Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Indian Culture in South-East Asian Countries

Ravi S. Varma

M. R. Engineering College, Jaipur

India has played a very important role in forming the cultural tradition of Asia. The Indian colonies in the Far East must ever remain the high watermark of maritime and colonial enterprise of the ancient Indians. An awareness of the unity of all life, a love for the ultimate and the universal in preference to the immediate and the particular, tolerance, co-operation, and pacifism are some of the elements contributed by India to these countries. The account of the process of this contribution is very interesting.

The Extension of Indian Culture

Cultural institutions in Burma or Siam or Indonesia are just an extension of the Indian institutions. The territory stretching from Burma to Indonesia was known in the ancient days as the Land of Gold, and Indian merchants and princes settled there and founded their own colonies and spread Indian cultural influences. The Buddhist missionaries carried the torch of a new religion to these countries. All these people introduced Indian customs and manners, religion and philosophy, ritual, art and literature wherever they went. Indianised kingdoms soon came into being, either as a result of an Indian imposing himself on the native population, or else through a native chief adopting a foreign civilization.

The spread of Indian influence was in the nature of ‘waves’. There were five such waves extending from the second or third century to the twelfth or thirteenth centuries when following the Muslim invasion of India Buddhist monks and teachers were forced to seek shelter in these countries. As a result of the impact of these waves there was total ‘Indianisation’ of some parts, while in others Indian culture acted as a stimulus calling forth a response from the local genius. From this point of view we can put these countries into two zones–the Western and the Eastern. Ceylon, Burma, Siam, the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra which fall in the Western Zone underwent a thorough-going Indianisation, whereas in the Eastern Zone comprising the parts of Indonesia and Indo-China the local genius was not completely submerged by Indian influence.

The Western Zone

Ceylon was the first of all outer lands to come under the Indian influence. Prince Vijaya landed here in the fifth century B.C., married a local princess and became the father of the Sinhalese people. Indian arts and crafts began to be practised in Ceylon as also the rice cultivation. In the third century B. C., Ashoka sent his son and daughter to Ceylon with a message or Buddhism and King Tissa of Ceylon received them cordially and adopted Buddhism. He built the first stupa and the first monastery in Ceylon. King Dutthagamani constructed Ruanweli Degaba and the Brazen Palace. Several gigantic stupas reveal the influence of Gupta art and architecture. The paintings of Sigiriya are an extension of the Ajanta school.

The Burmese legends claim long association with India. Buddhism had become established in Burma by the first century A. D. and Prome, the capital of Pyu, became its chief centre. The Pyu alphabet is greatly influenced by Indian alphabet. Brahmanism also found a fruitful soil in Burma but finally Theravada became the official religion and Pali helped the Burmese language “to grow, deepen and expand continually.” Under the kings of Upper Burma Indian religion and learning, arts, music, architecture and sculpture flourished there.

Burma maintained close religious contacts with Ceylon and Pali. Buddhism of Ceylon became dominant throughout the whole of Burma. Some eight hundred pagodas still stand in good condition in Upper Burma. When the Muslims invaded India a large number of Buddhist monks sought shelter in Burmese monasteries and brought a fresh influx of Indian ideas with them. The Indian influence is reflected in Burmese customs and manners, script and literature even today.

The Indianisation of Siam took place in the second century A. D., when a colony which flourished till the sixth century A. D. was established at Pong Tuk. Dvaravati, the Indianised kingdom of Siam, ruled from Cambodia to the Bay of Bengal till the tenth century and Gandhar, another such kingdom, for three centuries till it was conquered by Kublai Khan. Buddhism became the official religion of Siam and in the thirteenth century the Thai king built a Buddhist temple which was a replica of the famous Bodh-gaya Temple. The Siamese language borrowed its script from India, and Pali deeply influenced its development. Indian Samskaras have become a part and parcel of Siamese custom and ritual. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata have exercised a great influence on the Siamese literature and art.

At the site of ancient Kedah in the Malay Peninsula a Buddhist dedication of the fourth century has been discovered which shows that an Indian settlement where the people followed Buddhism, flourished there. The most impressive monuments in Malaya are at Chaiya and Nakhon Sri Thammarat. The kings bore Indian names and Sanskrit was taught and understood in these kingdoms.

Indian ships and Indian religious missions visited Sumatra from the very early times. The Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya rose to great eminence in the seventh century A. D. There were about a thousand Buddhist monks in the capital and the Buddhist colleges of Srivijaya were held in high repute.

The original home of this empire was at Palembong but soon it planted its colonies in Java, Borneo and Philippines. The rulers of this empire were known as Sailendras. They reached the height of their glory in the eighth century A. D. but the empire came to an end in the ninth century A. D.

The Sailendra kings were ardent Buddhists and Mahayan spread under them. They were a great naval power and had frequent contacts with India. They introduced a new alphabet and adopted the name Kalinga for Malaysia. They built many important temples in central Java such as the Chandi Sevu and Chandi Plaosan groups in the Parambanam valley and Chandi Mendut in the Kedu plain. The Chandi Kalasan temple devoted to goddess Tara is the most magnificent specimen of temple architecture.

The Chandi Lara-jongrang group of temples consists of eight main temples. These temples contain beautiful images of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Shiva temple is the most magnificent.

The most renowned Buddhist monument is the famous stupa of Borobudur in central Java. It was built in the latter half of the eighth century and is notable for its massive proportions. It is built on a mountain top which has been carved into nine stone terraces, the lowest of which is nearly 400 feet long and the topmost has a diameter of 90 feet. From terrace to terrace, up to the centre of each side, are staircases with carved gateways. The temple has 432 images of Dhyani Buddhas and fifteen hundred sculptured panels depicting the Scenes from the life of Buddha. They are fine works of art and have many features in common with the classic Gupta Sculpture.

Matram was another Indianised kingdom in central Java. It soon came under the Sway of the Sailendras. In Eastern Java new kingdoms arose in 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. The kings erected many temples devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses. Sanskrit literature supplied the inspiration for temple sculpture. The Javanese society also adopted a caste system but it was not so rigid as in India. The decay of Indian tradition started in the fifteenth century.

Another Indian colony Bali seems to have developed its culture independently of Java. King Ugra Sen ruled Bali in the second half of the tenth century. Bali retains its old and indigenous culture even to this day.

The Eastern Zone

Indian culture played an important part in the history of ancient Indo-China. This was known as Kambojdesha and consisted of two parts–Funan and Chenala. The capital of Funan was Vyadhpura and its rulers descended from Kaundinya, a Brahmin who came from the Indianised colony of Malay in the third century A. D. and married a local Nagi princess. This kingdom ruled over the area for about five centuries and was very prosperous. More than a thousand Brahmins resided there.

It appears that there was a second wave of Indianization in Funan during the fourth and fifth centuries. A second Kaundinya is said to have come from Panpan to reform the social and political institutions on the model of India. Kaundinya was succeeded by Jayavarman during whose time Shaivisrn, Vaishnavism and Buddhism flourished peacefully alongside of each other. Funan was annexed by Kambuja after about a hundred years after the death of Jayavarman.

Kambuja or Chenala was founded by Rishi Kambu who married an Apsara called Mera. Their descendents were known as Khmers. They struck terror into the hearts of the neighbouring chiefs for eight long centuries. King Bhavavarman overthrew the kings of Funan and declared his independence, but the rise of Siam and wars with Champa brought about a decline of this kingdom in fifteenth century A. D.

The Khmer kings were Hindus and had their names ending in varmana. King Yashovarmana founded the most glorious city of Angkor Thom in the heart of Combodia in the ninth century. The city was surrounded by a high stone wall which had five gates with five great avenues each a hundred feet wide and running straight from one end of the town to the other. These avenues converge on the temple of Bayon which is a masterpiece of Kambuja architecture. Fifty huge towers surrounded by two hundred faces identified with Avalokiteshwara the all-merciful Bodhisatva, still stand facing the vagaries of the weather.

The most famous monument of the Khmers is Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world. In combined magnitude and magnificence, it stands alone. It was built by Suryavarmana in the 12th century. An idea of the massive character of this temple may be had from its measurements. A two and a half mile long and 650 feet wide moat surrounds the temple. The broad paved avenue which runs from the western gateway to the first gallery is 1560 feet long. The first gallery measures about 800 feet from East to West and 675 feet from North to South. There are three such concentric galleries each double the preceding one in height. The central stone tower on the third stage rises to a magnificent height of 213 feet.

All this vast edifice has been chiselled into endless beautiful designs and patterns. Even the outer walls are sculptured. In the first gallery there are panels ninety or hundred yards long, depicting the stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Vishnu in all his incarnations reigns supreme at Angkor Wat.

The religion of the Khmers was a curious mixture of the cult of Devaraya and Tantric Hinduism. There was a spirit of religious toleration and the king supported all the temples irrespective of the deity to whom they were dedicated.

The Khmers patronised Sanskrit and their inscriptions were drafted in classical Sanskrit style. Very often these inscriptions excel in literary merits the inscriptions so far discovered in India. The Khmers had a higher and deeper spiritual view of life which is the true essence of all religions. Education was widespread in Kambuja and students went to ashrams which were on the model of Indian ashrams. These ashrams were powerful centres of Indian culture in Kambuja.

Like Kambuja, Champa was also a great centre of Hindu culture. The earliest colonists came from India and the Hindu king Sri Mara established a dynasty in the second century A. D. which lasted till the fifteenth century.

The Chams created remarkable sculptures and a highly original type of brick temple architecture. The best known groups of temples are at Myson, nong Duong and Po Nagar. The Myson group has about sixty temples ranging in date from the seventh to the twelfth centuries. The temple remains at Dong Duong date from the ninth and tenth centuries. The Cham figure sculpture closely followed Gupta models both in theme and technique.

Shaivism was the official religion of Champa but Buddhism also flourished there. A fine standing image of Buddha has been discovered at the Dong Duong site.

The people followed a caste system similar to that in India, but the Brahmins, although holding a high position in the society, did not dominate the king. Hindu customs and festivals were prevalent and Sanskrit was the official language of the country. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata were widely studied besides Hindu philosophy and sacred texts of the Shaivites. Champa disappeared from history in the fifteenth century.

The achievements of the Indian colonists in the South-East Asian countries have been very great. They introduced Indian religions, literature, philosophy, social and political institutions and art to millions of people who readily accepted whatever ancient India had to offer. The Indian expansion was purely cultural and there was never a military conquest or annexation. This cultural conquest produced brilliant results of an abiding value. India, thus, played the role of a great civilizing force in the life of the people of South-East Asia.

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