Maritime Contact with South-East Asia

There once was a local naga princess of Funan, daughter of the ruler of water realm who got married to a foreigner, bearing the Indian name “Kaundilya”, the great Brahman. This legend symbolises union of Indian and indigenous Southeast Asia culture. The folklore unravels penetration of Indian culture into Southeast Asia. The symbolic remnants of Indian influence on Southeast is clearly visible in art, culture and civilization.

Rajendra I and his naval expedition echoes in the Chola inscriptions, he conquered more than dozen harbor cities of the famous Southeast Asian kingdom of Srivijaya in Sumatra, and on the Malay Peninsula in about AD 1025. He claims in his inscriptions to have “dispatched many ships in the midst of the rolling sea”. This event is unique which led to peaceful and culturally fruitful relation of India with its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

The deep penetration of Indian art and architectural forms in Southeast Asian monuments is evident from temples of Angkor Wat, Pagan, Borobudur and Prambanan. These famous monuments surpass the grandeur of Indian temples from the same period with extensive stone base relief carvings and expanse. The assimilation of Indian culture is evident from literary works of Southeast Asia, for instance many literary works are based on the Ramayana. Folklore singers and artistes were called ‘dalangs’, played crucial role in popularising and modifying Indian literary work in Southeast Asia. This eventually led to adaptation of these epic works like Mahabharata and Ramayana in localised and contextual manner. The highest literary works of Southeast Asia such as Seri Rama, RamKer are result of these adaptations. In the words of Hermann Kulke”, The relations of the Southeast Asian states with their great neighbours, India and China, were intensive, but of very different natures. India was for Southeast Asian countries, the holy land of Buddhism and Hinduism and certainly an important trading place. But politically and increasingly, economically too, China was the undisputed ‘Middle Kingdom”.

Maritime connection between Southeast Asia and India is intriguing due to the fact that there is no evidence of violence, colonialization and subjugation. The Indians who crossed the vast ocean never had any interest to rule. India’s cultural conquests were peaceful and without forced conversions.

As Kaplan has articulated, “The Indian Ocean and its tributary waters bear the imprint of that great, proselytizing wave of Islam that spread from its Red Sea base across the longitudes to India and as far as Indonesia and Malaysia, so a map of these seas is central to a historical understanding of the faith”.