History of Indian influence on Southeast Asia

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South-East Asia was under Indian influence starting around 200 B.C. till around the 15th century. India's had trade, cultural and political relations with Burma, Thailand (Siam), Indonesia, Malay, Peninsula and Cambodia. The peoples of maritime South East Asia - present-day Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines - are thought to have migrated southwards from southern China sometime between 2500 and 1500 B.C. They continued to have contacts with the Chinese civilization (well established in the second millennium B.C.), but the influence of the other long-established civilization of India gradually became predominant among them, and among the peoples of the South East Asia mainland. Indian traders*, adventurers, teachers and priests continued to be the dominating influence in South East Asia until about A.D. 1500, and Indians often ruled the earliest states in these regions. Hinduism and Buddhism both spread to these states from India and for many centuries existed there with mutual toleration. Eventually the states of the mainland became mainly Buddhist.

Early Movements of PeopIes : Indian Influence[edit]

Colonization and Trading[edit]

The Indo-Chinese peninsula was known as Suvarna-bhumi or Suvarna-dvipa, the land or island of gold. Indians traveled to the Far-East through the land or sea routes. The land route was through Bengal, Manipur, Assam, and Burma. Regarding the sea-routes, one could start from Tamluk in Midnapore, Bengal and proceed along the coasts of Bengal, Burma, Malay Peninsula, Java etc. or start from Gopalpur ( Orissa ), Masulipatnam and sail across the Bay of Bengal to the Far East. Trades induced by the mineral, metals wealth were the primary reasons for this intercourse between India and the Far East. Over time trade led to political and cultural relations. Trade relations may have begun around 200-300 B.C. Local traditions refer to the establishment of political authority by Indians over most of South-East Asia. According to Burmese chronicles, a prince of the Kapilavastu ( in Nepal ) marched into upper Burma and set himself King[citation needed]. The founding of Ligor in the Malaya Peninsula was supposed to be a descendant of Asoka[citation needed]. According to Cambodian annals an exiled prince of Indraprastha founded the kingdom of Cambodia[citation needed]. In A.D. 132 the King of Java, Devavarman sent an embassy to China. Around the first century A.D. Kaudinya founded a kingdom in Cambodia. Around 200 A.D. the kingdom passed on to his general Fan-che-man who conquered Thailand, parts of Malaysia. Sri-mara, ruler of Champa or Annan was first king about the second century A.D. The Hindu kings are known from Chinese sources, to have their names begin with Fan( Varman ). Fan Hiong, king of Champa around 270 A.D. continued the policy of extending his kingdom at the cost of the Chinese.

The transmission of Indian culture of distant parts of Central Asia, China, Japan, and especially Southeast Asia is certainly one of the greatest achievements of Indian history or even of the history of mankind. None of the other great civilizations - not even the Hellenic - had been able to achieve a similar success without military conquest. In this brief survey of India's history, there is no room for an adequate discussion of the development of the 'Indianised' states of Southeast Asia which can boast of such magnificent temple cities as Pagan (Burma; constructed from 1044 to 1287 AD,) Angkor (Combodia; constructed from 889 to c. 1300 AD), and the Borobudur (Java, early ninth century AD). Though they were influenced by Indian culture, they are nevertheless part and parcel of the history of those respective countries.

Cambodia (Funan)[edit]

The first of these “Indianised” states to achieve widespread importance was Funan, in Cambodia, founded in the 1st century A.D. - according to legend, after the marriage of an Indian Brahman into the family of the local chief. These local inhabitants were the Khmer people. Khmer was the former name of Cambodia, and Khmer is their language. The Hindu-Khmer empire of Funan flourished for some 500 years. It carried on a prosperous trade with India and China, and its engineers developed an extensive canal system. An elite practised statecraft, art and science, based on Indian culture. Vassal kingdoms spread to southern Vietnam in the east and to the Malay peninsula in the west.


The Malay peninsula had been settled by prehistoric people since 200, 000 years ago. Based on archaeological and DNA analysis, the theories that Malay came from Yunan and Taiwan are untrue. The Malay came from the land that called 'Sunda Land'. The Malays came under Indian influence from about the beginning of the Christian era.


At the eastern extremity of South East Asia, northern Vietnam was originally occupied by Austro-Asiatic peoples but this all changed when tribes from Southern China began to settle in these lands. About 207 B.C. a Chinese general, taking advantage of the temporary fragmentation of the Chinese Expire on the collapse of the Ch’in dynasty, created in northern Vietnam the kingdom of Annam. During the first century B.C. Annam was reincorporated in the Chinese Empire of the Han dynasty; and it remained a province of the Expire until the fall of the T'ang dynasty early in the 10th century. It then regained its independence, often as a nominal Vassal of the Chinese Emperor. In south-central Vietnam the Chams, a people of Indonesian stock, established the Indianised kingdom of Champa about A.D.400. Although subject to periodic invasions by the Annamese and by the Khmers of Cambodia, Champa survived and prospered. In 1471, a Vietnamese army of approximately 300,000, invaded Champa under Emperor Le Thanh Tong (黎聖宗). The invasion actually begun because Cham King Trà Toàn had attacked Vietnam in 1470. The Vietnamese committed genocide against the Cham slaughtering approximately 60,000. The Vietnamese destroyed, burnt and raided massive parts of Champa, seizing the entire kingdom. Thousands of Cham escaped to Cambodia, the remaining were forced to assimilate into Vietnamese culture. Today, only 80,000 Cham remain in Vietnam.

Vietnam, or then known as Annam (; pinyin: Ānnán), experienced little Indian influence - usually via Champa. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam was strongly influenced by the Culture of China.


At the western end of the South East Asian mainland, Lower Burma was occupied by the Mon peoples, who are thought to have come originally from western China. In Lower Burma they supplanted an earlier people, the Pyu, of whom little is known except that they practised Hinduism. The Mons, strongly influenced by their contacts with Indian traders as early as the 3rd century B.C, adopted Indian literature and art and the Buddhist religion; and theirs was the earliest known civilization in South East Asia. There were several Mon kingdoms, spreading from Lower Burma into much of Thailand, where they founded the kingdom of Dvaravati. Their principal settlements in Burma were Thaton and Pegu. From about the 9th century onwards Tibeto-Burman tribes moved south from the hills east of Tibet into the Irrawaddy plain, founding their capital at Pagan in Upper Burma in the 10th century. They eventually absorbed the Mons and their cities, and adopted the Mon civilization and Buddhism. The Pagan kingdom united all Burma under one rule for 200 years from the 11th to 13th centuries. The zenith of its power was in the reign of King Anawratha (1044-1077), who conquered the Mon kingdom of Thaton. He also built many of the temples for which Pagan is famous. It is estimated that some 13,000 temples once existed in the city - of which some 5,000 still stand.

Thailand and Laos[edit]

At about the same time as the Burmese invasion of Burma, another group of people, the Thai, began moving south and west from their homeland, the Thai kingdom of Nan Chao in southern China. They settled in northern Thailand, and later, in the 10th and 11th centuries, in Loas.

Cambodia (Chen-La and Angkor)[edit]

To return to Cambodia: Late in the 6 thcentury A.D. dynastic struggles caused the collapse of the Funan empire. It was succeeded by another Hindu-Khmer state, Chen-la, which lasted until the 9th century. Then, a Khmer king, Jayavarman II (about 800-850) established a capital at Angkor in central Cambodia. He founded a cult which identified the king with the Hindu God Shiva - one of the triad of Hindu gods, Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Siva the god symbolising destruction and reproduction. The Angkor empire flourishes from the 9th to the early 13th century. It reached the peak of its fame under Jayavarman VII at the end of the 12th century, when its conquests extended into Thailand in the west (where it had conquered the Mon kingdom of Dyaravati) and into Champa in the east. Its most celebrated memorial is the great temple of Angkor Wat, built early in the 12th century. This summarises the position cm the South East Asian mainland until about the 12th century.Meanwhile, from about the 6th century, and until the 14th century, there was a series of great Maritime empires based on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java.

  • In early days these Indians same mostly from the ancient Dravidian Kingdom of Kalinga, on the south-eastern coast of India. Indians in Indonesia are still known as "Klings", derived from Kalinga.

The "Indianised" Empires of Sumatra, Java and the Philippines[edit]

In the islands of South East Asia the first organised state to achieve fame was the Hindu-ised Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, with its capital at Palembang in southern Sumatra. Its commercial pre-eminence was based on command of the sea route from India to China between Sumatra and the Malay peninsula (later known as the Straits of Malacca). In the 6 th – 7th centuries Srivijaya succeeded Funan as the leading state in South East Asia. Its ruler was the overlord of the Malay peninsula and western Java as well as Sumatra. Like most of the early kingdoms of South East Asia, Srivijaya was Indian in culture and administration, and Buddhism became firmly entrenched there. The expansion of Srivijaya was resisted in eastern Java, where the powerful Buddhist Sailendra dynasty arose. (From the 7 th century onwards there was great activity in temple building in eastern Java. The most impressive of the ruins is at Borobudur, considered to have been the largest Buddhist temple in the world.) Sailendra rule spread to southern Sumatra, and up to Malay peninsula to Cambodia (where it was replaced by the Angkor kingdom). In the 9 th century the Sailendras moved to Sumatra, and a union of Srivijaya and the Sailendras formed an empire which dominated much of South East Asia for the next five centuries. ` With the departure of the Sailendras a new kingdom appeared in eastern Java, which reverted from Buddhism to Hinduism. In the 10 th century this kingdom, Mataran, challenged the supremacy of Srivijaya, resulting in the destruction of the Mataran capital by Srivijaya early in the 11 th century.Restored by King Airlangga (about 1020-1050), the kingdom split on his death; and the new state of Kediri, in eastern Java, became the centre of Javanese culture for the next two centuries, spreading its influence to the eastern part of island South East Asia. The spice trade was now becoming of increasing importance, as the demand by European countries for spices grew. (Before they learned to keep sheep and cattle alive in the winter, they had to eat salted meat, made palatable by the addition of spices.) One of the main sources was the Maluku Islands (or "Spice Islands") in Indonesia, and Kediri became a strong trading nation. In the 13 th century, however, the Kediri dynasty was overthrown by a revolution, and another kingdom arose in east Java. The domains of this new state expanded under the rule of its warrior-king Kartonagoro. He was killed by a prince of the previous Kediri dynasty, who then established the last great Hindu-Javanese kingdom, Majapahit. By the middle of the 14 th century Majapahit controlled most of Java, Sumatra and the Malay peninsula, part of Borneo, the southern Celebes and the Moluccas. It also exerted considerable influence on the mainland. After 500 Years of supremacy Srivijaya was superseded by Majapahit. The various Indianised states and empires of this first 1500 years A.D., though founded by Indian colonisation and maintaining diplomatic contacts with India, remained politically independent of the Indian kingdoms. The only exception to this was the temporary conquest of Malaya by the Chola kingdom of southern India it the 11th century, but the Sailendra kings of Srivijaya were victorious in a long war against the Chola armies.

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