Wednesday Rojak #17

Yes, I missed out last week’s Rojak because of the new year holiday so we’ve got quite a few to catch up on from the last two weeks:

  • Singaporean minister George Yeo blogs an update about the Nalanda mentor group meeting, an international collaboration to revive the ancient Nalanda University in Bihar, India.
  • Chris posts pictures from Angkor Thom, while Chev writes about Ta Prohm.
  • Who else blogs archaeology? Bill Caraher posts an excellent overview at the Ancient World Bloggers Group.
  • While the Garuda icon is reviewed in the Indonesian context from then to now.

In this series of weekly rojaks (published on Wednesdays) I’ll feature other sites in the blogosphere that are related to Southeast Asia and archaeology in general. Got a recommendation for the next Wednesday rojak? Email me!

Nalanda, the view from the sky

The Archaeological Survey of India is embarking on a project to survey the Nalanda University complex via satellite. Why is this getting some air time on SEAArch? Because there’s an exhibition going on about Buddhism in Asia at Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum, with Nalanda as the focal point.

Satellite survey of Nalanda ruins begins in Bihar
Nerve News, 20 December 2007
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Nalanda and the Southeast Asian connection

If you’re in Singapore between now and March 2008, don’t miss a unique opportunity to drop by the Asian Civilisations Museum for a special exhibition called On the Nalanda Trail, which showcases Buddhism in India, China and Southeast Asia and traces the pilgrimages of three Chinese monks as they travel to India and back. I’ve written about the exhibition’s focus on China and India at yesterday.sg; here, I’ll write about the exhibition in relation to Buddhism in Southeast Asia.

Nalanda Trail - SEA section

Continue reading “Nalanda and the Southeast Asian connection”

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