By: Alexandra R. Kapur- Fic

The diffusion of cultural institutions and values from India to Southeast Asia is one of the most remarkable aspects of the ancient history of this part of the world.

By the beginning of the Christian era, Hindu colonization had taken deep root throughout the region from Burma in the North to Java and Annam in the south and southeast. This is corroborated by the discovery of the Amravati style of images of Buddha on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Celebes and on the mainland of Siam and Annam.

Despite a powerful onslaught by Hinduism and Buddhism between the first and fifth century AD., Islam in the 15th century and Christianity in the early 16th, Hindu influences have survived, they remain visible and can be experienced in their many aspects. Until the fourth century AD., Sanskrit was the official language of the region, particularly the royal courts of various countries.

Along with religion, Hindu social customs also prevailed. The caste system, though not rigorous as in India, was introduced to some degrees in all the countries, more so in Java, Madura, Sumatra and Bali. The phrase Catur varna, the four varnas or castes, occurs in early records, and there are frequent references to them in literature and inscriptions.

As in India, the Brahmins and Kshatriyas occupied the two higher positions. According to the records, there is no doubt that in their roles as priests and kings they were treated with respect and reverence. An inscription found in the Champa kingdom in today’s Cambodia refers to Brahmins as gods among men and even kings obeyed them.

However, intermarriage between these two caste groups was permitted. There was a close relationship between the spiritual and secular head of state. In fact, King Rudravarman of Champa, who ascended the throne in 514 AD had a Brahmin father and a Kshatriya mother, and in an inscription is referred to as: “the ornament of the Brahmin-Kshatriya family.”

There are numerous inscriptions in these countries, in addition to Vedas which posit that the Brahmins played a central role in the religious lives of the people from the very beginning of India’s influences on the countries of Southeast. A 6th century inscription in Kambuja refers to a Brahmin who made a gift of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas, the most important Hindu sagas, which were written in Sanskrit, to a temple and had them recited on a daily basis. The practice of reciting scriptures was well known in India, and it must have helped in influencing the religious life of the people.

Ashrams and monastic orders were also established and were used to diffuse Hindu culture in Kambuja. In the 9th century AD King Yashvarman of Angkor is said to have built hundred ashrams. Each of these, headed by a priest called a Kuladhyaksha, or visitor, was primarily a centre for higher learning and promoting religious and spiritual practices attracting large followings of devotees.

These ashrams also offered hospitality to a variety of peoples in strict accordance with prescribed rules and regulations appropriate to each category of guest. One of the rules prescribed was, with the exception of the king, that anyone who passed the gates of an ashram had to get down from his chariot and walk covered under an umbrella and no one seeking refuge out of fear of being arrested shall surrender until proven guilty. However, there are no records about such religious institutions in ancient India on which those in Kambuja were modeled.

Generally speaking, the position of women seems to have been better than in India both in terms of social status and Political rights. The Javanese women could become rulers in their own rights and occupied high offices of the state. Women also had property rights and could dispose off with it at their own free will. There was no purdah (veiling of the face), it most likely arrived with the advent of Islam, and women freely mixed with men and were free to choose their own husbands.

Unfortunately, Sati, sometimes spelled suttee (a widow burning herself alive on the funeral pyre of her departed husband) was practiced. At least in Bali, though in the later times this custom was confined to the royal families, even slaves and concubines committed Sati. There were some instances where the widow would first kill herself with a sword and then her body would be placed on her husband’s pyre.

The Javanese are known to have practiced some form of ancestor worship, though not as intense as the Confucian Chinese. They also accepted the theory of incarnation, except the santris (orthodox Muslims) who had condemned it as heretic.

There is also evidence that the Hindu institution of Devadasis – basically temple nuns — was also introduced in some countries of Southeast Asia. These women were known as “women who take to religious life.” In Khmer language, it literally means, “females who enter into religion for the sacrifice (yajamana) of the god.” Although the exact meaning is not clear, it is not difficult to see in them the devadasis of the Hindu temples in India. However, Hindu scholar R. C. Majumdar opines that there are no references to the devadasis in Hindu scriptures of early times. And so he raises a question: “whether such a pernicious custom originated in India or was it derived from contact with countries where moral laxity of this type among females is known to have prevailed in more obnoxious form even in later times”.

Another inscription refers to the dancing girls, musicians, slaves and servants. The name of dancing girls and the musicians emanated from Sanskrit, such as Charumati, Priyasena, Arunamati, Sarangi, Ratimati, and Ghandhini. The names of the slaves and servants were mostly indigenous, such as Bhagya, Dasami and Manjari.

The usage of the Indian names for the dancing girls and musicians and indigenous names for slaves and servants – both male and female raises an interesting question. It is possible that the Indians who arrived from India occupied a higher position and status and did not work in these low professions. Therefore, even the pure indigenous people, or those who were born of their unions with the Indians, were given purely Indian names. This then could be interpreted that even one parent of the Indian origin meant higher position for the child in the society. At the same time indigenous names were still used. The Kamboja inscriptions have preserved many personal names which inform us the extent of Indianization of Kambuja society.

The Hindu influences in Southeast Asia arrived at different time periods of Southeast Asia, and as determined by the internal and external factors the intensity of their impact also varied.

Buddhism arrived in Burma in the first century AD and it reached Funan in the second century and by the fifth century had spread all across Southeast Asia where the two systems – Hinduism and Buddhism- became interwoven. While in India Buddhism was on the decline due to the renaissance of Hinduism under Shankra Acharya in the eighth century, at the same time Hinduism was on the decline in Southeast Asia. With the ransacking of Buddhist universities in India, particularly Nalanda University in Bihar by Muslin invaders, Buddhism in India was almost obliterated by the 12th century although it became very dominant in Southeast Asia. However Cambodia, Java, Sumatra and Bali in Indonesia felt the strongest and most lasting impact of Hindu influences.

In most countries of Southeast Asia- like Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and island of Bali, Hinduism continued to be a cult of the upper classes until the arrival of Buddhism, but it never became the cult of the general masses, who remained committed to their animistic cults and to the worship of their ancestors. This continues to be the case also of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia.

The archaeologist Jay Hall writes that when the countries of Southeast Asia felt the earliest impact of Indian culture they had civilizations of their own. He cites the French scholar George Coedès (1886-1969) who lists their characteristics. On the material side systems they had systems of cultivation and irrigation, domestication of buffalo, rudimentary use of metals and skills in navigation.

On the social side, they followed matrilineal descent, and social organizations existed which resulted from irrigated cultivation of rice. On the religious side they practiced animism, worship of ancestors and indigenous gods of the soil, location of shrines on the elevated places, burial in jars or at megalithic tombs, and mythology imbued with cosmological dualism of mountains vs sea, winged beings vs water beings, and men of the mountains vs men of the seacoast.

The region was known for its racial diversity and it had plethora of languages which showed remarkable complexity by way of prefixes, suffixes and infixes. While people following these cultures in various countries of the region lived mostly in settlements along river valleys, the communities which lived further inland and in the mountains were quite backward. Dr. N. J. Krom, from his study of Javanese civilization before the arrival of Indian influences, adds to the list the wayang and puppet show theatre, the gamelan orchestra and batik making.

Hall makes a compelling case to support his argument and clearly shows that these people had developed some mechanisms for a reasonable survival in terms of food and water, some norms and practices concerning their dead, beliefs in animism and use of local languages.

Furthermore, it was Hindu and other Indian influences that brought with them highly developed and sophisticated religion, literature, art, architectural style, Sanskrit language, systems of philosophy, institution of kingship both Hindu and Buddhist, mythologies taken from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Puranas and other Sanskrit texts containing a nucleus of royal tradition and traditional genealogies of royal families of the Ganges region, observance of injunctions of the Dharma Shastra ( the sacred Law of Hinduism), and in particular the Manuva Dharma Shastra  or Laws of Manu. All these Indian influences propelled the people of the region towards the benefits of higher form of civilization.

A kind of Brahamanism, but without India’s strict rules governing the role on the caste in the society, flourished in some Indian settlements in the Southeast Asia where the Hindu deities served as models for iconography and various forms of art. Most importantly the highly developed Sanskrit language and literature, together with the Indian alphabets which were made available to the local people enabled them to write in their own language.

The royal cults of Cambodia were inspired by strong influences of Indian literature, and in Java and Bali the Hindu epics particularly the Ramayana have long been the themes for art, drama, dance and poetry.

As far as the Wayang Kulit theater, or puppet show is concerned, if it existed at all before the arrival of Indian influences, it was probably based on the local folklore and was not very refined as it is presented to-day. The reason is that in Indonesia the Wayang kulit performances usually enact accounts from mostly the Ramayana, but sometimes also the Mahabharata, the two great epics of India. In addition to these pervasive Indian cultural influences upon the life of the people in the Southeast Asia almost all of them accepted the two major concepts of Hinduism and Buddhism- the theories of Transmigration of Soul and the Law of Karma.

Philip Rawson is even more emphatic than Hall about the cultural and religious influence of India upon the evolution of cultures in various countries not only in Southeast but in the entire Asia. He writes:

“The culture of India has been one of the world’s most powerful civilizing forces. Countries of the Far East, including China, Korea, Japan, Tibet and Mongolia owe much of what is best of their own cultures to the inspiration of ideas imported from India. The West, too, has its own debts. But the members of that circle of civilizations beyond Burma scattered around the Gulf of Siam and Java Sea virtually owe their very existence to the creative influences of Indian ideas. Among the tribal people of Southeast Asia these formative ideas took root and blossomed. No conquest or invasion, no forced conversion imposed upon them. They adopted because the people saw they were good and that they could use them.”

The art which these Indianized kingdoms produced owes its extraordinary qualities to the genius of the native people. Although the modes may be Indian the expression and the contents are indigenous. The Indian modes provided themes and patterns for transformation opening up for the local people avenues of cultural and artistic development. This is amplified by the art of Java, Bali, Burma, and Thailand and the genius of the Khmer people in their various temples, particularly the grand Angkor Wat. However, there are regions where Indian influences could not make any impact and so they did not last, particularly on the Malaya Peninsula, Sumatra, Sarawak and North Borneo.

Indian and Hindu influences came to Southeast by peaceful means. There were no military conquests or mass migrations, but the result of an entrepreneurial spirit of Indian traders, adventurers scholars and monks. These were followed by settlers belonging to the Kshatriya caste, some were deposed princes, hoping to restore their fortunes by their superior military knowledge, and then by artisan and craftsmen trying to improve their economic and social status. These groups in large numbers settled in different regions among the primitive inhabitants of various countries of the region.

The newcomers were very resourceful and astute. Soon after their arrival, they moved swiftly to gain favors with the local chiefs by offering them expensive and unusual gifts and impressed them with the real and assumed knowledge of art of healing, magical powers to prevent illness and drive away evil spirits. Some assumed high postures of being immensely wealthy and belonging to noble or royal family. This impressed the ruling chiefs and the common people who looked upon the Hindus as people of superior race.

After settling down among the locals, these new comers learned their language and married local girls. The leaders of the new immigrants selected girls who were the daughters of the chiefs or at least a girl from a high level family. These wives were initiated into the religious and moral norms and beliefs and social customs of their husbands and began to play a pivotal role in spreading these values among the local people. These native wives of the Indians became the most effective means for the propagation of the Hindu faith and values.

Gradually, the new culture spread from the coastal region to the interior and from one locality to the next. Eventually, the ruler either adopted the Hindu faith, or some Hindus immigrants were successful in marrying into the local royalty, consequently assuring the supremacy of the Hindu culture. In some cases the Hindu immigrants, supported by their native wives, who now lived according to Hindu values, took advantage of changed political and cultural situation and seized power.

Majumdar posits that it is almost a universal law that when a higher and lower cultures interact, the higher culture prevails.

Such settlements must have been widely spread all over the region by the beginning of the Christian era. Although details are sketchy in many cases, it would be reasonable to accept that within two to three hundred years nearly the entire Indo-China, Burma, Siam, Malay peninsula, Cambodia, Vietnam and the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes and Bali had come under varying degrees of Hindu and Indian influences.

They operated from Indian settlements which had sprung up on the coast in about 1st century AD and brought with them the highly refined culture of India to the people whose way of life was well suited to the Brahmanic, and later to the Buddhist teachings.

Initially, it was the abundance of gold and spices found in the Southeast Asia which attracted the zealous Indian traders and entrepreneurs. With expanding knowledge of about the direction of monsoon winds, at least from the 1st century AD onwards, the sea routes not only became more dependable and regulated, but the improved methods of transport helped to increase the trade activity in these vast seas. As a result, elaborate trade routes were established which connected the main coastal regions, which in some parts were supported by river navigation.

According to Coedes, following the establishing of the Maurya (321- 279 B.C) and the Kushan  (100 AD) empires in India and the rise of the king Nicholas Seleucid who ruled one of the numerous Hellenistic states that emerged after the death of Alexander the Great, extensive trade existed between the two regions. This development was to India’s advantage because it caused great drain of gold from the Roman Empire to India. Emperor Vespasian responded by prohibiting its export in c 69 AD forcing India to turn to Southeast Asia for a new source of the precious metal.

As a result many Indian trading settlements were soon established along the coasts serving as ports of entry for principalities and small kingdoms which had sprung up in these areas. As mentioned earlier inter marriage played a considerable role and, according to tradition it was one of these unions which had contributed to the founding of one of the oldest kingdoms on the Indo-China peninsula known as the Funan, in the 1st century.

The Brahmin priests, the sole readers of the doctrine and therefore entitled to and capable of celebrating the rituals, soon followed the traders to educate the princes of royal families. They encouraged art and literature, and as a result of their effort and patronage emerged some of the finest Shiva and Vishnu temples in the area. Until the end of the 12th century nearly all the temples were Hindu, although now Buddhist influences were making inroads and many temples became both Hindu and Buddhist. The earliest of the great kingdoms which came into existence with a strong Indian influences were known by Chinese names, because their accounts were recorded in Chinese court historians.


Funan was the Chinese name of an ancient kingdom located around the Mekong Delta, according to Chinese historical texts describing the state. Although little is known of the kingdom, it appears to have been a powerful trading state given the discovery of Roman, Chinese, Indian and other artifacts found in southern Vietnam. Chinese sources say the country was ruled by a Queen Liu-ye although her empire was conquered by a foreigner named Hun Tien from the land of Chi in the 1st Century AD. Hun Tien was said to have had a dream in which he had been given a magic bow by a spirit who also told him to sail his junk towards the land of Funan.  According to the legend, after Hun Tien shot an arrow from some distance and pierced the side of the queen’s ship, she conceded and agreed to marry him.

Funan was the earliest kingdom with strong Indian influences in Southeast Asia to which Khmers traced their heritage. It was established in the 1st century AD and by the 6th century had extended its territories along the coast and river deltas of South Vietnam and south Cambodia, as far as southern Burma and Indonesia, with its capital at Oc Eo, a port city in southern An Giang  a province in Vietnam on the Mekong Delta bordering the South China sea. Other kingdoms under strong Indian influence based on Java and Sumatra competed with Funan for dominance of the territories bordering the South China and Java seas.

Funan’s geographical location was ideal for the foundation of a trade-based kingdom. It was situated on the natural intersection of the land and sea routes linking eastern India, southern China and Europe. It was a halfway point for the ships to replenish their food and water supplies, and was the center of trade which featured various goods, particularly forest and mineral products, which Indian traders were eager to buy for their clients in Europe.

In early times, Funan’s most heavily populated region was the coast of Thailand with a good system of cultivation. The discovery of numerous small items provides information about trade and the kingdom’s mercantile position. Among the items found are Indian jewels of gold, amulets made of tin, and gems carved with Indian motifs. Roman objects found include a gold medal of Antoninus Pius, a coin of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (c 100 B.C.), and a number of gems. From China came a Han bronze mirror with Wei Buddhist images and a few Ptolemaic Egyptian and Sassanian Persian objects.

The earliest records of Indianized states in Southeast Asia were found in the Chinese literature in the middle of third century, which were translated by the late French scholar Paul Pelliot, and eventually published in the Journal of the French School of the Far East. This literature also mentions a state of Funan thought to be a rendering of the old Khmer name “Bnam,” meaning hill, since the king of the country was called “the King of the Mountain.” This state periodically sent representatives to the emperors of China from the 3rd to the 7th century to pay tribute  after which it disappeared from the history of the region altogether.

There are several versions of the Hun Tien-Queen Liu-ye legend. One gives an account that as early as the 1st century AD a Brahmin named Kaundinya – the Brahminic name for Hun Tien-  arrived on the coast of Indochina and found that the state was governed by a queen named Willow Leaf. Kaundinya was quite surprised to find that all its inhabitants were naked. He proceeded to clothe them, married the queen and became their king.

A similar account from another source maintains that a Brahmin, inspired by a dream, landed in Funan in the early 1st century and after marrying a princess who was the daughter of a snake god, became its king. The serpent deity, or Naga, is a familiar Indian representative of local native royalty. This Naga, it is believed, drank the flood waters and thus enabled the people to cultivate their now dry land.

However, the historical facts behind the legend are more plausible. Archeology has revealed traces of an elaborate system of ancient canals, a great technical marvel of the times, designed to control the Mekong River floods, irrigate a huge area of rice paddies and prevent the incursion of the sea when the river’s flow was slow. Such elaborate system of water works was also an Indian adaptation upon which the wealth of Indian kingdoms and empires had long been founded, where cities were built on the banks of canals enabling the boats to be able to service localities deep in the hinterland.

The cities in Funan were also designed on Indian models. They had moated fortifications and their houses and warehouses were built on richly carved, painted and gilded wooden piles, known in a Chinese account for their splendor which, due to the tropical climate, did not survived.

The chronology of the kingdom is evident from inscriptions in Sanskrit. By the 3rd century India had become very well known. According to one such inscription, one of Kaudinya’s successors sent an emissary to India who returned home after four years of traveling in the country with a gift of Indo-Scythian horses from an Indian prince. In that century Funan had conquered nearly all the territories on the Malay Peninsula. This included the Indianized states of Tambralinga, which had its capital at Ligor on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula now known as Nakhon Sri Thammarat, and then another state called P’an P’an situated in the region of Bandon, but not Burma and Thailand. According to the Pali Buddhist Canon (niddesa), a Sanskrit inscription found in the 6th century shows that Tambralinga already existed as kingdom as early as the 2nd century AD.

According to the Liáng shū, or Book of Liang written by Yáo Chá (533-606 AD), Funan received its Indianized art and culture from P’an P’an  said to be a lost small Hindu kingdom believed to have existed around 3rd-7th Century AD somewhere in Kelantan or Terengganu in what is now Malaysia.  In around 357 AD another Brahmin, also named Kaundinya, came to Funan from P’an P’an and was well received.  He Indianized the country completely and may have been responsible for introducing the worship of Surya, the Indian Sun God. The Chinese sources record that: “They worship the Spirits of Heaven and make images of bronze. Those with two faces have four arms and those with four faces have eight arms. Moreover, the king when he sits raises the right knee and lets the left knee fall.” Clearly these are references to the mudras of Brahmanic gods and to Indian royal customs.

At the end of the 5th century AD a later Funan king also named Kaundinya Jayavarman (this is the first mention of the Indian honorific “varman”) sent an Indian Buddhist priest, Nagasena, to the court of the Emperor of China requesting assistance against his neighbor the king of Champa, today Vietnam, whom he described as a “miserable criminal.”  No help came. At the time Nagasena reported to the emperor that both religions- Hinduism and Buddhism- were flourishing in Funan.

The last of the great kings of Funan was Rudravarman, who ruled in the 6th century AD. He was devoted to the Hindu god Vishnu and it was during his time that the first Vishnuvite sculptures were produced in his country. During this time there were numerous other Indianized settlements around the Gulf of Siam. Although the Western Mon in Burma were adopting some form of Indian culture, the other Mon who lived in the fertile plains of Menam on the gulf of Siam were essentially artisans. Their works of art have been found in Korat, the Phra Patom Chedi and Pong Tuk in Northeastern Thailand.

In what would become French Indochina during the Funan period and the early centuries of Khmer rule Brahamanism was the predominant religion. But Jayavarman II, who ruled from 802 to 849 AD is thought to have been a follower of the Mahayana Buddhism in his early years because many of his temples were dedicated to Lokeshvara, also known as Amoghpasa Lokeshvara,  a multi-armed form of the Buddhist deity Avalokiteshvara. He introduced the cult of Devaraja, and most likely subscribed to both religions.

In the early 6th century Funan started to decline. When Kaundinya Jayavarman died in 514 AD he was succeeded by a usurper his son Rudravarma whose patron deity was Vishnu. Born of a concubine, Rudravarma assassinated the legitimate heir, seized the throne and ruled until 539 AD. After his death there were enormous internal and external problems which brought chaos and instability. The Cham were fighting the Khmers, which further weakened the state internally and Funan was overthrown in the mid 6th century by Chen La, a vassal state.

Chen La emerged as the second most important Indianized state, with Bhavavarman grandson of Rudravarman ascending the throne in about 550 AD. Its capital was established at Vyadhapura (Angkor Borei), but the capital of Southern Chen La had previously been situated at Chambalpura (Sambor) on the Mekong River where the earliest types of Khmer temples all dedicated to Hindu religion were found.

The population of Chen La was of Mon-Khmer stock, which had inhabited the upper reaches of the Mekong River in what is now Laos. They were highlanders, tough and aggressive, whose name was “Kambuja,” which eventually became known as Cambodia. There is a reference to a city by the name of   “Kamboga” in the Arthashastra the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft and economic and military strategy. It is suggested that when the Khmers conquered Funan their new kingdom was called “Kamboja,” suggesting some connection with Iranian Kambojas. A cabochon gem with a Sassanide effigy found at Oc Eo seems to be a further pointer to a possible connection.

There is another mythical account of the origin of the name Cambodia .The Hindu kingdom nearest to Funan and associated with it was Kambuja. Originally it was a small kingdom occupying territory in the Northeastern part of Cambodia. According to local tradition it was founded by Kambu Svayambhuva, a king of Aryadesa, i.e., India. While grieving over the death of his wife Mera, who was given to him by Shiva, Kambu was said to have remarried the daughter of the Naga king who, by his magical powers, turned the dry land into a beautiful country just like Aryadesa.


 The Chen La regime, the Chinese designation for Cambodia after the fall of Funan, ended in the 8th century when it was being ruled by Queen Jayadevi, widow of the last King Jayavarman I. The last inscription of Queen Jayadevi, dated 713 AD speaks of many misfortunes because dynasties aspired for supremacy. The Lunar Dynasty of Aninditapura of the Baladitya family was challenged by the newly formed Solar Dynasty of Sambhupura. It was a period of confusion and internal strife between the two dynasties. During this time Cambodia was divided into the Chen La of Earth and Chen La of Water.

According to an 8th century Arab account the Javanese navy invaded Cambodia, beheaded its king, installed a vassal on the throne, and brought a young prince the future King Jayavarman II to Java to be ‘educated” and then sent back to Cambodia to take up the affairs of the state. This plan did not work out because upon his return to Cambodia in about 802 AD the prince declared his country’s independence from Java, founded the Angkor Dynasty and was crowned as Jayavarman 11.

During his stay in Java, Jayavarman observed the techniques by which the Javanese king, a Hindu, had established his rule over that country. Consequently, when he returned to his splintered homeland he conquered and pacified all its provinces and then established a series of capitals on the inland plain relatively remote from the reaches of Java.

He also brought with him from Java the Devaraja cult, or cult of the god-king, which most likely originated in Kanchipuram, South India, a flourishing center of Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism in the 732 AD where it had a long tradition of consecrating and legitimizing the rule of kings of the Pallava and Chola dynasties. Numerous branches of Shivaism had developed in South India during that period. Some of them reached Java during migration or travels of scholars, pilgrims, mendicants and yogic masters.

The Devaraja cult had been adopted by the Javanese King Sanjaya who installed the Royal Linga or phallus in his capital to consecrate a new dynasty in Central Java and to seek Shiva’s protection. The future king of Cambodia, Jayavarman II who at that time lived in Java, witnessed the ceremony, and upon his return to Cambodia introduced the cult in his country. He invited a royal Brahmin named Hiranyadama to consecrate the linga to legitimize his rule as the founder of the Angkor dynasty. At Mount Mahendra in Indrapura, a city which he had established, he declared himself a God-king- a Chakravartin, or a universal monarch, thus laying the foundation for a dynasty which was ruled until 1350 AD.

This ceremony also meant the effective end of paying any allegiance to Java because now there was to be only one sovereign, the Chatravartin. The Brahmins performed the ritual of installing the Royal Linga during the ceremony which was conducted in 802. It was the Khmer Declaration of Independence from Java.

Although in most countries of Southeast Asia Theravada Buddhism rose to prominence the Brahmins remained influential, and until today the Buddhist courts of the region have engaged Brahmins in astrological and ritual functions. It is worth noting that Indian law books prohibited the Brahmins from traveling overseas in order to avoid ritual pollution, but it did not deter these ambitious men to overlook this particular tenet in search of fame and fortune in distant lands.

Sources tell us that some learned Brahmins were invited to be attached to their courts by the rulers of the countries of the region who had heard of their abilities. It is noteworthy that the Indian gotra names – names of descendents, an unbroken male line- which are always mentioned in Indian inscriptions are usually not mentioned in Southeast Asia. But in the few cases where they are mentioned it is likely that they refer to Indian Brahmins. Therefore, it is most probable that the vast majority of Southeast Asian Brahmins may have been of Southeast Asian origin. Many of these individuals learned Sanskrit and Brahmanic rituals during their studies in India.

Regardless of their origin, the Brahmins had a great influence in various capacities at the courts of the kings. Since they had access to and were well versed in sacred texts, the law books and other Sanskrit literature, they were employed as priests, teachers, ministers, counselors and principle advisors to the kings. The governments, particularly in the early centuries depended on these men because they were the main source of literacy and had experience in administrative methods.

As in the early Indian Kingdoms, the purohitas, or chief priests, played an important role in performing rituals at state functions. The epigraphic record of the mainland kingdoms of Southeast Asia demonstrates the powerful influence which the purohitas wielded- most notably in Burma and Cambodia–where they often served under several successive rulers and provided continuity to the government during difficult times. For example, in the 9th century Angkor, Indravarman I had engaged Brahmin Sivasoma who was a relative of the earlier king Jayavarman II, and was said to have studied Vedanta in India under the well-known teacher, Sankara.

In Cambodia, the sacred and ritualistic offices such as that of the royal purohitas, or family sages tended to pass from uncle to nephew in the maternal line. This has often been seen as an influence persisting among the indigenous matrilineal social organization. Most recently it has been suggested that this type of succession shows how a dynasty would seek alliances with powerful families by marriage generation after generation. The related family would then have its male members given higher office by tradition. Although this was a desirable effect, it is unlikely that the kings were able to enforce this matrilineal succession unless it was based on tradition among the priestly families.

As with the Hindu courts the Buddhist courts in Bagan in Burma and Sukothai in Thailand, the Brahmins conducted all the important ceremonies such as royal consecration, functioned as ministers and counselors, but had to share their influence with Buddhist monks. By its very nature Buddhism was more concerned with acquiring spiritual merit and moral perfection than with the rites and ceremonies of the royal court connected with matters of the state; these were left to Brahmins.

The case of Brahmin Hiranyadam illustrates how the religious life of Kambuja was sustained and fostered by a close and intimate connection with India. Rajalakshmi, the daughter of Rajendravarman, one of the kings of the 10th-century Khmer Empire and younger sister of Jayavarman, was married to an Indian Brahmin Divakara Bhatta. He was born on the banks of river Kalindi (Yamuna) in West Bengal which was considered sacred because of its association with Krishna.

There are numerous other instances of Brahmins who had come from India and occupied high and powerful positions at the courts of various kingdoms of Southeast Asia. While the Brahmins and Kshatriyas are frequently mentioned there are not many specific references to the Vaishyas and the Shudras. It seems that the society consisted of two broad categories of people. The higher category consisting of Brahmins and Kshatriyas who represented two classes rather than two castes, the remaining members of the society belonged to the lower category.

Records have preserved the names of all the royal priests and give detailed accounts of the pious works and religious foundations of each of them, and a list of the various favors in the form of honors, titles, and grant of land received from royal patrons.

As late as the 13th century, during the revival of Brahmanism after Jayavarman VII had adopted Mahayana Buddhism, his successor Jayavarman VIII built a temple for a scholar and scholar-priest, Jayamanglartha and Brahmin Vidyesavid, who became the court priests in charge of performing all kinds of daily rituals . The Chinese visitor Chou Ta-Kuan refers to the presence of the Brahmins at the court wearing the traditional scared thread.

The rule of Jayavarman VIII was the longest in Khmer history (1243-95) but he achieved no distinction as either a statesman or a builder. The great age of Khmer architecture had come to an abrupt end upon the death of Jayavarman VII. Jayavarman VIII was largely responsible for the acts of vandalism of Buddhist images in Cambodia which had been erected by his predecessor in his bid to reestablish Brahmin dominance.

Earlier in the history of Cambodia, Jayavarman II had claimed that divinity had been bestowed upon him by Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, through a Brahmin priest. Jayavarman II had considered himself to be the representative of the Hindu god Indra, the king of all gods, and that his spiritual and temporal power resided in the lingam, the phallic form of Shiva. It was a cult in which the king’s living superhuman spirit was as fully present as in the king himself. The Linga, or devaraja, was enshrined in the center of monumental temples, representing the spiritual axis of the kingdom where the people believed their divinely ordained king communicated with gods.

The Brahmin priests were traditionally very important and exercised great power as advisors to the king. Their position was further enhanced by the devaraja ceremony which was essential to the cult of god-king. According to one inscription, during this period Brahmins held important and powerful positions including a prime minister who was called “the great advisor to the royal family,” a second as the royal spiritual advisor, and the third was in charge of supervising the sacred monuments. The king granted land to those Brahmins whom he wished to reward. Consequently, some Brahmins became so wealthy and powerful that they built their own temples, like the temples of Preah Ko dedicated in 880 AD and the Lolei temple at Angkor Wat. However, these temples were different in form and concept from the mountain pyramid temples portraying god-kings.

The Khmer people also accepted the concept of life-long service to the king as their duty imposed on them. They believed in a Hindu concept which maintained that death is followed by rebirth, and that one’s position in this life is determined by one’s actions, words and thoughts from a previous life. Clearly, the Khmer people had accepted the most central and important concepts of Hindu doctrine of Dharma, Karma and the Transmigration of the Soul.

The Hindu tradition is rich in mythology. Not only men but animals, birds and plants were and continue to be holy until today, particularly cows, followed by perhaps a snake, which was most revered in India. There were also sacred plants such as the Tulsi which until today is associated with Vishnu and considered sacred in many Hindu homes. Two types of grass, kusha and darbha, were considered sacred from the Vedic times onwards in India and then in Cambodia.

Every hill or mountain had some degree of sanctity, especially the Himalayas which were at the foothills of a mythical Mount Meru, the center of the world. Around Meru, gods dwelt on the mountains that reached to the heavens. Vaikuntha, the home of Vishnu, has never been identified, but Kailash the mountain of Shiva which was considered the center of the universe was recognized as a certain peak in the Central Himalayas, a place of pilgrimage for many Hindus since time immemorial.

The kings of Angkor also adopted the concept of Mount Meru. This was considered very important for the founding of a temple-mountain, which was always erected on natural or artificial hills, representing thus, Mount Meru the cosmic mountain and the center of the kingdom.

The capital of the kingdom which was the principle residence of the king, with its ramparts and moats, was a representation in miniature of the universe with its encircling mountain chain and ocean, its center marked by Mount Meru. This was a temple mountain in the form of a terraced pyramid with an idol symbolizing king’s power and the permanent principle of kinship Indra placed on top of Mount Meru. In theory, each king was expected to build his own temple mountain, which would become his mausoleum when he died. He was then given a posthumous title — the name of the god whom he had worshiped while living. Idols of Hindu deities- Shiva and Vishnu with Indra on the top of Meru – were placed in each of these temples.

It was to this personal cult that most of the great Khmer monuments were consecrated. They were royal, princely, or of high official position, and served to some extent as mausoleums in which the worship of parents and ancestors could be performed.

The architectural design of a temple with its pyramid base reflected Hindu cosmology conceived as they were of a cosmic Mount Meru standing on a flat world. At its foot lay the continents and islands surrounded by vast oceans that extended to the perimeters where they were bound by a rocky wall. Mount Meru itself was encircled by six or seven concentric rings of mountains and seas. Its terraced slopes were home to sprites, minor gods and animals who acted as guardians to scare the evil doers and comfort  the good. The gods dwelt on its summit.

The real emergence of Khmer art began under the rule of Indravarman I, who ruled between 887 and 889, a third king in the long line of those who ruled the Angkor dynasty. He claimed to have studied the monistic Vedanta philosophy of Shankara with a Brahmin educated in that tradition. Among his many achievements is his laying the foundation of temple of Angkor.

The temples remain the most tangible testimony to Hindu influences in Cambodia. Bakong is an early example of a temple on the Angkor plain built to embody the Indian cosmological ideas adapted by the Khmers, particularly the idea of a mountain as central axis of the earth. It was believed that the goal of harmony between heaven and earth could be attained by re-creating the form of the universe in miniature. Indravarman constructed his own mountain, Bakong, in the form of a step pyramid to contain his royal essence – the devaraja, Shiva’s linga bestowed on the Khmer kings by Shiva through a Brahmin priest. Bakong also served as Indravarman’s funerary temple.

The Banteai Srei is a small temple compared to the great temple of Angkor. The meaning of the name is explained by the French architect and archaeologist Maurice Glaize (1886-1964) as “The Women’s Citadel.” The temple which was built by Jayavarmana V in the 10th century forms part of an area called Ishvarapura which was dedicated to Shiva. Built of stones in shades of bright pink the temple was recovered in 1914 and its beauty is reflected in its pediments.

One of the scenes depicted in the temple is very human, but the didactic story from the Mahabharata shows an apsara or nymph Tillotama between the two demons – Bhima and Daryodhana. She had been sent to earth to distract the two who were causing considerable trouble and the gods were anxious that they might do a lot of damage. When the demons saw the beautiful Apsara both wanted her. They fought over her and killed each other and so the world was saved. Another pediment shows King Ravana, the primary antagonist in the Ramayana, shaking the cosmic Mount Kailash on which sit Shiva and his shakti, or wife, Parvati.

The façade of the temple is adorned with a stone carving of Ram and Lakshman. In different parts of the temple there are impediments of Vishnu, Krishna and Shiva. One impediment shows Durga, the mother goddess of the Universe, slaying a demon buffalo lying unconscious at her feet.

Another mountain, Preah Vihear, is located on the border of Cambodia north-east of Thailand.  The temple has become the focus of a border dispute between the two nations. It was built about 1040 AD., most likely by King Suryavarman I. Its impediments which are decorated in foliage end in Nagas without any intervention of the Kala head. It is accepted as a Brahmanic temple as there are no signs of any Buddhist influences except for a stupa near the top. There is only one broken headless statue kneeling in the form of the so called Leper King at Angkor. Also there is a lion at the foot of the staircase and two others at the entrance doorway to the second temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Ganesh along with those depicting accounts from the two Indian Epics. The temple Bakheng is quite unusual. It was built in 893 AD., by King Yashovarman II, the 20th king of the Angkor dynasty. The temple is based on a square five-storey pyramid modeled on mount Meru on the hill of Phnom Bakheng, a few hundred meters south of Angkor Wat. The multiple towers of the temple were meant to illustrate a mystical conception of the cosmos and to house the Royal Linga, a stylized phallus that is regarded as the source of the national power. It has been speculated that a cosmic numerology has been incorporated into the arrangements of the towers. The seven levels including the ground and summit represent the seven heavens of Hindu mythology and the towers are said to be arranged in such a way that all thirty three- the canonical number of the Hindu deities- can be seen  at the same time from every side.

And then there is the great mountain temple of Angkor which was built by King Suryavarman II, the 18th century king of the Angkor dynasty (110-50) to honor Vishnu. The temple also functioned as his mausoleum where he was edified in the form of a statue of Vishnu with a posthumous name Parmavishnulo meaning the World of Vishnu.

Suryavarman II, considered the greatest king of the Angkor dynasty, was consecrated by a Brahmin, Divakara Pandita who initiated him into the mysteries of Vral Guhya (the great secret) probably of the Tantric cult. The king was required to perform Vedic rituals of Kothihoma, Laksaoma and Mahahoma as well as various sacrifices to the ancestors. But his greatest achievement was completing the construction of Angkor Wat, in the 12th century.

In the disposition of its parts the temple reflects the elements of the cosmos as Indian temples do, and the relationship between the celestial and terrestrial planes emphasis the direct mystical link between God and man. Surrounded by a moat the temple consists of a vast pyramid on three stages supporting five towers linked by covered galleries. The masses of the building material are arranged in such a way that they give a rhythmic balance to the entire complex. The temple covers almost 500 acres of land to reach its apogee of construction; it took almost five hundred years of steady and continuous development.

The temple itself is surrounded on the inside by two concrete walls. The inner wall is decorated and it illustrates the great mythological themes of Brahmanism such as Heaven and hell and the triumphant march of the king as head of the army.

Its outer galleries tell stories, including the churning of the ocean where Vishnu appears as a tortoise, and the great battles from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata where Vishnu appears as Ram and Krishna and Suryavarman II, along with Ram and Krishna, is shown as the Avatar of Vishnu. It seems that Suryavarman II not only worshiped Vishnu but also associated his own demi-divine persona with him. Probably Suryavarman II and his cult worshipers considered the king to be an incarnation of Vishnu.

An important interpretation of the overall scheme of the temple has been proposed by the University of Michigan archaeologist Eleanor Moron. She suggests that all the key measurements of the monument such as the distance from the entrance bridge to the center of the sanctuary are based on Khmer concept of time and cosmology which was adapted from India. According to the Indian belief the duration of the earth is 4.3 billion years which amounts to 1,000 Mahayugas – a single Brahma day. Each Mahayuga consists of 4.3 million years and is divided into four periods. The Krita Yuga, the golden age; the Treta Yuga, when man is somewhat corrupt; Dvapara Yuga, when man is half dominated by greed, and Kali Yuga, when man is almost totally without any goodness. In each of these periods the distance between the entrances to the various points within the temple decreases.

In the 17th century due to internal unrest and external military pressures the capital was moved from Angkor to Phnom Penh. The temples at Angkor stood the test of time unattended for almost 200 years with the jungle and the thick tropical shrubbery growing in and around to the point that they had become almost invisible. It took more than three years to clean and cut through the trees and heavy shrubbery for a French explorer Henri Mouhot to rediscover the temples and city of Angkor in about 1864.

In Kamboja women held high positions at court. Prana was the chief confidential secretary, Indralakshmi, Jayavarman’s younger sister married Divakara, a Brahmin from North India and is praised in the inscriptions. Jahnavi was well known for her religious foundations. A Chinese traveler reported that the women of the royal family held high political posts and praised their knowledge of astronomy and government affairs.

The history of Cambodia is quite complex and, in its later years, tragic. The Angkor dynasty has continued until today. Prince Norodom Sihanouk  who was placed on the throne by the French in 1941, was a godlike figure, or Devaraja for most Cambodians until his resignation as a king in 2004.

While the French colonized Cambodia in 1863 and Sihanouk helped his country to win independence in 1953, he failed in his effort to remain neutral during the Vietnam War. As a consequence, the country was bombed by the Americans who backed Lon Nol who had come to power. Lon Nol was overthrown in 1975 by the Communist-led Khmer Rouge which brought Pol Pot to power. The Khmer Rouge are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of more than two million people in fewer than four years, but his regime was eventually overthrown with the help of the Vietnamese.

Despite the adoption of a new constitution and the return of Sihanouk to the throne in 1993 violence in the country continued. A coup in 1997 gave Prime Minister Hun Sen absolute powers which made it difficult for the government to function. On October 10th 2004, Sihanouk now 81 years old and in poor health announced his abdication. On October 29th of the same year his 51-year-old son, Prince Norodom Sihamoni, a bachelor with a background in arts was crowned as the 80th king of the Angkor dynasty. Although the king has some influence on state matters he is not involved in active politics but the role has cultural significance for the Khmers.


Champa, another Hindu kingdom lay to the east of Funan and Kambuja. It was designated in Chinese records as Linyi and was located in the central and southern part of what was then Annam, the name for Vietnam until 1945. It was a long narrow strip of territory no more than 112 kilometers in width. It was established by the Cham, people of Malay-Polynesian stock featuring Indianized culture, and it lasted from the 2nd to the 17th century AD.

Champa was a well-known name in ancient India as the capital of the Anga Kingdom, now called Champa Nagar, near Bhagalpur in Bengal. The place is not mentioned in the Times Atlas and the only Champa in India proper is in the central provinces east of Bilaspur and northeast of Raipur. The Indian name and the buildings, statuary, and inscription found in this ancient state make it clear that the early civilization flourishing there was due to strong influences from India.

The claim that Champa is an Indian name is further supported by the fact that many Indian women are named Champa which is also the name of a yellow flower with a pleasing aroma which is used in incense and soaps. Also a city named Champaka Nagar is mentioned in Indian sources, and during the time of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, a kingdom of Chamapuri is mentioned.

The kingdom of Champa appeared in 192 AD during the breakup of the Han dynasty of China when a Han official in charge of the region established his own kingdom around the area of present-day Hue in central Vietnam. The kingdom lasted until the 17th century when it was absorbed by the Vietnamese who were under the influences of the Cham culture. Although the territory was at first inhabited mainly by wild tribes fighting the Chinese colonies in Tonkin it gradually came under Indian influences evolving into a decentralized country composed of four small states, named after regions in India—Amravati (Quang Nam);Vijata (Binh Dinh); Kauthara (Nha Trang); and Panduranga( Phan Rang) –whose population lived in the coastal cities. It had a powerful fleet which was used for trade and piracy.

The local people who are called Chams after the name of the kingdom were invigorated in the 1st century AD due to the settlement of Hindu colonists among them. With the foundation of the kingdom of Champa in 192 AD and the village of Vo-Chanh in the province of Khanh-Hoa in South Vietnam, it was a well known center. Sri Mara was its first historical Hindu King if not the founder of the kingdom of Champa. However, the French archaeologist Louis Finot suggests that Vo-Chanh was a vassal state of Funan, and Coedes indentifies Sri- Mara with King Fan-che-man of Funan.

The first king after Sri-Mara, whose name appears in a Sanskrit inscription is given as Sri Bhadravarman, also known as Dharma- Maharaja Sri Bhadravarma who was a great scholar and well versed in the four Vedas. In 400 AD he united the kingdom of Champa and has been identified with Fan-hu-ta of the Chinese chronicles as a general who increased the power and prestige of his kingdom. He built a temple of Shiva at Myson and called the God after his own name Bhadresvarasvami. This practice, well known in India, was adopted in Champa in later times and the temple of Bhadresvarami became its national sanctuary for almost a millennium.

According to Chinese historical sources, in 413 AD Fan-hu-ta was succeeded by his son Tichen who abdicated the throne and went to India. This king has been identified with King Gangaraja who is also mentioned in Sanskrit inscription as having abdicated the throne in order to spend his last days on the banks of the River Ganga.

This inscription refers to a royal family which traces its claim to the throne through Gangaraja. It refers to several kings like Manorathe-varman, Rudra-varman, Sambhu-varman, Kandarpa-dharma and Prabhasa-dharma.

Sambhu-varman stopped the payment of customary tribute to China and though he renewed it in 595 AD the Chinese army invaded Champa 10 years later and plundered its capital Amravati. They took 10,000 prisoners and cut off their ears and appropriated the gold tablets of 18 kings who had ruled over Champa before Sambhu-varman. Some 1,350 Buddhist works of literature were also appropriated. The victorious general also took with him some musicians as prisoners from Funan who thus brought to the Chinese court the musical art of India.

The wealth taken by the Chinese from time to time after the sacking of Champa gives an interesting insight in the wealth and social conditions of the country. In 446 AD the Chinese invaded Champa in retaliation for Cham raids on their coast and were said to have taken 100,000 pounds of pure gold.

Under the new fourth dynasty in the 6th century, its founder Rudravarman I and his successors, Champa severed its allegiance to China and entered into a new era of independent prosperity and artistic achievements. The center of the nation began to shift from north to south with Vijaya as its capital. By the middle of the 8th century the Chinese sources do not mention Lin-yi but refer to the kingdom as Huan-wang formerly the northernmost province of Paduranga, modern-day Phan Rang. In the late 8th century Champa faced numerous attacks from Java but by the 9th century it had recovered and renewed the pressure on the Chinese in the north and the Khmer on the west.

Under Indravarman II, who established the sixth dynasty of Indrapura in 875 AD the capital was moved back to Amravati (Quang Nam) near Hue where elaborate palaces and temples were constructed. Cham sculptures under the influence of Gupta art from India evolved a very personal style characterized by forms reflecting wild energy.

In the 10th century the Vietnamese kingdom of Dai-Viet began to exert pressure on Champa forcing it to replenish its northern sacred capital, Myson. In 1000 the Vietnamese annexed Amravati and the Central province of Vijaya in 1609. King Harivarman IV who had founded the ninth dynasty in 1074, was able to contain further attacks from the Vietnamese and the Cambodians. In 1145 the Khmers under the leadership of King Harivarman II of the Angkor dynasty invaded and conquered Champa, and between 1190 and 1220 the Chams again came under the Cambodians. In the 13th century they were attacked by the Tran kings of Vietnam and by the Mongols in 1284. By the late 15th century the constant warfare and defense practically wiped out the kingdom of Champa,  and as a consequence by the 17th century all its provinces, one by one, were annexed by the Vietnamese.

In addition to the kingdoms of Funan, Kambuja and Champa, there were several other small Hindu principalities in Indochina. Although However archeological remains prove their existence no detailed accounts are available.


Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country with more than 234 million people. However, Hindu Indian influences and in spite of the onslaught of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, numerous indigenous influences have survived until today. The island of Bali thrives as the outpost of Hinduism in Southeast Asia continuing to influence particularly the language with many Sanskrit words in its daily vocabulary, food, and personal names. The art, music, dance movements, the theater- both Wayang Kulit and Wayang Orang draw heavily from the accounts in Hindu Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharta.

India had continuous relations with Indonesia from the time of early Christian era with Hindu and Indian influences playing the same catalytic role as in Cambodia. Indonesian history may be divided into two main phases. The first, from 1st century AD to about the 10th century  Indonesia consisted of territories on the Malay peninsula, the island of Sumatra and western and central parts of island of Java. The second phase developed in east Java and in Bali from the 10th century to the

Most likely the first Indian settlers in the islands of Java and Sumatra appeared sometime between the 3rd and the 6th century AD. By the 7th century a number of Indianized principalities existed in Java. At that time Sumatra was ruled by the important and powerful Indianized kingdom of Shirivijaya.

About this period of time we have an account by a Chinese pilgrim named I-Ching who during his travels to India in 671 AD stayed for six months at a place he called Fo-che, the capital of Sumatra, to learn Sanskrit grammar. He wrote that he believed that the Buddhism which was flourishing there was of the Mahayana tradition because the monks of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Buddhist sect, although followers of Theravada tradition, had their scriptures in Sanskrit.

At the end of the 7th century a well-known Buddhist center of learning had been established in Palembang, Sumatra. The Indian traditions were very attractive also to the people of Java because besides offering a script and an administrative system they also offered systems of law, politics, metaphysics, mathematics and astronomy, medicine and practical magic.

Various chiefs who lived in their kratons or fortified royal palaces in different parts of Java, derived inspiration, prestige and practical assistance from these concepts so deeply rooted in Hindu tradition. The local dynasties of the kratons, competing for power against each other, dominated the countryside where absorption of Indian ideology was a major factor in the success of the dynasties which built the great temples of central and eastern Java.

It is not clear to what extent the rules of the Indianized states were of direct Indian stock, however. It is likely that many ruling families traced their descent to Indian traders who had married native women. Also Brahmins from India would have migrated to perform their essential religious function at such weddings.

Sanjaya, a Siva-worshiper and the last ruling king of central Java, retreated to a kraton in eastern Java in the face of the rising power of the Shailendra dynasty. The earliest major cultural adaptation from India probably took place during the 7th century when the Pallava script from southeastern India was adopted for Javanese inscriptions in west Java because during that time many merchants from Gujarat and parts of south India were very active in Indonesia.

The name of the Shailendra dynasty whose name according to the French archaeologist George Coedės (1886–1969) means “the King of the Mountain,” expressed perhaps an adaptation of an Indian belief by the Indonesian people connected with the residence of gods on the top of the mountain. Some authors believe that the Shailendra which built the massive Borobudur temple complex in Central Java came directly from India, though this is strongly disputed. They were followers of Mahayana and the Tantric Vajrayana form of Buddhism.

Hinduism via the worship of Shiva and Vishnu also continued and the later temples of east Java were influenced by both Hinduism and Buddhism. The Shailendras were the first, in the 8th century, to declare themselves as the rulers of Java and to adopt the title, Maharaja, the Sanskrit word for Great King.

From the 7th century onwards Indo-Javanese civilization represents a blend of local and Indian cultures. The language known as Kawi, the ancestral language of Javanese, is heavily punctuated with Sanskrit words and phrases. This is also reflected in the form of the given names of many Indonesian men and women today although of Muslim faith have Sanskrit-based names. Even though the king’s first name may be Indonesian, his second name, considered sacred, will be Indian. The court officials also have both Indonesian and Indian names. As the archaeologist V. J. Krom remarks that there is no doubt that the Indian influences brought higher spiritual ideas which only Sanskrit could articulate.

In religious institutions the privileges of both are respected. While the ceremonies are performed according to Indonesian rites, Indian deities are invoked and even Islam has been unsuccessful in eradicating animistic beliefs. In ancient Java two religious systems coexisted and were recognized- Shivaism and Buddhism. Vishnuism which is as important in Hinduism as Shivaism, did not get much attention in the country where the beliefs of early inhabitants were not lost and they continued to worship the goddess Sri, originally the goddess of glory and prosperity, but in later times known as the goddess of rice.

One of the key concepts that came to Java and Sumatra from India pertained to the Devaraja cult or cult of the god-king which as explained elsewhere became very important in the kingdoms of Funan and Chen La, later known as Cambodia. The Devaraja cult most likely originated in Kanchipuram, South India, a center of Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, in the seventh and eighth centuries where it had a long tradition of consecrating and legitimizing the rule of the Pallava and Chola dynasties. South India had also been a fertile ground for the development of various branches of Shivaism some of them reaching Java through migration or the travels of learned teachers, gurus, pilgrims, sadhus, ascetics, mendicants and yogic masters.

The Devaraja cult was introduced into Java in 732 AD by King Sanjaya who installed a Royal Linga to consecrate a new dynasty in Central Java and to seek Shiva’s protection for his rule.

The Devaraja coronation ceremonies were conducted by priests of the Rig Veda known as the Hotar or chief priest. During this ceremony the king was empowered by the 33 gods of the Hindu pantheon and received the sacred sword blessed by the Brahmin as the king ceremonially drew it from its shield. The sacred sword was the emblem of the state handed down from generation to generation of rulers irrespective of dynastic changes. The ethics of governance were known as the asta-brata, exhorting the king to strive for wealth, to be strong in defending the kingdom and to be considerate and compassionate towards his people. He had to possess the attributes of eight gods. The Indonesian Ramayana says that eight deities incarnate in the king the eight meritorious deeds.

As we have seen, Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in Java side by side and many of the ruling houses followed both traditions. But the concept of kingship in Buddhism and Hindu were very different. In Hinduism the kingship’s origin was divine and had to be maintained by sacred rituals and offerings to appropriate deities. The most important factors in the kingship were the Kshatriya caste, the holders of ksatra, or authority and the noble lineage of the king. Also, the Hindu concept of kingship is similar to the Western theory of divine rights of kings and so their consecration had to be by the highest ecclesiastical authority.

By contrast in Buddhism, the moral and spiritual attributes of the king were the main consideration in Indonesia. The kingship emanated from a theory of social contract somewhat similar to that espoused in the West by John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau and practiced in England and later in Europe. It was secular in nature and did not invoke any gods or higher powers.

Although the kings in Java were Buddhist, Buddhist priests were not permitted to consecrate them or confer upon them the status of a Chakravartin, the ancient Indian conception of the world ruler, derived from the Sanskrit words chakra, or wheel, and vartin, one who turns. Only the Hindu royal Brahmins, the Hotars could consecrate a king through the abhiseka ritual in which libations are poured over an image of the deity.  The abhiseka ritual replaced the ritual of rajasuya sacrifice prescribed by the Aitreya Brahmana from 8th– 7th century BC and then mentioned in the Taitriya Upanishads. Only these could elevate a king to the status of Chakravartin after performing the ancient ritual of Ashmaveda, the horse sacrifice, with its roots in the Vedic times.

The Rg Veda mantras, among the oldest of the Vedas, mention numerous royal sacrifices and ritual including rajasuya and thevajapeya or “drink of strength,” a sort of rejuvenation ceremony which supposedly restored the vital forces of a middle-aged king and raised him from the status of simple king to that of a samrat, or “complete monarch” free of all allegiance to any king and all lesser kings subordinate to him.

The most important and significant of these sacrifices was the Ashmaveda, or horse sacrifice. A specially consecrated horse was set free to roam at will for a year followed by a chosen band of warriors. The chieftains and kings on whose   territories the horse wandered were forced to pay homage or fight. And if the horse was not captured by any of the kings it was brought back and sacrificed to fire. It was the ambition of every king to perform an Ashmaveda, but it also had negative impact on the state-to-state relations among the Hindu kings of the times.

Sources posit that the Ashmaveda sacrifice was a Brahamanic creation. This particular sacrifice was not practiced by the Mauryan kings, who ruled from 321 to 185 BC., by on the Indo-Gangetic plain but was revived by the Sunga kings, which controlled vast areas of the subcontinents from 185 BC to 73 BC., and was performed by many later kings. King Adityasena Gupta of the second Gupta dynasty was the most important monarch of the latter half of the 7th century and one of the last great Indian kings to perform the sacrifice.

Although after the Guptas this sacrifice became rare, the last one took place in the Chola Empire in the 11th century AD and the tradition of royal divinity continued. The Kings referred to their divine status in their titles and the court officials addressed them as deva, or god. The Chola kings and some others were even worshiped as gods in the temples of southern India during those times.

In later times the dynastic alliances and military conquests defined territorial boundaries of states. The Ashmaveda was replaced by some elaborate rituals during which the Brahmins vested the king with the title of Chakravartin by consecrating the state linga in his name at the royal court. This act empowered him to rule not only over his own kingdom but gave him the right to aspire to additional territorial conquests and rule over them.

It seems that there were many other reasons for performing the Ashmaveda. Professor Maurice Winternitz, the author of A History of Indian Literature, gives an account from the Mahabharata when Yudhishtra, who was very remorseful for having caused so much pain to his many relatives and also for having committed fratricide, is counseled by the sage Vyas to offer a horse sacrifice to purge himself of all his sins. There is no evidence that the Khmer kings or those of Java and Sumatra performed the ritual during their times.

The kings of Java and Sumatra also adopted the concept of Mount Kailash, the sacred abode of Lord Shiva and of Mount Meru, a  mythical mountain on which Shiva and Vishnu temples were erected. According to Hindu mythology this mountain represented the axis of the entire universe. The entry to such a temple was steep with no natural light where one goes through number of dim antechambers up to the garbha griha, the womb of the temple where the main deity resided. The holiest of places was vertically aligned with the highest point of the temple, the shikhara, meaning the peak or crest of the temple.

In Indonesia, Chandi, or temple refers to a structure modeled after the Indian style of a single- celled shrine constructed on a natural or artificial hill with a tower shaped like a pyramid above it and a portico. It resembles the temple  mountains of Cambodia representing Mount Meru, the axis of the universe. The Chandis served as a cult focus housing icons and as in other countries of Southeast Asia they are identified with royalty. The Chandis at the Diang Plateau, a marshy plateau that forms the floor of a caldera complex near Wonosobo in Central Java have been named after the popular heroes of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The archaeologist Philip Rawson, the author of The Art of Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Java, suggests that the term Chandi derives from a Hindu goddess who presides over the cremation grounds,, or the place of the dead spirits. This may be of recent usage and applies to any mysterious old monument. ( The capital of the state of Punjab in India, which was built after the partition in 1947 is called Chandigarh). Some later Javanese Chandis do have funerary monuments to the kings. However, in the earliest times there seems to have been little connection between the Chandi as a temple and actual funeral ceremonies.

Another source claims that the word Chandi denotes the goddess Durga, who is known by numerous names including, Kali, Kapali, Kapala, Chanda, Tarini, Varavarini and Parvati. Usually very fierce looking but sometimes benign, she is worshiped  each year during the festival of Deepavali, when clay idols showing her vanquishing the Buffalo demon are immersed in ponds and rivers amidst the sound of conch shells.

The Hindu temples of central Java are built in the architectural style of Indian temples. Most of the temples on the Diang Plateau in Java are dedicated to Shiva. This is a high volcanic territory, about 1,800 meters above sea level with sulphur springs and lakes. These features have made it a naturally sacred place for people whose religion centered on the image of a mountain. The temples are dedicated to Bhima, Arjun and other heroes of the Mahabharata.

The temples conform to the general pattern of Indian style. Another group of Shaivite temples the oldest of the four major Hindu sects, are found on Mount Ungaran, south of Semarang in central Java, built by the Shailendras. Here, on the fringes of a valley with sulphur springs are nine groups of temples. In the mountainous region of central Java remains of other Hindu temples have been found. One of the temples has a fine image of Shiva’s bull. From another Shiva temple not far from Borobudur full-size iconic sculptures of Vishnu have been discovered. He wears the garments closely associated with Chola styles of Southeast India. Another, the Divine Teacher, sometimes called Agastya, represents the god Shiva taking on the persona of a bearded Brahmin sage with a large pot belly. This icon is also indigenous to southeast India and was most likely built by King Gajayana of the Kanjuruhan Kingdom, who ruled in about 760 AD.

Finally, in about 910 AD the very impressive Brahmanic temple of Lara Jongrang was built near the village of Prambanan in central Java between Jogjakarta and Surakarta by a king named Daksha of the Mataram dynasty. Although the main buildings have been restored, much is of it is still in ruins. Nonetheless it remains a beautiful shrine to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, with galleries of reliefs illustrating the stories from the Javanese Ramayana which was composed in the early 10th Century during the reign of King Sindok . In one of the other temples is a lovely statue of Durga, Shiva’s consort, locally known as Lara, “slender maiden.”

The temple consists of three sanctuaries dedicated to the Hindu trinity. The one devoted to Shiva is the largest, facing it is a pavilion containing a statue of a Nandi bull. Some 124 miniature temples are built around the center and the entire complex is enclosed by three walls forming a triple square.

The complex also forms a mausoleum housing the remains of the king, the members of the royal family and important members of the court, each identified with the deity to which an individual shrine was dedicated. The royal members in the major temples are identified with the deities of the Hindu Pantheon , the lesser members in the smaller temples are identified with the protecting deities of the districts with which they were associated, in life.

Until  today on certain days during the week in the evening a dance drama based on the accounts from Ramayana is performed by local artists to the delight of visitors and tourists. Jatayu, the sacred bird from the Ramayana gets the loudest and most enthusiastic applause from these audiences. Regrettably, the temple now is in general ruins, statutes have been desecrated and visitors who are not followers of the Hindu faith treat the temple with complete disregard.

Contemporary research disputes the opinions of early scholars who considered the art of East Java as inferior compared with that of Central Java. The religion and arts of the East Javanese continued to follow the style developed during the Central Javanese period based on Indian models of religion and culture. At the same time new concepts and styles emerged and blended with indigenous Javanese concepts. During the East Javanese period religion and art

detached  itself from the Indian models and developed a distinct Javanese character, and Hindu beliefs merged with indigenous Javanese concepts.

The island of Bali, east of Java, in spite of Buddhist, Islamic and Christian influences in Indonesia has continued to practice its own brand of Hinduism which arrived via Java in the 7th century AD. Before the arrival of Hinduism the indigenous inhabitants practiced ancestor worship, animism and magic. These Hindu settlers soon became rulers over different parts of the island, but they were careful and refrained from interfering with the communal life of the locals which still retains many of its earlier practices.

The settlers from India infused the island with Hindu epics which are still revered, and certain social and cultural aspects which are indigenous to India. The Balinese started worshiping Shiva and Vishnu and hundreds of temples were built across the island, and the custom of Sati and Devadasis was introduced. The theory of karma and the transmigration of the soul were accepted, and the caste system became integral part of the society. Today, about 15 percent of the entire population of two to three million consider themselves Brahmins, Kshatriyas or Vaisyas. The remaining population is considered Shudra, the lowest and largest caste.

Balinese Theatre, dance drama and arts and crafts reflect Hindu values. On October 12th 2004, when a memorial was dedicated to the 2002 victims of the Bali bombing, the event began with a Balinese Hindu ceremony. However, there are instances when animism supersedes Hindu rituals.


Indian cultural influences had the greatest affect on Burma reaching her by both sea and land before arriving in the rest of the Southeast Asia. Because of the direction of the monsoons and  its geographical location Burma played an important role among the kingdoms of Southeast Asia.

Documentation of the early history of Burma is sketchy. Much of it is fanciful because genuine history was not a Burmese forte. Chinese sources refer to wild, tattooed cannibal tribes using bows and arrows. Ptolemy identifies a coastline, possibly around Moulmein, which was inhabited by cannibals.  The 7th, 8th and 9th century AD inscriptions probably from Prome refer to kings with Indian names, some of whom may have been connected with the Pallava Kings of South India in about the 8th Century AD.

There is a general belief that Buddhism was introduced into Burma during Ashoka’s time by two missionaries named Sona and Uttara, both of whom visited Suvarnabhumi, or the land of gold, which has been identified with Burma by some scholars. Others have identified it with Thailand, and others yet regard it as general designation for Southeast Asia.

The Jataka stories also mention Indian merchants sailing to Suvarnabhumi from across the ocean. A favorite story is of two brothers, Tapusa and Palikat, who are said to have been given eight hairs from his head by Gautama. These they brought by sea to the Golden land and enshrined them under the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon). Although it is quite possible that the Jatakas were collected only after the death of Buddha, they had been compiled by the time Ashoka who adopted Buddhism as the state religion in India and he sent a number of missions with a message of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. One such mission reached Suvarnabhumi converting its people to Buddhism. Burmese sources posit that at this time Thaton or Suddhamavati, which had connections with Orissa, was the capital of Suvarnabhumi.

According to the Burmese chronicles, the first Burmese kingdom was established at Tahaung in northern Burma, and it was founded by an Indian king who had lost his own kingdom in India. Another source refers to the kingdom of Sri Ksetra, which is now the modern city of   Prome as the first great Hindu kingdom beyond the borders of East India.

Due to a lack of archeological evidence most scholars have rejected the theory that a kingdom was founded at Tagaung. Also it has never been claimed that the Burmese were Aryans or that they came from India although it is accepted that the earliest dynasty of kings in Burma was of  the Indian  origin.

However, in 1894 a German archeologist stated that there was a center of Indian culture in Tagaung on the Irrawaddy River just north of the Mogok ruby mine district. Here he found a stone slab dated 416 AD., with a Sanskrit inscription that Tagaung was founded by immigrant princes from Old Delhi.

Another account in the Encyclopedia of Historiography suggests that Abhiraja, a prince of the Shakya clan of the Kapilavastu region of India marched with an army into upper Burma, founded the city of Sankissa on the upper Irrawaddy and set himself up as the king of the surrounding region. After 31 generations a second band of Kshatriyas from the Ganges valley came and occupied the kingdom. After 16 generations of the new dynasty had ruled the kingdom was overrun by barbarians, but the eldest son of the last king founded a new kingdom with his capital near Prome. When his son became king he founded the city of Sri Kestra and made it his capital. After 18 kings had ruled a civil war broke out among the three constituent tribes- the Pyu, kanran and Mramma. The Pyu who won this civil war were themselves defeated by the Mons, Kanran went to Arakan and supremacy passed to the Mramma, from which the name Burma is derived, and the capital was moved to Bagan.

The country was dotted with city kingdoms and the Pyu of Sri Ksetra, meaning the Fortunate Field, often had to fight and subdue other warring factions. The Burmese term “ Pyu” or “Pyus” was meant to identify peoples of Tibeto- Burmese tribes in the Irrawaddy Valley. The journey of the Pyu down the valley must have taken a long time and they seem to have settled the country from North to South. These settlements later became kingdoms and Tagaung could have been one of them.

The Pyu are known to have been skilled craftsmen and metal workers. Although they did not make images of large sizes they were known for their fine sculptures, stone carvings and for making images in glass and semi-precious stones, such as jade and amethyst. And it is likely that the Pyu were the first to use silver and gold coins as currency. Coinage was necessary because of the extensive trade of the Pyu kingdom.

The Pyu were Buddhists of the Theravada school. Unlike the Mons, Hindu ideas were not generally accepted by them although the source of Pyu culture was Indian which resulted from trade contacts with India. They preferred to their settle disputes through peaceful means before resorting to the use of arms, either by single combat between two representatives, or by agreement that the army  that was able to complete the construction of a stupa, or an alms hall would be declared a winner. When the opponent was a queen the king would settle the dispute by marrying her.

According to the chronicles the queen of the Pyu capital Peikthanomyo, meaning the Vishnu city, attacked Sri Kestra, which was named after the sacred pilgrimage city of Puri on the Bay of Bengal in India.The dispute was settled when the king of Sri Kestra   married the Peikthanomyo queen. This account is confirmed by the discovery of a miniature cylindrical stupa made of silver with four seated Buddhas carved around it. The inscription in mixed Pyu mentions the names of the Fortunate Ruler Varma (Vikrama) and the Fortunate Ruler Devi. The stupa has been interpreted to be a symbol of friendship and peace between the feuding king and queen.

The capital Sri Kestra is mentioned in the 7th century by the Chinese pilgrims Hsuan-tsang and I- tsing. Legends say that its people came from the area between Halin, in Shwebo district, and Prome. Inscriptions on both these places are from at least the 7th century AD or of an earlier time. Urn inscriptions deciphered by the archaeologist Charles Otto Blagden show a Vikrama dynasty reigning at Prome from at least 673 to 718 AD and three kings are mentioned, i.e., Suryavikrama, who died in 688 AD at the age of 64; Harivikrama, who died in 695 at the age of 41, and Shivavikrama, who died in 718 at the age of 44.

Another discovery a beautiful stone image bore an inscription in mixed Sanskrit and Pyu. It gives an account of two cities, one ruled by a king with a dynamic title of Vikrama and the other by a king with the title of Varman.

Although the Shiva cult had no influence on Burma, the Vishnu cult had an impact on Lower Burma despite the fact that it entered the country in a semi- Buddhist form. In India, the Vishnu cult made some compromise with Buddhism by making the Buddha ninth avatar of Vishnu. The Buddhists returned the compliment by recognizing Ram, the hero of the Mahabharata, as an earlier incarnation of the Buddha and accepting Vishnu as the guardian god of Buddhism.

The Pyu treated Vishnu with respect and there is a legend that Vishnu was one of the builders of Sri Ksetra. However, it is worth noting that although some stone sculptures have been found at the site Vishnu was not worshiped as Buddha was.

However, one of the early cities of the Pyu in the southern Burma was known as Vishnupura (Beikthano). This may suggest the cosmic aspect of Vishnu as the heavenly king of the universe. A religious observance at Sri Ksetra (Hman-za near Prome) had a place for images of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, good fortune and prosperity. Also, the Kagyun cave site has a relief of Vishnu. It was only in Burma that a Vishnu standing on his vehicle – the mythical eagle Garuda, has been found.

The arrival of Theravada Buddhism superseded Hinduism in influencing Burma. And although the ritual of coronation was followed and the death of a king was explained as their going to the abode of the gods, the Hindu cult of the divine king, or devaraja, was never accepted in Burma. Like Hindus the Pyu cremated their dead, but unlike the Hindus preserved the ashes in urns. For ordinary people the urns were earthenware, for the rich they were copper, but for the royalty they were of huge stones. These urns were buried at random or placed on long brick platforms and buried and those containing the ashes of donors of pagodas were placed in the vaults of the pagodas. Hundreds of such urns have been excavated near Sri Ksetra and Taguang. Urn burial was neither Hindu nor Buddhist and the Burmese at some point discontinued the custom.

The Pyu did not accept the Hindu Code of the Laws of Manu, or Manava Dharma Shastra, one of the standard books in the Hindu canon and a basic text on which all gurus base their teachings. This ‘revealed scripture’ comprises 2684 verses divided into twelve chapters presenting the norms of domestic, social, and religious life in India (circa 500 BC) under Brahmin influence and is fundamental to the understanding of ancient Indian society.

In other countries of Southeast Asia the concept of the divine king and general principles of the code were accepted and in some ways were a corollary to the other. The only source of law known to the Burmese was custom, and the aim of justice was to try to reach a compromise if possible before the actual trial began. It is very possible that this custom may have originated with the Pyu because Chinese texts mention that those in dispute were encouraged to burn incense in front of the great image to reflect on their own faults and then come to some understanding. However to give some prestige to their customary law, in the 13th century, after the fall of Bagan, the Burmese did use the name of “Manu the law-giver.” The Burmese were also quite surprised at the class distinction prevailing among the Hindus. Their name for Indians is Kula, meaning “caste people,” and it is possible that the word Kula originated with the Pyu.

Although Buddhism did not sanction astrological practices and predictions and the Vinaya rules prohibited monks from indulging in any such activities, the Pyu practiced astrology. And because astrology remained popular with the ordinary people, both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism had to permit it.

In all countries of Southeast Asia the calendar was of Hindu origin. The days of the week came to bear Hindu names of the planets and the adjustments between native lunar years and the solar years were worked out by Hindu astrologers. The Pyu kings appointed Brahmins from India as their astrologers to enhance their prestige and authority and to assist them in coronation and personal purification ceremonies. The Chinese texts note the fact that in the Pyu kingdom there were many astrologers and the Brahmins spread the cult of astrology beyond the palace circle. It appears that the Pyu owed much to the Indians for their great culture but more to the Indian Buddhists than to Indian Hindus.

The Mon were closely related to the Khmers and they occupied the Menam valley now known as Lower Burma. The earliest Mon sites are Si T’ep (Sri Deva), P’re Pathom and P’ong Tuk, and date from before 550 AD. In the 7th century they formed part of the Hindu kingdom of Dvaravati.

Hiuen Tsang, a seventh-century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who wrote an account of India and Bengal, also mentions the Dvaravati Kingdom in Thailand which lasted from the 6th to the 13th centuries, but there is no definite evidence of its existence at an earlier period. The archeological remains of the three Mon sites prove Hindu settlements in the 4th and 5th centuries AD., if not earlier. They may belong to the Dvaravati. On the basis of these remains, Coedes mentions the old kingdom of Dvaravati in the area of Lopburi in the north, to Ratburi in the west, and Prachin in the east.

The Hinduized Mon must have spread to the lower Menam Valley from their base in Lower Burma. Here they had a number of powerful settlements collectively known as Ramannadesa or the Land of the Mon. Ramanna was another name of the Mon who  were also known as Talaing. This name denoted at first the Hindu colonists who came from Telengana in India and was ultimately applied to all its inhabitants.

Although less democratic than the Pyu, the Mon adopted both the Hindu concept of Devaraja and the Hindu law code of Manu. Accordingly, there were more Brahmin astrologers in the Mon courts than Pyu. And as a loose federation of the Mon states, with the capital at Lava Pura, now known as Lop Buri, the Dvaravati kingdom reached the zenith of its power in the 7th century, and from it in the 8th century emanated a new kingdom, Haripunjaya (modern Lamphun in northern Thailand). According to Mon and Thai chronicles it was founded by a Buddhist queen Chammadevi of Lavapura (Lopburi). The Kingdom of Thaton acquired the northern port kingdom and the Irrawady delta. These three kingdoms shared a common language, origin and religion leading to the formation of a Buddhist confederacy of Ramanna.

The Mon were the most advanced and cultured people in Southeast Asia. They were the pioneers of wet rice and bean cultivation in Burma before the arrival of the Burmese, and in Thailand before the arrival of the Thai. In the central dry zone of Burma they constructed the Kyaske irrigation system which came to be of vital strategic importance to the Burmese capitals of Bagan and Ava.

Although Hindu and Brahmanic influences persisted at the court level the Shiva cult could not make much headway due to the arrival of Theravada Buddhism. Some European scholars have claimed that Gvampati (Ganesha the elephant-god son of Shiva and Parvati), a Hindu deity, was the patron of the Mons. Other sources agree that there was a Shivaite god by the name of Gvampati or “lord of cattle,” although another source suggests that the Gvampati which the Mons worshiped was one of the arhats mentioned in the Theravadin scriptures. The Mon believed that even during the lifetime of the Buddha, Gvanpati visited Thaton and that he did not enter Nirvana until he had helped in building Sri Ksetra, and that he believed that Buddhism would “shine in lower Burma for thousand years.”

The Mon states in Burma which became staunch followers of Theravada Buddhism had a chthonic cult, or one relating to the underworld. The kings as the representatives of their communities presided over rituals that linked with their local patron gods, and after their death the rulers would join their ancestors in an invisible other world where they would be united with the earth goddess, a tree or mound serving as a point of contact between the sacred and the polluted worlds. With the advent of Buddhism, the burial mounds, most likely the manifestation of a Hindu concept of Mount Meru , turned into stupas and the tree spirit which had been integrated into Buddhist observance turned into Satopan — followers of Buddhist teaching who had had a vision of Nirvana and were on their way to salvation.

Such practices were in accordance with the Buddhist teachings in India where the oldest stupas were burial mounds in which the relics of the Buddha or of Buddhist saints were enshrined. Certain trees including the famous Aswattha under which Buddha attained Enlightenment were the abodes of Yakshas, ferocious giant spirits who became pious protectors of early Buddhism.

Buddhism incorporated the concept of Yaksha from Hinduism. They were well known and often mentioned in Hindu legends and mythology and were perceived as enemies of the gods. They are known by many other names such as Rakshasas which is synonymous with Ravana, the villain of the epic Ramayana, the Danavas or the Asuras. In their early conception the Rakshasas seem to be those unknown creatures of darkness, to which the superstition of all ages has attributed the evils that one encounters in their life, with a malignant desire to injure mankind. They are also featured in the Chinese paintings and Buddhist carvings.

Despite their achievements in culture and influences in other spheres the Mon failed to seize their chance of founding a great empire and of dividing the entire region of mainland Southeast Asia between themselves and the Khmers. They had the military might and had forced the Pyu to withdraw from the delta and were able to withstand the Nan-Chao raids. Their failure to consolidate themselves into a single empire invited attacks from outside and generated dissension from within.

According to the Mon chronicles two sons of the king of Thaton, named Thamala (Shyamala) and Vimala, who were excluded from any rights to the throne, founded a new city Hamsavati, now Pegu, in 825 AD. Another source posits that Pegu was an island that had emerged from the sea as part of the Irrawaddy delta in 825 AD. The island was originally said to have been discovered by a merchant ship from India, but the Mon despite the Indian claims managed to hold on to it. When the elder brother became the king he sent his younger brother to study in India, but upon his return ignored him. In retaliation the younger brother lead a rebellion, killed his sibling and declared himself king.

The son of the fallen king was saved by his mother and was given to a family in a remote village to be brought up as their son. He grew up to be a handsome and courageous young man. Soon after he turned 16 another ship arrived and challenged the king to a fight with an Indian warrior who according to legend was seven feet tall. Pegu was at stake. The king realized that he was not up to the challenge and called for a volunteer to face the challenge. A young villager came forward and won the ensuing combat, and when his identity was revealed he was declared the crown prince.

The Mon  were quite compromising and gave Pegu the official name of Ussa after Orissa in India. They freely intermarried with the Indians in order to absorb their small community, norms and customs, and became known as Talaing.

Soon after 800 AD., the old kingdom of Prome began to break up due to internal strife and Bagan began to rise. Originally Bagan was a cluster of 18 villages near the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. The medieval inscriptions suggest that Bagan was very fertile with extensive rice fields, though now it is a dry zone. Although in its early days Bagan was a backward hinterland, Indian influence had started to penetrate Central Burma via the coast of Arakan and overland via Assam bringing with it Mahayana Buddhism.

Bagan gained importance when its chief Pyinbu enclosed it with a wall in 849 AD., of which the Sarabha gate is still standing, but it was only 250 years, in 1044, when King Anwratha came to the throne, that Bagan achieved its pre- eminence. Until this time a corrupt form of Mahayana Buddhism prevailed in Upper Burma, while in lower Burma  in the Pyu kingdom of Prome and the Mon kingdoms of Thaton and Pegu, Hinayana Buddhism flourished with Brahmanism co-existing with both schools of Buddhism.

According to the Burmese chronicles the city of Bagan was founded in 849 AD., originally known by a Hindu name Arimardanapura, and was the capital of a kingdom founded by king Anawratha, the Burmese form of a Sanskrit name Aniruddha, in 1044 AD. When he was still a child his father was forced to become a monk and to give up his throne to a usurper. When Anawratha became of age he challenged the usurper to single combat and killed him.

Anawratha had married a princess of Vaisali in India but he was converted to Theravada Buddhism by a monk in Thaton, named Arahan, also known as Dharmadasi. Anawratha did not accept the cult of god king and is said to have been impatient even with gods which people worshiped. These Burmese were most probably the original Nat worshipers.

Anawratha’s political aim, and he successfully achieved it, was to consolidate the various tribes and kingdoms into a single nation. He was thus the founder of the first united Burmese kingdom and also the first Burmese empire.

However, the political unification of Burma was not his only achievement. He completely transformed Burmese culture by infusing it with the Mon culture. The Burmese represented a comparatively late Mongolian wave of immigration and were “rude unlettered people.” Under the inspiration and personal example of Anawratha they adopted the religious script and sacred literature of India, as represented by the Mon culture. This began a new era in Bagan. Most likely there is no other example where the conqueror adopted the culture of the conquered to such an extent. The Theravada Buddhism now became the dominant religion of the entire country.

Anawratha was also a strict administrator and a great warrior. He was ruthless and stern towards his subjects , was admired and feared but not loved. He was credited with introducing new military tactics in Southeast Asia and was first to use elephants on a large scale as infantry.

The chronicles suggest that Anawratha’s enemies ambushed and killed him and then disposed his body in such a way that it was never found. The account of his death posits that a god whom he had whipped appeared in the guise of a wild buffalo and gored him to death and that the demons took away his body. He was succeeded by his son, Sawlu, who was young and inexperienced and was killed during a major rebellion by the Mon and was replaced by Kyanzittha, a successful military general, who became one of the greatest kings in Burmese history.

Kyanzittha was crowned in 1084. He had wanted to marry his daughter to the Prince of Pattikkara in Bengal, but this love episode ended in a tragedy and even today is the basis of many poems and plays.

Numerous instances in the life of Kyanzittha including his mysterious birth and his affair with Mamsada, a Mon queen, made him a hero in the eyes of the Mon. Unlike his predecessors who used Pali or Sanskrit, Kyanzittha used Mon language.

Although by now Theravada Buddhism was well established, Hindu Brahmins continued to play a central role particularly at the court level. The Mon worshiped Vishnu but Kyanzittha was a Buddhist and had been declared a guardian god of Buddhism. With the advice of Shin Arahan, who was still a prelate, Kyanzittha made the connection between Vishnu and Buddhism even closer. He declared that in his previous life he was Vishnu.

Although Hinduism never established itself firmly in Burma, Brahmin astrologers were quite influential at the courts both in Prome  and  Bagan since Hindu images dating from the 6th to the 10th century AD have been found. The principle opponent to Anawratha’s introduction of Buddhism was a religious order known as Ari. They were probably monks of a Malayan sect because a number of images of Mahayana deities have been excavated in Prome and Bagan. In a few of the surviving temples in Bagan relief sculptures in painted terra cotta and frescoes give some idea of the original splendor of the buildings, whose architectural style is very much like the Pali art in Bihar and Bengal.

In addition to the discovery of stone statues of the Buddha, Brahmanic images have been found over a wide area in Burma. These include Vishnu, Ganesha and Brahma at Hmawza, Vishnu, Garuda and Hanuman in Mergui and Surya, Durga and Vishnu in Arakan, as well as symbolical coins and terra cotta tablets with Brahmanic objects engraved on them. It would seem that from the 5th to the 8th century the peasant folks were predominantly animist with some Theravada influences. The ruling classes adopted both Buddhism and Brahmanism while small colonies of Mahayana Buddhists existed side by side.

The astrology practiced in Burma is also of an Indian type, so it would seem that there were strong Indian influences with Buddhist manifestations.

The city of Bagan grew in splendor and the empire founded by Anawratha flourished for nearly two centuries until the arrival of Kublai Khan. The Mongol armies, led by a grandson of Kublai Khan, marched to Bagan and brought it to ruin in 1287. The Mongol invasion was followed by political disintegration and cultural decay for over hundreds of years. But the Burmese re-emerged as a great power and reached as far as Assam in the north and the heart of Thailand in the south.


There are numerous theories concerning the origin of the Thai people. One of the most prevailing was that the Thais had originated in Szechuan about 4,500 years ago and later migrated to their present homeland. However this theory has been questioned by the discovery of prehistoric artifacts in the northeastern Thailand. A source suggests that the Shan, the Laotians, and the Siamese are all descendents from the same racial group, cognate to the Chinese, which is said to have made its first historical appearance in the 6th century BC.

From that time onwards the Chinese records made frequent references to them as “barbarians.”  The country is naturally divided into four parts: 1)The north which was settled by the Mon of central Siam from 8th century A.D and was influenced by the Hindu and Indian cultures and religions; 2) The central plain, or the Chao Praya river basin which was influenced from the west by the Mon of Lower Burma and apparently at an even earlier date directly from Amravati in India; 3) Influences from the east by the Khmer of Cambodia; 4) The Tai of the north-central region of Sawankhalok and Sukhothai.  The  Northeast, or the Korat Plateau appears at very early period to have been part of the Hinduized kingdom of Funan, or was at the least deeply influenced by its culture. It then came under the sway of the Khmer empire, and  it was eventually overtaken by the Tai.

The southern Siam or Southern peninsula, being open to immigration, seems to have been directly influenced by India itself perhaps as early as the 1st century AD then by the Pallava culture from the Southeast Asia which resulted in the rise of the Indianized kingdom of Srivijaya in the 6th and 7th century AD and lastly from another wave of immigrants from the central eastern seaports of Kalinga and Bengal in the 8th and 9th century. The Tai influence does not appear until the end of the 13th century by which time Buddhism had arrived from Sri Lanka. Discoveries of certain objects and inscriptions indicate that there must have been immigration from India at a very early date, probably before the Christian era.

The Thai were originally a tribal people without writing or an organized state. Although the Buddhism which they adopted from Bagan gave them an integral culture, literature and system of education, it could not be converted as a state religion unifying the country and directing its efforts until much later. Though they were adequate farmers they never learned any elaborate hydraulic techniques like the Khmer, which would have given them the ability to better utilize their resources.

Also, their country was far off the Chinese- Indian sea route and so they lived insulated in separate city states. The history of the Thai kingdoms was marked by internal strife and power shifts rather than major foreign encounters. The Burmese were their chief detractors who often invaded them .The two Thai cities, Chiang Mai in the north and Ayutthia in the south remained the main centers of foreign contact. Ayutthia clearly is an Indian name. In the epic Ramayana, the kingdom of King Dasratha was called Ayudhya, and until today there is a city named Ayudhya in central India, a seat of great contention between the Hindus and the Muslims.

Although today Thailand is a Buddhist country, Hindu influences persist. Personal names of Thais are Sanskrit based and their language is a mixture of Khmer, Pali, and Sanskrit languages. Many of its monarchs particularly during the Sukhothai period (1238-1419) and Ayuthia period (1380-1767), had their names ending with Raja, a Sanskrit word for a king. And a honorary term Sri and Maha- both Sanskrit terms are used for minor royalty and high court officials.

The Hindu concept of karma, Transmigration of the Soul and Moksha, incorporated by Buddhism into its doctrine, continues to play an important role in the daily life of the Thais. The Brahmins of very mixed blood follow Buddhism but wear chignons and the Brahmin thread and  they officiate at all royal ceremonies, including weddings and coronations, the rituals which came from India.

The literary heritage from India is even more apparent than the religious heritage. The art, theatre and drama reflect deep Indian influences, and the Thais are well versed in the accounts from the Ramayana. In 1929, Coedes wrote on the early inscriptions of Siam, particularly those connected with the old kingdoms of Dvaravati, Srivijaya and Lopburi. An examination of images and sculptures from Lopburi shows that they must belong to a school distinct both from classical Khmer and from Indo-Javanese school of Sri Vijaya, and at the same time they are not at all connected with Tai sculpture.

The general appearance of the statues found is very similar to those of Indian statues of the Gupta period, especially to those from Sarnath and cave temples of Ajanta. None of the statues found in Thailand bears any dates but based on some other indicators such as the spiral curls of the hair, and their abnormal size, bulging upper eyelids and lightly outlined eyebrows in the form of a swallow springing from the top of the nose-bridge and modeling of the torso, where the limbs appear from under the robe like a nude gender neutral body, they could be attributed to an early period, closer to their Indian prototypes. A large number of Sanskrit inscriptions from between 4th and 7th century have also been found.

Although Thais are predominantly followers of the Theravada school of Buddhism, the old Brahmanic practices and animism, the original religion of almost all the people of Southeast Asia, continue to interact with Buddhism and influence many aspects of their daily lives.


In about 40 AD the Indian civilization and Brahmanism firmly implanted themselves in the Malay Archipelago. This fact is corroborated by inscriptions found on the east coast of Borneo in the region of Kutei in East Kalimantan. These inscriptions tell us of a state ruled over by an Indian or  an Indianized rulers whose titles end in Varman, such as Asva-Varman and record pure Sanskrit Brahmanic sacrifices offered by Brahmin priests.

Hindu antiquities including images of large numbers of gods, have also been found in other parts of East Borneo in a cave at Komberg which is situated north of Muarakaman on the Muarakaman Strait. The archeological remains of Hindu settlements have also been found in Western Borneo near the banks of the Kapuas River. These include inscription on stones and gold plates.

The inscriptions of King Mula-varman in Borneo prove the relevance of Brahmanism. They refer to a sacrifice called Bahu-suvarnakam, meaning lots of gold. Another inscription refers to a gift of 20,000 cows to the Brahmins, presumably the Mahadana , meaning “the great gift,” or Go-sahasrika, which was made in the holy field of Vapraksevara, a name well known in India. Another inscription refers to a gift of 40,000 cows and again of 30,000 cows in the same place. It could be possible that the religion followed by King Mula-varman was Vedic rather than Puranic in character.

The prevalence of Puranic religion in Borneo is provided by the golden image of Vishnu found in Muarakaman, and those of Shiva, Ganesh, Nanadi, Agastya, Nanadisvara, Brahma, Skanda and Mahakala found in Kombeng. Also the discovery of images of Buddha and records of Buddhist writings prove the existence of Buddhism.

In the 6th century AD Brunei, now an Islamic sultanate, came under Hindu influences through allegiance to the Majapahit kingdom in Java. The sultanate lies to the northwest of the Borneo coast leading to Seria and Kuala Belait and is also known by its Sanskrit name Bandar Seri Begawan.

Evidence of Brahmanic influences has also been found in the Malay Peninsula which, at one time, was part of Hindu kingdom of Sri Vijaya in Sumatra in 7th century AD. Also Chinese  annals speak of another Hindu state Pa- hoang (Pahang) in Malay Peninsula, and in 449 AD an ambassador was sent to China by its king whose name seems to correspond to Sari-Pala-Varma. The Chinese sources also refer to another kingdom called Kan-to-li, situated on an island in the south sea. It was very likely a Hindu kingdom because the names of its kings and envoys are of Indian origin, and the customs and manners of the people are said to be similar to those of Champa and Kambuja.

The late 14th century founder of Malacca was a Malay prince who was a Hindu with a Sanskrit name, Paramesvara. It appears that at the time Malacca was a vassal state of Majapahit at Palembang in Indonesia. He wanted to escape from Javanese dominance by shifting to Tumasik or Temasek, a Sanskrit name for modern Singapore. Archeological work in Singapore indicates that the late 14th century AD was a particularly prosperous time for trade. Tumasik, however, was too close to Ayutthia and the pressure forced Paramesvara to shift to Malacca where he presided over the rebirth of a Malay political authority under the protection of China. Paramesvara’s close relations with China were a major factor in his success in competing for space on the Malay Peninsula.

Paramesvara maintained close relationship with China, and in 1411 AD visited the country to pay homage to the emperor. However, a few years later, Paramesvara converted to Islam, married a daughter from local nobility and changed his name to Megat Iskander Shah.

The existence of many other Hindu settlements in the Malay Peninsula is supported by a large number of inscriptions and other archeological remains. These inscriptions are written in Sanskrit and the Indian alphabets of 4th or 5th century AD. The remains of Brahmanical and Buddhist shrines and images of gods, some of which are of the Gupta style, have been found in Kedah and Perak. Also, a cornelian seal with the name of a Hindu prince, Sri Vishnu-varman, with characters of the 5th century AD was discovered in Perak.

In Chrok Tekun, on the mainland part of Penang state, 4th century AD rock fragments of Sanskrit inscriptions have been found and others have been found near Bukit Meriam in Kedah. The inscriptions are on a slate slab found in the ruins of an old house which may have been a cell of a Buddhist monk. It consists of two Buddhist verses in Sanskrit inscribed in the oldest Pallava alphabet. The second reads: “Karma accumulates through lack of knowledge. Karma is the cause of rebirth. Through knowledge it come about that no karma is effected , and through absence of karma there is no rebirth.” And today one of the wealthy suburbs of Kuala Lumpur is called Jayapura, an old Indian name.


The Brahmanic influences reached as far as China during the Han dynasty from about 65 AD, with no noticeable effect for some time. The Indian influences reached China mainly by the overland routes through Central Asia. These routes were first opened for trade and later used by missionaries. The Great Wall had been completed by 244 B.C., to make the northern frontiers safe from the Han Chinese and the next step to protect the empire against their attacks was to clear the west. By the 1st century AD many of the small Central Asian kingdoms were under Chinese protection. Once these routes were secured and opened to traders Buddhist missionaries followed.

On the Indian side the east ward traffic was facilitated by the great Kushan Empire. The Kushans, a branch of the nomadic Yueh- Chih, also settled in Bactria , a region watered by the River  Oxus on the borders of the modern Soviet Union and Afghanistan. They adopted Buddhism and Gandhara art styles. By the 1st century AD they ruled over a vast empire extending from Delhi through much of Central Asia. As a consequence they established a bridge for the flow of Indian cultural influences to China. Their great king Kanishka modeled himself on Ashoka in his effort to spread Buddhism.

Another overland route passed through Assam and Upper Burma to Yunnanfu, but it was more difficult terrain than the Central Asia. However, this route was not much used because the people were often unfriendly and did not appreciate Indian culture or religion which had not penetrated much into the difficult mountain regions that had to be crossed.  Food was scarce, there was no security from the dacoits, and poisonous snakes and plants added to the hazards.

From the 7th century AD a route from Tibet was also possible due to two marriages by its king, one to a Nepali princess, the other Chinese. Many missionaries took advantage of this route converting Tibetans to Buddhism. Also, it soon became a leading channel of a two-way traffic between India and China from the second half of the century. The maritime routes by which Indian influences reached China were the same as those by which they reached Southeast Asia. Primarily, they were sea routes through the Strait of Malacca, with ports of call on the Malay Peninsula and usually in Srivijaya in Sumatra.

Leaving aside the spread of Buddhism, Hindu influences in China were not religious but essentially secular and cultural. There were two reasons: first, Hinduism was not a proselytizing religion, and second the Chinese psyche would have been ill-attuned to accepting Hinduism in its Shivaite form.

The Shastras or Indian texts and law books have long been lost or destroyed. However, a list of Brahmanical works ,each beginning with the word Po-lo-men or Brahmin, which had been translated into Chinese are known for their mention in the bibliographical catalogue in the history of the Sui Dynasty, a short-lived but powerful dynasty which ruled Imperial China from 581 to 618 AD. These include the Po-lo-men Thien Wen Ching i.e., the Brahmin Astronomical Manual, Po-lo-men Suan Fa, i.e., the Brahmin Mathematics, Po-lo- men Yao Fang, i.e., the Brahmin  Pharmaceuticals, and  a His -Yu-Ming I so chi Yao Fang, i.e., which contains  the best prescriptions collected by the most famous physicians of the Western Countries is probably at least partly of Indian origin. How these were modified in China and whether their loss is partly due to their rejection is not known.

During the T’ang dynasty the Chinese were certainly influenced by Indian ideas in astronomy and calendars. In 764 AD Yang Ching- fang, a disciple of the Indian missionary Amoghavaraja wrote: “Those who wish to know the position of five planets adopt Indian calendrical methods.” One can thus predict what Hsiu (heavenly mansion) a planet will be traversing. So we have the three clans of Indian calendar experts, Chiayeh (Kasyapa), Chhuhan (Gautama), and Chumol Kumara), all of whom held offices in the Bureau of Astronomy. Clearly, Indian astronomers or astrologers were advising at the Chinese court at the time when they were also playing important role at the courts of kings of Southeast Asia.

Referring to the clans mentioned it is known that a member of the Kasyapa clan made the calendar for 665, and one of the Gautama clan made another for the year 697 and 698. Gautama Siddhartha himself- the Buddha – was the most famous of all these Indian astronomers. The Kumara clan worked in association with the most famous T’ang astronomer I-Hsing (682-727) who closely calculated the magnitude of the sidereal year fraction.

In medicine the Indian theory that a healthy condition of the body results from the four elements consisting of earth, water, fire and air, all being in proper state of equilibrium, was introduced to China. It is mentioned in the writings of the 7th century when the T’ang physician Sun Ssu-Miao wrote that a successful physician must base his knowledge not only on Confucian and Taoist theory but also on Buddhist medical works for only those would enable one to appreciate the healing powers of love and compassion.

A Chinese noble, Ching-sheng, who converted to Buddhism authored a work called the Che ch’an ping pi yao fa which he most likely translated from Indian sources. The work deals with the cures for diseases which may result from the practice of meditation. It was during the T’ang period that the emperors seem to have been particularly anxious to secure from India or Central Asia the services of Brahmins, reputed to be thaumaturges- saints and magicians with the ability to reduce the effects of old age.

Also, it appears that Indian music came through Kucha to China just before the early 7th century Sui dynasty and was in great vogue in the hands of its exponents, such as Tshao Miao-ta, an artist of Brahmanic origin. An appearance of Yakshas, or enemies of gods in the Hindu mythology, were also Indian influences on Chinese art and literature.

The two other main concepts of Hinduism that were adopted by Buddhism – karma and reincarnation– were overtaken by Taoism, but their organization did not escape the powerful and overzealous Chinese bureaucracy, i.e., that a dead person having expiated his evil karma must make application through proper channels to obtain reincarnation. The rewards and punishments determined by a person’s actions, thoughts and words in life , which according to purely Chinese belief are reflected collectively in the family’s fate, were now worked out in this way, in addition to the appropriate rebirth of the individual ordained by his/her karma.

The notion of collective responsibility of a group or a family continues to dominate the Chinese values and norms. It reflects itself in the Chinese jurisprudence- the entire family is held accountable for the transgression of anyone of its members.