Public Lecture: The Archaeology of Buddhist Sumatra

The Archaeology of Buddhist Sumatra
Date: 22 October 2009
Time: 4 – 6 pm
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Seminar Room II
Registration Required: Email Betty (betty@iseas.edu.sg) by 21 Oct 2009
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Thai Srivijaya to be a World Heritage Site?

May thanks to Andy for the heads up. The Thai Fine Arts Department is hoping to propose three new sites in Thailand: Lanna, a section of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok and the Srivijaya ruins in Southern Thailand.

Slanted Roof
photo credit: The Wandering Angel

Anusorn pushes for listing of Thai sites
Bangkok Post, 17 June 2008
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International Conference on Srivijaya Civilization, July 16 – 19, 2008

From the Palembang Centre for Archaeology:

It is the general assumption that Srivijaya was an powerful maritime kingdom that played an important role in the political forum in early Southeast Asia for many centuries, from 7th century to the end of 13th century AD. Just as its sudden appearance not very much is known of its decline, for that matter, the extent of this hegemony especially in Insular Southeast Asia during the height of its power. It influenced many social aspects in the region at that time, such as history of political life, beliefs, culture and economy.
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Public Lecture: "Malay Ethnic Identity: Unravelling the Historical from the Discursive"

On face value, this looks like a lecture dealing with the politics of identity and ethnicity, but the historical approach that Prof Andaya is taking particularly through the history of the Malayu that have their origins in Srivijayan Sumatra should be quite interesting from an archaeological perspective. Courtesy of the Singapore Heritage Email List

Malay Ethnic Identity: Unravelling the Historical from the Discursive by Prof Leonard Andaya
15 November 2007
1700 hrs
National University of Singapore Bukit Timah Campus, 469 Bukit Timah Road, Blk B, Level 3, Auditorium
Organised by Asia Research Institute, East Asian Institute, Faculty of Law, Institute of South Asian Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Abstract:
In recent years there has been a considerable number of works devoted to analyzing “Malay” identity. Such discussion often begins with the Malaysian Constitutional determination of who can legally claim to be a Malay. The more informed will cite social science theories on ethnicity and identity to emphasize the power relationships involved in the determination of any ethnic identity. Any discussion of Malay ethnic identity, therefore, often begins in the nineteenth century with the attempt by colonial authorities to identify, classify, and hence control. While governments changed over the years, the relationship between power and classification hence control was maintained. But is this the whole story of Malay ethnic identity? In this paper I attempt to demonstrate that the ethnic group called “Malayu” can be traced to the early history of the archipelago. By adopting a historical approach extending deep into the past, it is possible to see how the discursive identity associated with power relationships operated on one level, while another level existed in the marketplace. Practical economic and social factors at the ordinary level of people’s lives helped to sustain ethnic identities that did not always coincide with the government’s prescriptions. It is this dual perception that helps to ameliorate some of the harshness that at times pervades government ethnic rhetoric.

About the Speaker:
Professor Andaya received a BA in History from Yale University, and an MA and PhD in Southeast Asian history at Cornell University. He has held positions at the University of Malaya, the Australian National University, the University of Auckland, and the University of Hawaii, where he has been professor of Southeast Asian history since 1993.

His area of research specialization is Malaysia and Indonesia in the early modern period (c. 1500-c. 1800). Among his publications are The History of Johor (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1975), A History of Malaysia (with Barbara Watson Andaya) (London: Macmillan, 1981), The Heritage of Arung Palakka: A History of South Sulawesi in the 17th Century (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), and The World of Maluku: Eastern Indonesia in the Early Modern Period (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993). A second edition of A History of Malaysia was published in December, 2000. His latest book is called, Leaves of the Same Tree: Trade and Ethnicity in the Straits of Melaka, and will be published by the University of Hawai’i Press in March, 2008.

He was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to conduct research in Indonesia and The Netherlands in 2008 for a book on the history of eastern Indonesia in the early modern period.

Philippines and India: Politics and ancient history

It’s not so much and archaeological story as it is a political one. The Philippine president attempts to revive ancient “ties” with India by citing Indian cultural influence by way of Srivijaya and Majapahit. I find it quite funny that the basis for reviving ties is not so much because of any historic ties with India per se (whatever “India” was in the past), but by the fact that Indian “culture” was transmitted to the Philippines. Which doesn’t really say anything, does it?


06 October 2007 (The Inquirer) – It’s not so much and archaeological story as it is a political one. The Philippine president attempts to revive ancient “ties” with India by citing Indian cultural influence by way of Srivijaya and Majapahit. I find it quite funny that the basis for reviving ties is not so much because of any historic ties with India per se (whatever “India” was in the past), but by the fact that Indian “culture” was transmitted to the Philippines. Which doesn’t really say anything, does it?

Arroyo cites ancient Philippines-India ties
By Michael Lim Ubac

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday sought to revive the Philippines’ ancient ties with India even as she called on the two countries’ leaders to “move the integration of our economies forward.”

The President was accorded full military honors when she arrived here on the second day of a three-day state visit aimed at strengthening bilateral relations.

Continue reading “Philippines and India: Politics and ancient history”

Srivijaya: A primer – Part 2

In the first part of Srivijaya: A primer, we learnt about the empire’s role in controlling trade between China and India and as a Buddhist centre of learning. In this segment we learn about the fall of this once-great maritime kingdom.

In the first part of Srivijaya: A primer, we learnt about the empire’s role in controlling trade between China and India and as a Buddhist centre of learning. In this segment we learn about the fall of this once-great maritime kingdom.

In the 11th century, the south Indian Tamil kingdom of Chola launched an attack on Srivijaya, systematically plundering the Srivijayan ports along the Straits of Malacca, and even captured the Srivijayan king in Palembang. The reasons for this change in relations between Srivijaya and the Cholas are unknown, although it is theorised that plunder made up an essential part of the Chola political economy. While it seemed that the Cholas only intended to plunder Srivijaya, they left a lasting presence on Kataha, the remains of which are still visible at the Bujang Valley archaeological museum.

The successful sack and plunder of Srivijaya had left it in a severely weakened state that marked the beginning of the end of Srivijaya. Having lost its wealth and prestige from the Chola attack, the port cities of the region started to initiate direct trade with China, shrugging off the exclusive influence Srivijaya once held over them. Towards the end of Srivijaya’s influence, the power centre of Srivijaya began to oscillate between Palembang and neighbouring Jambi, further fragmenting the once-great empire. Other factors included Javanese invasion westwards toward Sumatra in 1275, invading the Malayu kingdoms. Later towards the end of the 13th century, the Thai polities from the north came down the peninsula and conquered the last of the Srivijayan vassals.

Despite its influence and reach, Srivijaya flew very quickly into obscurity, and it was not until the last 90 years that the kingdom’s history was rediscovered, mainly through epigraphical sources. Palembang, determined as the centre of power for Srivijaya poses a special problem for archaeologists, for if the modern settlement followed the ancient settlement pattern, ancient Palembang would have been built over shallow water and any archaeological remains would be buried deep in the mud. As the 19th-century naturalist Alfred Wallace described it, Palembang is a populous city several miles long but only one house wide!

By way of a quick epilogue, the story of Srivijaya ends where the story of the Malacca Sultanate begins. The Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals, begins with a story about Raja Chulan – perhaps an allusion to the king (Raja) of the Cholas, whose sack of Srivijaya led to its ultimate downfall. The annals go on to relate the appearance of three princes at Bukit Seguntang in Palembang, one of whom eventually founds a city of Singapura in Temasek before establishing Malacca further north…

Books about Srivijaya (and also the books I referred to):
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds) contains chapters on the classical cultures of Indonesia and the archaeology of the early maritime polities of Southeast Asia.
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed) has several chapters on Srivijaya.
Sriwijaya: History, religion & language of an early Malay polity by G. Coedès and L. Damais

Srivijaya: A primer – Part 1

The first hint of a Sumatran-based polity was first alluded to by the eminent French scholar George Coedes 1918, based on inscriptions found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. In this primer, we’ll talk about the Srivijayan empire, the extent of its influence and its eventual fall.

Victorious is the king of Srivijaya, whose Sri has its seat warmed by the rays emanating from neighbouring kings, and which was diligently created by Brahma, as if this God has in view only the duration of the famous Dharma.

– The Wiang Sa Inscription (Thai Peninsula) dated 775 AD.

With a reach spanning from Sumatra and Java to as far north as the Thai peninsula and a reign of some 600 years, it’s remarkable that what is now known as the Srivijaya empire was only unearthed relatively recently. The first hint of a Sumatran-based polity was first alluded to by the eminent French scholar George Coedes 1918, based on inscriptions found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. In this primer, we’ll talk about the Srivijayan empire, the extent of its influence and its eventual fall.

The kingdom of Srivijaya, a name which translates to “shining victory”, was a Malay polity centred in Palembang in south Sumatra. At its height, its area of influence included neighbouring Jambi, to the north the kingdoms of the Malay Peninsula: Chitu, Pan-pan, Langkasuka and Kataha, as well as eastwards in Java, where links with the Sailendra dynasty and Srivijaya are implied. The same Sailendra dynasty was responsible for the construction of the massive Buddhist stupa of Borobudur between 780 and 825 AD.

Indeed, Srivijaya was considered to be one of the major centres of learning for the Buddhist world. In the 7th century, Yijing, a Buddhist monk who travelled between China and India to copy sacred texts mentioned the high quality of Sanskrit education in Palembang, and recommended that anyone who wanted to go to the university at Nalanda (north India) should stay in Palembang for a year or two to learn “how to behave properly”. Srivijaya’s prominent role in the Buddhist world can be found in several inscriptions around Asia: an inscription in Nalanda dated 850-860 AD described how a temple was built in Nalanda at the request of a king of Srivijaya. In the 11th century, a temple in Guangzhou in China received a donation from Srivijaya to help with the upkeep. The Wiang Sa inscription quoted above recounts how a Srivijayan king ordered the construction of three stupas in Chaiya, also in the Thai peninsula.

The Srivijayan empire controlled the important Strait of Melaka (Malacca) which facilitated trade between China and India. With its naval power, the empire managed to suppress piracy along the Malacca strait, making Srivjayan entrepots the port of choice for traders. Despite its apparent hegemony, the empire did not destroy the other non-Srivijayan competitors but used them as secondary sources of maritime trade. Srivijaya’s wide influence in the region was a mixture of diplomacy and conquest, but ultimately operated like a federation of port-city kingdoms. Besides the southern centre of power in Palembang, Arab, Chinese and Indian sources also imply that Srivijaya had a northern power centre, most probably Kataha, what is now known as Kedah on the western side of the Malay peninsula.

Kedah is now known for remains of Indian architecture at the Bujang Valley. This was due to the invasion by the Chola kingdom from South India – an invasion which ultimately led to the fall of Srivijaya. How did this happen? Look out for part 2 of Srivijaya: A primer.

Books about Srivijaya (and also the books I referred to):
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds) contains chapters on the classical cultures of Indonesia and the archaeology of the early maritime polities of Southeast Asia.
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed) has several chapters on Srivijaya.
Sriwijaya: History, religion & language of an early Malay polity by G. Coedès and L. Damais

The Many Places of Singapura – Part 3

We explore the origins of the name Singapura, in Singapore in this third of a series.

Previously on The Many Places of Singapura… we saw the first of the Lion Cities in Vietnam and then we talked about two possible locations for other Singapuras in the kingdoms of Chi Tu and Pajajaran in the Malay Peninsula and Java respectively. In this final installment of The Many Places of Singapura, we’ll explore the origins of reigning Lion City – Singapore, where we’ll find fiction passing off as truth, and where truth is stranger than fiction!

Singapore, of course wasn’t always known as “Singapura” – it once bore the name of Temasek, a name which in Old Malay means “city of the sea”. In 14th century Chinese accounts, Wang Dayuan, a trader who traveled through Southeast Asia mentioned Temasek (Dan-Ma-Xi). There, he noted a settlement where the natives and Chinese lived side-by-side. He also noted that the Dan-ma-xi barbarians were pirates, often letting ships passing to the west unmolested, but plundering returning ships when they reached Karimun island. (Aside: I previously wrote about a Srivijayan inscription on Karimun). So it’s quite amusing that the latest Pirates of the Carribean movie features Chow Yun-fat as the pirate king of Singapore. A case of life imitating art imitating life? Perhaps it would be more accurate to have him say:

Welcome to Temasek!


So how did Temasek get its named changed then? We have one account from the Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals. Sang Nila Utama, later entitled Sri Tri Buana (both titular names, and referring to a prince from Palembang) had just crossed the sea from Bentan (Bintan) to the white sandy shores of Temasek:

And when they reached the shore, the ship was brought close on and Sri Tri Buana went ashore with all the the ship’s company and they amused themselves with collecting shell-fish. The king then went inland for sport on the open ground at Kuala Temasek.

And they beheld a strange animal. It seemed to move with great speed; it had a red body and a black head; its breast was white, it was strong and active in build, and in size was rather bigger than a he-goat. When it saw the party, it moved away and then disappeared. And Sri Tri Buana inquired of all those who were with him, “What beast is that?” But no one knew. Then said Demang Lebar Daun, “Your Highness, I have heard in ancient times it was a lion that had that appearance. I think that what we saw must have been a lion.”

Sri Tri Buana then established a city at Temasek, giving it the name of Singapura.
(Shellabear edition of the Sejarah Melayu)

Contrary to popular belief, Singapura was not named after a lion (which indeed would have been a very lost lion), but in fact an unidentified “strange creature” that was thought to be a lion! The source of this account – the Malay Annals – must also be seen as a product of its times. The annals were first compiled in the 16th or 17th century, when the Malacca Sultanate had moved to Johor after being ousted by the Portuguese. The Malay Annals does little to explain to its audience – who would have heard the history rather than read it – why a Malay Islamic sultanate’s precursor would have an Indic name. The early part of the annals, which includes the founding of Singapura, are thought to be romanticised, mythologised accounts of a more shady past.

Other historical sources provide supplementary and contradictory information: according to the Alfonso D’Alberquerque, the Portuguese general who conquered Melaka, a Palembang prince named Paramesvara (Parameswara) fled to Singapura and usurped rule. When the king of Patani (in the Thai peninsula), who was brother of the former ruler, came to seek revenge, Paramwswara fled north to found Melaka. In the Malay Annals, Parameswara was fifth in the line of rulers of Singapura, who was attacked by the Javanese Majapahit and was forced to flee to Melaka, which he founded.

Whatever the case may be, as we may well never truly know, the name Singapura lived on through the Malay Annals. This name and location was later picked up on by Sir Stamford Raffles in the 19th century who sought to build a settlement in Singapore, but also as a symbolic move to legitimise a British foothold in the region. From the lack of textual references from both the Chinese and Srivijaya, it certainly appears that Temasek/Singapura was not geographically significant until around the 14th century, and its current importance is due largely to the British rather than any former glory. However, the different accounts collectively imply that a settlement existed before Parameswara, and typical of other populated areas of the region would have adhered to a syncretic Hindu-Buddhist religion. John Crawfurd, the first British resident of Singapore noted in his diaries the remains of an ancient settlement on Fort Canning Hill, which he attributes as remains of a Buddhist temple and monasteries. It is in this setting, then, that the name Singapura is not entirely out of place.

And that wraps up this series on The Many Places of Singapura! I hope you found this series interesting, as much as I had found it interesting to write about it.

The books I referred to for this article were:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Archaeological Research on the “Forbidden Hill” of Singapore: Excavations at Fort Canning, 1984
The Malay Annals (Shellabear)

Discussion on Srivijaya

The Hindu-Buddhist polity of Srivijaya was one of the greatest empires in the first millenium, with an influence over much of what is now Sumatra, Java and Malaysia. It played a key role in facilitating the trade between China and India. In several posts he talks about the primacy of the Melacca Sultanate over Srivijaya in Malaysian history texts

Hafiz Noor Shams, a Malaysian blogger based in the US has an interesting discussion about the Srivijaya empire on his blog, the__earthinc. The Hindu-Buddhist polity of Srivijaya was one of the greatest empires in the first millenium, with an influence over much of what is now Sumatra, Java and Malaysia. It played a key role in facilitating the trade between China and India. In several posts he talks about the primacy of the Melacca Sultanate over Srivijaya in Malaysian history texts (not an unfamiliar topic), and also about the Srivijaya’s raids on the Khmers. A sample of his posts are reproduced here:

In “On why Malacca and not Srivijaya?“:

A majority of Malays are content to look only as far as the Sultanate of Malacca in the 15th and the 16th century, apparently accepting the era as the golden age of ancient, classical or medieval Malay civilization. Thanks to the education I received through the Malaysian system, I had the same perception too and I do think even Malaysians as a society in one way or another accept Malacca was the greatest civilization in ancient, classical or medieval Malaysian history. My love for history has allowed me to delve far beyond Malaysian textbooks. While Malacca was a great empire, a greater civilization was Srivijaya, a empire that was almost forgotten. I truly believe that Srivijaya was that brilliant light that stayed bright from nearly a millennium. Malacca was a just spark, though brilliant as it may be.

In “Of the link between Srivijaya and the Khmer Empire“:

Srivijaya was one of the greatest empires in the Malay Archipelago. It lasted for possibly about 1,000 years and had interacted with so many proud kingdoms that existed during its time. The Chinese civilizations were the source of Srivijaya richness through a tributary system, which gifts were exchanged between the courts of the two emperors. The exchange was not exactly free trade but it was trade nonetheless. In the east, there was the Chola of which the great Rajaraja was king. In most cases, the two outsiders exerted stronger influence on Srivijaya culturally, economically and politically though from time to time, Srivijaya exported culture to China due to it being the center of Buddhism outside of India. Apart from that, Srivijaya left a mark on one of the great kingdoms of Southeast Asia — the Khmer Empire.

Perhaps I shall write a short primer on Srivijaya… after I finish my Many places of Singapura series.

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Sriwijaya: History, religion & language of an early Malay polity by G. Coedès and L. Damais

Karimun Inscription

Over the weekend, I made a trip to nearby Karimun Island, some 30 km west of Singapore in search of an ancient stone inscription.


Over the weekend, I made a trip to nearby Karimun Island, some 30 km west of Singapore in search of an ancient stone inscription.

Karimun region

The island of Karimun Besar (Greater Karimun) is a croissant-shaped island resting at the end of the Melaka strait – a great strategic position because from the north shore one can see Sumatra at the left and the Malay Peninsula in the right. In fact, the British once considered setting up base there because of its location – but Raffles opted instead for Singapore with the romantic notion of resurrecting the civilization (Temasek) that was mentioned in the Malay Annals.

I read about the inscription a long time ago, and was recently reminded by it when I attended a short course on the archaeology of Singapore. Dr. John Miksic, the course conductor, mentioned the Karimun inscription and inspired me to take a trip down to look for it. Finding the inscription was the tricky part, however. Dr Miksic mentioned visiting the place almost 20 years ago, so I was working with 20-year-old information. The only lead I had was that it must have laid on the north shore of the island, possibly by a beach. Locating the stone was also compounded by the fact that Karimun of late was mired in some tension over importing granite to Singapore – and that the granite quarry was also in the north side of the island.

So I was rather fortunate to have met with Tres, one of the taxi drivers who aggressively touted visitors to Karimun. For something like S$30, Tres would drive my party of three up to the northern Pasir Panjang beach. When he found out that we were looking for the stone inscription, he told us that he knew where it was and offered to drive us directly there.

It was a good thing he did – as it turns out the inscription was, as feared, inside the grounds of the granite quarry. We had to pass through two security checkpoints, as well as surrender our cameras at the second checkpoint where we continued on foot. Our guide was good to his word when he led us to a shed 100 metres away from the security post – the stone inscription was carved on the side of a large granite hill, in an area of about 3 metres by 3 metres. At a distance, trucks rumbled carrying workers and granite. The area around the inscription was fairly untouched and protected – a small wall, fence and roof were erected over the inscription, and the presence of incense offerings also indicated that the place was venerated as a shrine. There was even a government notice that indicated the inscription was protected.

Karimun shrine

(Yes, I snuck my phone camera in.) I think the current worshippers at the shrine are Sikhs, judging from the images placed at the shrine. This is quite strange, considering that the inscription was probably written by a Buddhist author:

karimun inscription

karimun inscription 2

According to Dr. Miksic, the inscription is written in Devanegari script and dates to the 9th or 10th century AD. It reads, “These are the footsteps of the illustrious Gautama the Mahayana Buddhist who possessed a round instrument.” Which was why I found it strange that it has become a site of Sikh veneration. Dr. Miksic also noted that the characters that formed the word “round instrument” are unique – they are not found in any other Indian inscription anywhere in the world. When I got home, I merged the two photos in photoshop-cleanup for better clarity:

Karimun-inscription-enhanced

What about the footprints that our illustrious Gautama left behind? At first, I thought it was the rounded depressions on the side of the hill beside the shrine. But Tres our guide came to the rescue again, pointing us to the footprint at the foot of the hill, 20 feet away.

Karimun Buddha footprint

The footprint was carved in the rock, but was partly covered by sand which was also wet. As a result, we couldn’t see if there were carvings at the bottom, but we managed to scoop out enough water to see the outline of the foot. Maybe the task for the next time I visit?

Related Books:
The article on Malaysia in Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by I. Glover and P. S. Bellwood (Eds) mentions the Karimun inscription but not much else.