is not questionable that the fundamental art and architecture derived from India.
The last point is the adaptation of Indian societal construction by the practice of caste system in Southeast Asian countries. In the early inscriptions found in Thailand and Cambodia, the phrase “Varna” appears which is the same word used for Indian caste system. (Coedes, 1966, pp.56, 110). But, Ishizawa turned down the existence of caste system in Southeast Asia emphasizing the class stratification of Southeast Asian is different from Indian caste system. In Cambodia, the inscription soundly reveals that the class division of society follow hereditary occupations among elites, common people and slaves. The class classification system from southeast Asian countries and Indian caste system may be different while the former was based on the allocation of position in society , the latter rigidly depends on the pre-defined class in accordance with all of the generation belongs to or the purity depend on the class of their birth. Although the pattern of class system varied according to the contextualization of Southeast Asia, looking at the use of “Varna” proudly between royal family and the mass of people, it can be induced that societal construction of Southeast Asia was more or less influenced by the Indian social stratification.
As a matter of fact, as it is mentioned above, since most of evidence of Indianization comes from the inscription written in Sanskrit, archaeological ruins, sculptures found in temples and predicted located Indianized places, these inscriptions can reveal religion, kingship, literature and other characteristics of Indianization in that particular place and which are intertwined with each other.
How Indianization Spread in Southeast Asia
The trade development through sea-route and maritime activities are a contributing factor in the spread of Indianization in Southeast Asia. According to Brian Harrison, the commercial contacts between Southeast Asia and India were being made before we have any definite record of them. But, it can be assumed that the trade between Indian and Southeast Asian came to accelerate during the start of the common era (C.E.) through the evidence from early Indianized countries come from Chinese record. It is also explained that India and Roman Empire were very active in sea navigation and already exchanged goods tremendously. India received a lot of gold from Roman Empire and finally when Roman Empire decided to control the outflow of gold, Indian merchants turned to Southeast Asia as an alternative. From this time on, India became the main trade partner of Southeast Asia and the main exporter of clothes to Southeast Asia (Burling, 1965, pp.66).
The establishment and connection with Indian and Southeast Asia is explained by several hypotheses namely Vaishya (traders), Kshyatriya (warriors) and Brahman by scholars.(Cited by Benudhar Patra, 2004).In Vaishya hypothesis, the process of Indianization is caused by the commercial expansion of traders via sea-route bringing not only the goods exchange but also the sophisticated Indian culture with them. N.J. Krom (as cited in Patra, 2004, pp.158) notes that the Indian penetration to Southeast Asia began with traders who settled and married women, thereby introducing Indian culture. According to R.C. Majumdar, as in all ages and countries, the prospect of acquiring wealth was the first priority attempted by Indian traders and merchants to explore territories beyond their frontiers. But, this theory is objected by J.C. Van Lear(as cited in Patra, 2004, pp.158) on the basis of the low class of merchants who are supposed to be incapable of advising and operating the royal rituals, acting as administrators and teaching complicated philosophies in the host countries. Another criticism he remarked is that if the spread of Indianization comes from traders, it must be much more concentrated in costal and port area. But, the transmission of Indian civilization in remote area from port such as Kedu and Pranbana in java, other mainland areas like Khmer, and the reason of sea route trade does not work for this Vaishya theory.
The Kshyatriya hypothesis is the assumption giving credit to the invasion and conquest of Indian over Southeast Asia countries for founding great Indian emperor. C.C. Berg(as cited in Patra, 2004, pp.159) advocates that Indian culture went to south-east Asia with the activities of Indian warrior immigrants who captured the political power of the region. R.C. Majumdar claims that the military seized the power and established the Hindu kingdom. However, except the attack of Srivijara by the Cholas Empire during the 10th century, this claim faces many objections due to lack of sufficient evidence as proof. F.D.K. Bosch (as cited in Patra, 2004, pp.159) criticized this theory stating “a conquering prince would have mentioned his success in an inscription if not, one of this descendants would have done so: but, this practise is absent in the southeast Asia islands” .Even the books and concept of greater India and Hindu colonies are contended by a lot of scholar who accuse that it is just the by product for nationalist motivation. So, this theory does not get any popularity among Historians.
Another hypothesis is Brahman which is the most satisfactory theory out of three among scholars. The hypothesis explains that the Brahmans and monks including other religious members were the main propagators who transmitted Indianization in Southeast Asia. The Brahmans are not only expert in religious rites (Arthasastra), but also specialist in political affairs (dhamasastra) and art and architecture (Silpasatra).They propagate the norms of grand Indian culture and philosophy all over the places they arrived. On account of sophisticated teaching spread throughout the region and soon after, they were invited by the rulers to serve as advisors, administrators and so forth. Hearing and seeing the concept of god-king monarch and other grand teaching, the kings became impressed with them and set up institution and adopted Indianized culture. Through the elites, it goes down to the ordinary people.
Looking at the three hypotheses, in my opinion, the first and third assumptions mentioned above can be integrated to describe the Indianization process in Southeast Asia. The trade was the prime reason to reach people from distance places. The trader first engaged in linking with locals, later when Southeast Asian came to be famous for its natural resources and goods for example land of gold for Indonesia and Burma, land of silver for Malaysia, the Brahmans and religious leaders could later join in the process. So also, the lowest class, the Shudras, will migrate through sea route in search of better life future in the lands of Southeast Asia. The rich merchants and the practices of Brahman and monks could lead locals to be impressed and when the rulers heard about it, they might invite Brahmans to serve for them simply for the purpose of augmenting their power and eventually the Indianized kingship, religious, codes of laws and public administration came to be institutionalized. The settlement and colonies of Indians can pass on their way of life in the host countries and intermarriage with locals would reinforce and accelerate the voluntary imposition of Indian culture. Therefore, all the classes from Indians can contribute in the process of Indianization.
Let’s think about the answer to the question of Ishizawa who asked, if Indianization came from traders from sea-route, how Indianized culture also highly concentrated in remote areas also. If we turned back to some of earliest Indianized kingdoms in Southeast Asia, for example1. Funan (1st -6th century) which is situated on lower Mekong river covering some parts of Vietnam, Cambodia and Malay peninsula and also the origin of Khmer khingdom2. Champa located in southern Vietnam 3. Srivijara ( 7th to 13th century) located in southern Sumatra, all of these kingdoms had strategic seaport to welcome Indian cultures directly, on the other hand, it can be seen that these powerful kingdoms extended their power to their neighbouring countries in terms of political and economic forces during the peak of their regimes. For example Pyu kingdom from today’s Burma was Indianized by the already Indianized Khmer kingdom first. Then Pyu civilization was transmitted to other kingdoms from Burma like Pagan kingdom. In this way, Indianized Khmer culture spread through Burma and Thailand. Here my point is that Indianization can happen without the direct contact with Indians but can also happen through the relationship, politically or economically, with already Indianized powerful kingdoms. From 1st century to 13th century, Indianization exerted on Southeast Asia directly or indirectly.
Fall of Indianization
After 13th century, the very powerful Indianization process came to stop in Southeast Asian countries. Several factors are contributing for the fall of Indianization. The first factor is the decline and disappearance of the Indianized kingdoms in Southeast Asia. After 12th century, the Khmer kingdom came to decline after Jayavarman VII who enlarged territory tremendously and went to war with Champs. Then, during the rule of Jayavarman VIII, a Mongol force invaded Cambodia and took over the Khmer political and cultural zones of influences such as the Ta’is of the Menam and Pagan from Burma. On the other hand, Champa was also defeated by its northern sinicized Vietnamese neighbours, Dai Viet, and all of its Indianized institutions and culture were destroyed and eventually assimilated to Northern culture by the 14th century (Coedes, 1966, pp.124).
In addition, the decline of Hindu kingdoms in India by the invasion of Arab and the rise of relationship between traders from Middle East and archipelago countries were pushing factors to stop Indianization process in Southeast Asia. In the thirteen century, the port of Cambay in Gujerat situated on the west cost of India fell under Muslim rule; soon Gujerat Indian Muslims come to Southeast Asia as merchants. Thus, as Southeast Asians who were accustomed with adopting Indian culture and religions, Islam was accommodated in the trade -centred regions again. In addition, the direct contact between Middle East traders and Malay plus Indonesia archipelago areas would have quickened the substitution of Brahman civilization with Islam civilization. Especially, the most influential trading centre, Malacca, which converted to Islam, would have affect all trading partners in the islands countries to embrace islaminization (Burling, 1965, pp.118). Therefore, the rise of islaminization led to the decline of Indianization again.
Last but not least, the emergence of powerful kingdoms in mainland Asia is also one of the factors shaping the cease of Indianization process. In mainland region, the new kingdom in Thailand, Ayutthaya and Ava in Burma, which had been regionally strongly influenced by the Indianized Khmer civilization, were raised up with very grand indigenous cultures adopting Theravada Buddhism. All architecture came to be diverse and different from the earlier Khmer and Indian styles. The underlying causes of the decline of culture lay in the ever-increasing number of indigenous people who adopted it and in doing so adapted it to their own tradition, and also in the gradual disappearance of a cultured autocratic class, the members of which had been the guardians of the Sanskrit cultural tradition (Coedes, 1966, pp.133). These powerful kingdoms stood out by the height of their power not only with the innovative culture stream but also with the military capability. All these factors are more or less contributing in explaining why Indianization stopped in Southeast Asian countries.
Issues with Indianization
The recognition of Indianization as the early root of the development of Southeast Asian countries is still debatable among scholars. Originally the words of both ‘southeast Asia and Indianization comes from the colonial Europeans explorer and were invented. Having found the sculpture and archaeological ruins similar to the products of Indian civilization, they asserted that there was no civilization in Southeast Asia before the contact with India. When the books like “Greater India” and “Hindu Colonies the Far East” appeared, it also illustrated India as the superior culture influencing a lot of Southeast Asia countries under their rule and making legends of the founder of the countries are Brahmans from India. But after that a lot of critics came out arguing that “Greater India” is just for national motivation and Southeast Asia already had indigenous civilization. By the early twenties of century, it is common to view that these elements of Southeast Asian and history were mere offshoots or branches of Indian civilization. In the following pacific war (1941-1945), traditional ideas on passive nature of Southeast Asia response to Indianization began to be reviewed (Gin, 2004).
For “Greater India”, especially, when it comes to the point of colonization, most scholars rejected on the ground of not having enough ample evidences. The argument still went on the issues for Indianization focusing on the practices of caste system, whether Indianization is just elite process or not and the selective nature of southeast Asia in picking up Indian culture appropriate to each own region meaning that Southeast Asian are civilized enough to flourish their prosperity and interest more.
For the first argument concerning the existence of caste system, this paper already discussed in the first session pointing out Cambodia where the caste system existed based on the position of people in society though it was different from India model of depending on which class they belong to since they were born. But, looking at the use of ‘Varna’ for the class segregation, it still implied that Southeast Asians still embrace that social construction system, on the other hand, the different utilization for this concepts means that Southeast Asians applied Indianized culture according to the local context.
Indianization as the elite process argue that scriptions could tell only the life of rulers, though there is not strong evidences to defend it, the legacy left behind in the daily life of people, for example, the rituals of funeral, and wedding in Burma and Malaysia are still similar to Indian customs. The name system in Sanskrit was still popular in Thailand. Thus, Indianization exerted on the common classes who accepted it integrating with their traditional culture.
So also, Southeast Asian welcomed Indians in seek of their interest not because of the only factor of the one-sided impose of Indian Brahman and traders only. That is to say, for instance, in 8th century, the rulers of Srivijara built Mahayana school and temples to boost commercial interest of Indian traders by showing that they had got the common ground to deal in the long term. The rulers invited the Brahman to augment their power more. When the number of Islamic traders increased, the island countries converted to Islam creating accommodating atmosphere for them. So, it means Southeast Asians are accepted whether Indians or Arabs on the ground of making own interest, not as passive ones, but as proactive in displaying in strategy for it.
Then after 13th century, the features of Ayutthaya and Ava explained that southeast Asians were really progressive, adapting the culture coming in, combining with own indigenous characteristics modifying to evolve great culture time to time.
All of these evidences prove the active role, ability, and the interest of Southeast Asians in embracing Indianized culture in their own regions.
It is also interesting to note that in the Indianization process in Southeast Asia, the beautiful nature found there is unique in that the peaceful coexistence among the new and old cultures. For example, in India, throughout the history, Hinduism and Buddhism clashed in severe way in the struggle for dominance. But when it comes to Southeast Asia, the story is different, in holy altars, Buddha images, Siva, Vishnu and indigenous gods are located together. In the early days, even where royal families or educated groups were converted to Islam, conservative instincts tended to reconcile the new belief with the old forms of Hinduism. In Java some of the early mosques were built in the traditional style and with many of the decorative motifs of the old hindu-javanese temples, and Moslem tombs had emblems of Hinduisms. (Harrison, 1966, pp.51) Therefore, the blending culture of Southeast Asia is really unique from other influential forces.
Therefore, when we look back to the Indianization process in Southeast Asia, we can see that although there is direct adoption of the Indianized institution and concepts, Southeast Asian practised in accordance with the local context and attempted to integrate with indigenous culture. But, it is also vividly seen the extent of Indianization in Southeast Asia because, although Indianization process ceased to move forward after 13th century, the legacy it left behind still had profound effect in social, religious, architecture patterns of southeast Asia embedding in its own features of culture trademark.
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