Indian Impact on Ancient South-East Asia
By the opening of the Christian era the civilization of India and begun to spread across the Bay of Bengal into both island and mainland south-east Asia, and by the fifth century A.D. Indianite states, that is to say states organized along the traditional lines of Indian political theory and following the Buddhists or Hindu religions, had established themselves in many regions of Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Some of these states were in time to grow into great empires dominating the zone between metropolitan India and the Chinese southern border, which has sometimes been described as “Further India’ or “Greater India”, once rooted in South-East Again soil, Indian civilization evolved in part through the action of forces of South-East Asian origin, and in part through the influence of cultural and political changes in the Indian Subcontinent civilization in terms of a series of ‘waves’ and there are good reasons for considering that such “waves” are still breaking in south East Asian beaches today.
The cultures of modern-East Asia all provide evidence of a long period of contact with India.
- Many South-East Asian languages (Maley and Javanese are good examples) contain an important proportion of words of Sanskrit of Dravidian origin. Some of these languages, like Thai, are still written in scripts which are clearly derived from Indian models.
-South East Asian concepts of kingship and authority, even in regions which are now dominated by Islam, owe much too ancient Hindu political theory. The Thai monarchy, though following Hinayana Buddhism of the Sinhalese type, still requires the presence of Gour Brahmans (who by now have become Thai in all but name) for the proper performance of its ceremonials.
- The traditional dance and shadow-puppet theatres in many South-East Asian regions, in Thailand, Malaya, and Java for example, continue to fascinate their audiences with the adventures of Rama and Sita and Hanuman.
- It is difficult to determine the precise Indian influence on the great South-East Asian monuments as the Borobodur stupa in Java and the Khmer temples of Cambodia. These structures are obviously in the Indian tradition. Their ground-plans, for example, and the subject matter of their sculptural decoration, can easily be related to Indian religious texts.
“Yet a careful study of monuments such as these suggests that the Indian aspects are only one part of the story. While beyond doubt showing signs of Indian influence yet Borobodur and Angkor Wat are not copies of Indian structures. There exists nothing quite like them in the Indian archaeological record. The vast majority of the Hindu and Buddhist monuments of South East Asia which were constructed in the pre-European period, that is to say before the opening of the sixteenth century, possess, as it were, a definite South-East Asian flavor. It is reasonable to consider the styles of art and architecture of the Khemrs, Chams, and Javanese as styles in their own right and something much more than the imitation of Indian prototypes. These styles, as codes and other scholars have expressed, It, are Indianized rather than Indian. The Indian inheritance in South-East Asia is not to be found in the unthinking repetition of Indian forms, rather, it is to be seen in the inspiration which Indian gave to south East Asia to adopt its own cultures so as to absorb and develop Indian concepts. The resulting syntheses are peculiar to South-East Asia.
The images of Buddha and Vishnu, lingas and other Hindu cult objects of the early period are far more ‘Indian’ and far less characteristic of any regional culture. Almost ubiquitous in south-east Asia, for example is a category of Buddha image showing very clear signs of Gupta or Amravati influence, and some examples of this can, on the established principles of India iconography, be dated to very early in the Christian era. Specimens have been found in Indo-China, Thailand, Burma, Malayisa, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
In time of process of regional evolution, the interaction of India and indigenous ideas began to produce a number of distinctive styles of Indianite south-east Asian art and architecture. The man art of Burma and of the so-called kingdom of Dvaravati in what is now Thailand, while retaining much that might be called Gupta, and by the sixth century A.D. begun to show a number of distinctive features of its own, some of them easy to detect by eye but very hard to define verbally. Perhaps the most obvious representation of the human face, which comes to show Physical, features characteristics of a non-Indian ethnic group. The Khemrs, Chams, and Javanese had all likewise by the end of the eights century evolved styles so individual as to have become something much more than a reflection of one or more Indian prototypes.
There is much evidence to suggest that Indian ideas, as well as Indian art, were modified in ‘Further Indian’ through the influence of indigenous cultures.
The cult of the Devaraja, the God King, though certainly expressed in Indian terminology, developed, so many scholars believe, into a distinctive corpus the political and cosmological ideas which behind the proliferation of Khmer temples built in the form of mystic mountains and the Javanese chandis which were not only places of worship but also royal tombs and mechanisms, as it were, designed to line the dynasty on earth with the spirit world. No more extreme examples of this cult with its identification on flower with God, be it Siva, Vishnu or Buddha, can be found than in Angkor Thom, the city of the late twelth and thirteenth century Khmer ruler Jayavarma VII. Here, on the gateway towers of the city, and on its central monuments, the Bayon, the face of the king himself becomes the dominant architecture motif. From all four sides of every tower of the Bayon, Jayavarman VII looks out over his capital, his lips and eyes suggesting an enigmatic and slightly malevolent smile. This is something which the Roman emperors, who defined themselves in their own lifetimes, would have understood, but which would have been beyond the comprehension of the great Hindu and Buddhist dynasties of India. The Devaraja cult of the Khemrs, Chams, and Javanese Idealized kings has survived to the present day in Thailand, where it explains many features of the modern Thai monarchy.
The individually of the major art styles of Indianite south-east Asia is, as we have already noted, to a great extent the result of interaction between Indian and pre -Indian indigenous south-east Asian concepts and traditions. The south -East Asian component in this cultural equation, however, is far more difficult to define than the Indian
Shabeer Mon, Asst. Professor, Kerala
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