Beginning in rhe 2nd Centurv A.D.. a number of highly sophisticated civilization emerged in Southeast Asia-civilizations whose cosmology, literature, architecture and political organization were all closely patterned on lndian models. These kingdoms are best known for the wonderful monument which they created: Borohudur, Prambanan, Ankor, Pagan and others, many of which were rediscovered in the I9th Century, and have now been visited by millions. Yet their creators remain largely an enigma. Who build these Indian monuments and how is it that Southeast Asians came to have such a profound knowledge of Indian culture in ancient times?
Part of our bewilderment is undoubtedly the product of longstanding and erroneous conception of South East Asia a prehistoric backwater. This view forced many earlier scholars to conclude that nothing short of masive Indian invasions and migrations to the region could have eftected the sort of changes necessary for Indianized kingdoms to flourish as they did. Thc problem with this hypothesis is that there is absolutely no evidence to support it. South Asia was actually thriving trade and cultural center in prehistoric times.
While the reality of the lndianization probably ever be known the most recent and most plausible theory is that Southeast Asian rulers Indianized their own kingdoms, either by employing Indian Brahmans or by sending their own people to India to acquire the necessary knowledge. The motivation for doing this is clear-Sanskrit writing and texts along with sophisticated Indian ritual andd architectural techniques, afforded a ruler greater organizational control, wealth and status. It also enable him to participate in an expanding Indian trading network.
Support for this hypothesis has come from detailed studies of Hindu period temples, which show that they not only employ many diverse Indian architectural and artistic styles in an eclectic fashion unknown in In India, but that they also incorporate pre-Hindu indigeneous design elements.
The First Indianized Kingdoms: Knowledge of the early Indonesian Kingdoms of the Classical or Hindu period is very shadowy – gleaned solely from old stone inscriptions and vague references in ancient Chinese, Indian and Classical texts. The island of Java, for example, was mentioned in the Ramayana (as Yawadwipa), and in the Almagest of Ptolemy (as yabadiou). However the first specific references to Indonesian rulers and kingdom are found in written Chinese sources and Sanskrit stone inscriptions dating from the – early 5th Century.
The stone inscriprions written in the south – lndian Pallawa script). were issued by lndonesian rulers in two different areas of the archipelago – Kutei on the eastern coast of Kalimantan and Tarumanegara on the Citarum River in West Java (near Bogor). Both rulers were Hindus whose power seems to have derived from a combination of wet-rice agriculture and maritime trade.
Also. in the early 5th Century. there is the interesting figure of Fa Hsien. a Chinese Buddhist monk who journeyed to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures and was then shipwrecked on Java on his way home. In his memoirs (translated into English by James Ledge as, A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms), Fa Hsien note that there were many Brahmans and heretics on Java, but that the Budhist Dharma there was not worth mentioning. His comment highlight a fascinating feature of Indianized Indonesia – that while some early kingdom were mainly Hindu, others were primarily Buddhist. As time went on the distinction became increasingly blurred.
Another fact of life for the Hinduized states of lndonesia was that their power depended greatly on control of the maritime trade. It appears that Tarumanegara in West Java first controlled the trade for two centuries orr more, but that at the end of the 7th Century a new Buddhist kingdom based in Palembang took over the vital Malacca and Sunda Straits. The kingdom was Sriwijaya and it ruled these seas throughout the next 600 years.
–> Read Also : An Age of Empires – Sriwijaya and the Po-ssu Trade