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; here, I’ll write about the exhibition in relation to Buddhism in Southeast Asia.

Nalanda Trail - SEA section

Read More

A short history of Indonesia

No Comments

13 July 2007 (Brunei Times) – Perhaps the Brunei Times is running a series about writing the short histories of different countries in Southeast Asia. Today, it publishes a short history of Indonesia – not particularly accurate, it gives a sense as if there were a series of empires that replaced one another, that Srivijaya was replaced by the Sailendra and the Mataram who in turn were replaced by the Majapahit. In reality, Srivijaya lasted all the way to the 12th century before getting run out of Sumatra by the Majapahit. (See my earlier article about Srivijaya.) The Sailendra empire also had dynastic links with Srivijaya. The article also makes no distinction between the shifts in centres of power between Sumatra (Srivijaya) and Java (Sailendra, Mataram and Majapahit). You might also want to look up the Indonesian timeline featured earlier in this site.

Indonesian history

The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century; the islands were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. Indonesia declared its independence after Japan’s surrender, but it required four years before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony.

Fossilized remains of Homo erectus, popularly known as the “Java Man”, suggest the Indonesian archipelago was inhabited two million to 500,000 years ago.

Austronesian peoplearrived in Indonesia around 2000 BCE, and confined the native Melanesian peoples to the far eastern regions as they expanded.

Ideal agricultural conditions, and the mastering of rice cultivation allowed villages, towns, and small kingdoms to flourish by the first century CE.

Indonesian strategic sea-lane position fostered inter-island and international trade. For example, trade links with both Indian kingdoms and China were established several centuries BCE. Trade has since fundamentally shaped Indonesian history.

From the seventh century CE, the powerful Srivijaya naval kingdom flourished as a result of trade and the influences of Hinduism and Buddhism .

Between the eighth and 10th centuries CE, the agricultural Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram dynasties thrived and declined in inland Java, leaving grand religious monuments such as Borobudur and Prambanan.

Majapahit kingdom was founded in eastern Java in the late 13th century. Under Gajah Mada, its influence stretched over much of Indonesia. This period is often referred to as a “Golden Age” in Indonesian history.

Books about the history of Indonesia:
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
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage

Borobudur exhibition in North Jakarta mall

1 Comment

04 June 2007 (Jakarta Post) – For this week at the Mangga Dua Square in Jakarta, shoppers will be treated to an exhibition on the greatest Buddhist monument in Southeast Asia, Borobudur.

Ancient past exhibited in mall

For the next seven days starting Sunday, the seemingly distant topic of archaeology will be bridged by the exhibition, “Tracing the Nusantara civilization from the 9th to 12th centuries, Maha Karmawibhangga: The hidden legacy at the foot of Borobudur.”

“We want to bring this topic closer to the public and reveal things that previously remained exclusive to academics,” the Tourism and Culture Ministry’s head of cultural research and development, Junus Satrio Atmodjo, said last week.

The famed Borobudur serves as a lure to bring people in and pique their interest in Indonesia’s ancient past.

The timing of the exhibition was impeccable, with Buddhists commemorating Buddha’s Day of Enlightenment, or Waisak, the Friday before its opening.

Working with the Indonesia Sangha Conference, the ministry is putting on a full week of events as part of the exhibition, including art performances that will highlight the country’s rich cultural past.

In building Borobudur, the ancient civilization of Syailendra was thoughtful enough to provide a temple that would serve as a historical library for future generations.

Read more about the Borobudur exhibition at Mangga Dua Square mall.

Books about the great Buddhist monument, Borobudur:
The Restoration of Borobudur (World Heritage Series)
The Lost Temple of Java (History/Journey’s Into the Past) by P. Grabsky
The Mysteries of Borobudur: Discover Indonesia Series by J. N. Miksic
Borobudur by L. Frederic and J. Nou
Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas (Periplus Travel Guides) by J. Miksic
The Magnificence of Borobudur by D. D. Burhan