Do Truong Giang
For those who studying the ancient history of Southeast Asia, Indianization of Southeast Asia is one of the outstanding issues and there is much controversy surrounding this subject. From the early twentieth century, researchers had deep concern about this subject and there were initial opinions. The presence of traces of Hindu temples, the distribution density of the Sanskrit inscriptions, mythological stories of Indian origin … has led researchers to the hypothesis of an Indianization era in Southeast Asia. In the general context of early Twentieth century, almost of Far East countries were colonies, the West as a civilized people, implementation of the colony, the researchers have been associated with a period in ancient history, Southeast Asia had been a colony of India, subject to invasion and rule of India dynasties. This perception has gradually changed with the appearance of new historical evidences and new insights, especially after World War II, when the Southeast Asian nations gained the independence and standing in a new position, the study of these countries also began to be re-examined.
For over a century of research, there are still many debatable issues relate to the term “Indianization” among scholars. Researchers have attempted to elucidate the nature of the so-called Indianization in Southeast Asia, whether or not there was an Indianized era in Southeast Asia? How did the relationship between India and Southeast Asia take place like? The main theme of the debates related to issues of Indianization, including: The reasons which prompted Indianization process take place in Southeast Asia?; who was the main agency and played an important role in spreading Indian culture to Southeast Asia? Are Indians (Warriors, Brahman, Merchant) had invaded and civilized the region, or the South East Asian people had played an active role in the process of spreading this culture?; the timing of Indianization in Southeast Asia; the depth of Indianization, of what level did Southeast Asian nations receive Indian culture? Did the whole Southeast Asian region become another version of the Indian world, or those influences just like a ‘thin and flaking glaze”?
In this paper, we apply the classification of V. Lieberman for Southeast Asian historiography, in which he divides into four main tendencies: 1. The externalist historiography; 2. The indigenous historiography; 3. An ‘Age of Commerce’ theses; and 4. An ‘strangle parallels’ approaching. Accordingly, the debates over the issue of the “Indianization” in ancient Southeast Asian history are usually seen in two first tendencies, which will be re-examined in the next parts of this paper
“Externalist historiography” and the issue of Indianization
The term “externalist historiography” is borrowed from V.Lieberman, to indicate the Eurocentric view of Southeast Asian history from the beginning of 20th century to roughly 1950s. During this period, Majumdar’s series of Hindu colonies in the Far East, Coedes’s work named Histoire ancienne des etats hindouises d’Extreme-Orient, and D.G.Hall’s book A history of Southeast Asia were most influential books in the field of Southeast Asian history. In his book, G.Coedes did not pay much attention to the cultural and social aspect of the region. He, however, emphasized on the political history, the rise and falls of kingdom dynasties, and established a chronological framework of Southeast Asian history. D.G.Hall re-arranged and synthesized G.Coedes’ and previous scholars’ works in his famous book of A history of Southeast Asia. These books of Majumdar, G.Coedes and D.G.Hall were representatives for Western assumption, or colonial tendency, in writing the history of Southeast Asia. A characteristic of these scholarships, as Legge figures out, was “the tendency of scholars to see that history as shaped by influences external to the region rather than as the product of an internal dynamic”. In this case, Indian culture was considered as the most prominent external factor affected Southeast Asian region, as a result, Southeast Asia was examined through the Len of “Further India” or “Greater India”. This trend could be attributed to the fact that almost of colonial scholars were trained in either Indology or Sinology, “which tended to lead them to see Southeast Asia from one or other of those perspectives”, and another reason was the consequence of the availability of sources – the distribution of a large amount of Sanskrit inscriptions as well as the presence of various cultural vestiges of Indian in Southeast Asia.
Majumdar, an Indian scholar was the first author considering the issues of Indianization of Southeast Asia seriously. In this series, the author position the Southeast Asian region under the influence of Indian culture, including Indochina and the Malay archipelago, known under the name Suvarnabhumi or ‘Land of Gold’, and Suvarnadvipa or ‘Island of Gold’. Based on the evidence of language, Majumdar said that the most ancient people in Southeast Asia shortly before or after the beginning of Christian era, including residents of the tribal groups, or groups were at a certain level of civilization, originated from India and they represent an earlier wave of Indian colonization in the Far East in prehistoric times.
Regarding the cause of Indian colonization in Southeast Asia, Majumdar stressed two main reasons: trade and emigration. Accordingly, the Indian traders were attracted by the search for wealth outside of their frontiers. The Far East, therefore, has become an attractive area for them, by the wealth of gold and precious minerals, spices. The name Suvarnabhumi or Suvarnadvipa, ‘land of gold’ was referred to the attractiveness of this region. The second factor led to the Indian Colonization, which is ‘Emigration’. The increase in population, along with the growth of trade has led to ‘a steady flow of Indian emigrants to various parts of the Far East. These people arriving in new land and settled here, married local women and began to spread their ‘superior culture’ and ‘gradually Hinduised society’. The co-existing between the groups of Indian migrants with the local Hinduised people led to the formation of the ‘Indian colonial Kingdoms’ in Southeast Asia.
Thus, in Majumdar’s view, before or after the beginning of Christian era, Indian expanded and colonized the Southeast Asian region. Following Majumdar, a numbers of Indian scholars consider the Indianization as the result of Indian emigration and Indian colonization in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia, in their view, was a part of ‘Further India’ or ‘Greater India”. C.C.Berg, for instance, considered the Indianization was the result of conquest and settlement by Indian warriors. N.J.Krom saw the Indianzation process in Java was the result of the expansion of Indian trade and consequent settlement and intermarriage.
Coedes George is one of the first scholars study the history of the Southeast Asian countries in a broad context in which regional countries share common characteristics, which he defined as “Indianized States”. According to him, “Indianization” and “expansion of Indian Culture” is a historical fact that took place in a specific historical moment of Southeast Asia. “Indianized States”, in Coedes’ view, consist of “Indonesia, or island Southeast Asia except for the Philippines; and the Indochinese Peninsula, or India beyond the Ganges, including the Malay Peninsula”. Assam region and the Northern of Vietnam are not included. In these areas nowadays still remains deep traces of Indian culture that occurred long ago, including the presence of Sanskrit elements in local languages, the influence of Indian law and administrative organizations; the presence of various ancient Hindu-Buddhist temples and monuments Southeast Asia region.
Regarding to the causes of Indianization process in Southeast Asia, he proposes three hypotheses, namely: “pressure was exerted on the mass of Indian population by the invasions of the Kushans in the first century AD “; “high-caste Indian Adventurers were allowed to seek their fortunes overseas”; and commercial origin. “The Indianization”, Coedes stated, “must be understood essentially as the expansion of an organized culture that was founded upon the Indian conception of royalty, was characterized by Hinduist or Buddhist cults, the mythology of the Puranas, and the observance of the Dharmasastras, and expressed itself in the Sanskrit language. It is for this reason that we sometimes speak of ‘Sanskritization’ instead of ‘Indianization’”.
The studies by Majumdar and G. Coedes have shaped a perception of a “Further India” Region as a colony of India. These authors emphasized the role of Indian, they, however, minimized the role of Southeast Asian people and initiative elements. Indianization was seen as total, and influenced comprehensively to all aspects of Southeast Asian history. The presence of Indian and the beginning of Indianization in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia was the beginning of the history of Southeast Asia, before the coming of Indian, there was no history in the region. Indian people (whether they were Warriors, Brahman or Merchant) was seen as the main factors in the process of cultural transferring, from a “superior culture” to an uncivilized society. In contrast, the role of local people was minimized and considered as “passive recipients”. To generalize the “external historiography” of Indianization, a quote from V.Lieberman’s assessment would be appropriate : “Indianization – the process whereby early Indian religious, architectural, and scriptural traditions were transferred to Southeast Asia during the first millennium C.E. – was portrayed by Hendrik Kern, N.J.Krom, G.Coedes, and other leading scholars as primarily the fruit of Indian, rather than Southeast Asian, initiatives. Either Indian traders had provided an indispensable spur, or Indian warriors had established colonies”.
Indianization in “Autonomous historiography”
After World War II, the historiography of Southeast Asia shifted dramatically, in which new generation of Southeast Asian scholars questioning the works of previous scholars, as well as the demand for re-assessing the history of Southeast Asian polities. The term “autonomous history” was first used by John Smail in search for “a truly autonomous history” of Southeast Asia.
If Majumdar and G. Coedes in his work has over-emphasized the role of Indian culture – an external factor, and lowered the initiative of the Southeast Asian people, the scholars such as P. Mus and Van Leur, in contrast, offered a different perspective and interpretation. Accordingly, P.Mus and Van Leur P. emphasizing the local factors and the autonomy of South East Asia, as well as certain (not total) influence of Indian culture in Southeast Asia.
Mus in his work named “Cultes indiens et indigenes au Champa” challenged the previous view of Majumdar. This book examines and studies the role of Indian culture in the early periods of Southeast Asian civilization, particularly in the case of Champa kingdom. The author firstly examines the pre-Aryan state of India, as well as discusses about the Aryan contribution and their mutual reaction. He also looks at Hinduism as the combination of the indigenous propensities with the Indo-European component. Paul Mus then examines several contemporary forms of the Cham cults, including The Kuts, cult of the lingas to understand the influence of Indian culture in Champa kingdom. By examining the earth cults in Champa, he proved the existence of a common substratum of belief and culture in both India and Southeast Asian societies before the arrival of Indian in Southeast Asia. In that sense, when Indian culture came in Southeast Asia, it was easily accepted and absorbed by local people and developed in a new land far from its origin.
The view proposed by P.Mus was then shared and developed by Van Leur in his influential book namely Indonesian Trade and Society. In this work, Van leur criticized the Eurocentric view of Southeast Asia, and he drew attention away from the conventional thought of profound influence of Indian civilization in Southeast Asia. He, however, argued that Southeast Asia was actually an active agent and borrowed selectively Indian culture rather than a passive recipient of external influences. In his view, Indian influence in Southeast Asia was a “thin and flaking glaze”, and the indigenous elements have continued to exist alongside the external forces. He also rejected the hypothesis considering the colonization of India in Southeast Asia. According to him, the Indian influence in Southeast Asia was in fact a court matter but not a general cultural diffusion.
Both P.Mus and Van Leur contributed to the field by emphasizing on the role of local people in the process, as well as examined the depth of Indian Influence in Southeast Asia – not a total influence as seen in Majumdar or G.Coedes’ view. V.Lieberman makes a properly comment about this trend, that “[these scholars] began to explore internal life of pre-colonial societies. They commonly sought not to exclude foreign influences, but to show how local peoples had been able to absorb, translate, and re-contextualize external forces, in short, to maintain control of their environments”.
Following and supporting for P.Mus and Van Leur’s pioneer thesis, a number of scholars in the field of Southeast Asian studies in the period from 1960s to 1980s dealt with the question “how local peoples had been able to absorb, translate, and re-contextualize external forces, in short, to maintain control of their environments”? O.W.Wolters was among people considering the issues of Indianization in Southeast Asia most systematically, in which he supported the idea of localization or the transform by local culture, and the Indian culture was actually similar things to Southeast Asia.
O.W.Wolters in Early Indonesian Commerce, searched for nature of trade in archipelagic region before the age of Srivijaya. He argued that the expansion of trade in archipelagic region during the period of Srivijaya was an indigenous achievement rather than a result of Indian influences. In another work, named History, culture, and region in Southeast Asian perspectives, O.W.Wolters continued to emphasize on the ‘localization’ and the role of Southeast Asian agencies in relationship with outside cultures, and, as he states, the Indian influence did not “move into a vacuum” area. He rejected Coedes’ theses of “The Hinduised states of Southeast Asia” because it “diverted us from the study of the region for its own sake”, and he preferred to approach the regional history from the “region’s cultural diversity”. Accordingly, the Hindu culture in different sub-regions of Southeast Asia, they were localized in different ways, in which Wolters defined as “local cultural statements”. He also refused the idea that Indian influence in Southeast Asia was total, but in several specific aspects. He states “rather than assuming that Indian influences introduced an entirely new chapter in the region’s history, I prefer to see the operation of specific ‘Hindu’ and therefore religious rather than political conceptions that brought ancient and persisting indigenous beliefs into sharper focus”.
Ian Mabbet also contributes to the field by discussing the agencies and the term “Indianization”. Examining previous theories on Indian Agencies, i.e. Ksatriya (Warrior) theory, Vaisya (merchant) theory and Brahman theory, he concludes that elements of all these theories did involve in the process of Indianization of Southeast Asia. According to him “because none of them can be disproved; because the analogy of the mixture of coercion, autonomous borrowing, considered policy, accident, absentmindedness, chicanery, humanitarianism, trade, politics and religion at work in the extension of later western influence in Asia makes the case for an eclectic explanation a priori strong; and because it is difficult to distinguish clearly between the various agencies of Indian influence that have been postulated”. He also suggests clarifying the term “Indianization”, of which “Indian culture” is not a “monad”, but “a plurality of tradition” share historical ancestry. Consequently, Mabbett states, “It is better to divide it into many local cultures, each of which is linked historically to Indian culture in the first sense”.
Above, I’ve mentioned to two main trends in research on the issue of Indianization in Southeast Asia. The research and views of Majumdar and G. Coedes has an important role in shaping perceptions of scholars on the history of Southeast Asia. However, the fact that these scholars over-emphasized the role of India, meanwhile, saw Southeast Asia as only a “passive recipient” has led to distortions and not objective. The latter researchers have questioned the hypothesis of Majumdar and G. Coedes based on new historical evidences and a new point of view, regional history from regional view, or “Indigenous history.” Influence of Indian culture in Southeast Asian history is a historical fact incontestably. However, we need an objective perspective of how did this culture influence on the region and who played a decisive role in this process. The latest research achievements have demonstrated the initiative of the Southeast Asian in contact with Indian civilization, in which Southeast Asian adapted selectively and localized Indian cultural elements. Scientists have proven that, India and Southeast Asia have a shared cultural background that helped Indian culture easily be received in Southeast Asia, and it was not a process of “superior culture” colonized and civilized the “un-civilized” region, in fact, it was a process of “Interaction”. And because “Indian” is not a unique entity but a set of diverse entities shared common ancestry, there was a parallel of transferring and adopting Hinduism in South India and Southeast Asia.
Coedes, George (1944). Histoire ancienne des etats hindouises d’Extreme-Orient. Translated into English as The Indianized states of Southeast Asia Ed. Walter F.Vella, translated by Susan Brown Cowing. Hawaii: East-West Center Press, 1968
Hall, D.G.E. A history of South-east Asia. London: Macmillan Limited, 1955
Legge, J.D. “The writing of Southeast Asian History”, in Nicholas Tarling et al, The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, Volume one, From early times to c.1800, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Mabbet I.W., “The ‘Indianization’ of Southeast Asia: Reflections on the historical sources”, in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol.8, No.2, Sep., 1977.
Majumdar, R.C. Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, Vol.1 – Champa (1927); and Vol.2 – Suvarnadvipa (1937)
Mus, Paul, “Cultes indiens et indigenes au Champa”, BEFEO, 33 (1933), translated into English as Indian seen from the east – Indian and indigenous cults in Champa. Monash papers on Southeast Asia, number three, 1975.
Nicholas Tarling (Edited), The Cambridge history of Southeast Asia, Vol.1, From Early times to c.1800. Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Pollock Sheldon. “The Sanskrit Cosmopolis, 300-13000: Transculturation, Vernacularization, and the question of Ideology”, in Houben, Jan E.M. (edited) Ideology and status of Sanskrit – Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language. E.J.Brill, Leiden – Newyork – Koln, 1996.
Smail, John R.W. “On the possibility of an autonomous history of modern Southeast Asia”, Journal of Southeast Asian History, Vol.2, No.2, Jul., 1961.
Van Leur. Indonesian Trade and Society. The Hague: W. van Hoeve., 1955.
Wolters O.W. Early Indonesian Commerce: A study of the origins of Srivijaya. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967.
Wolters, O.W. History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 1999.
Wheatley, Paul. “Indian Beyond the Ganges – Desultory Reflections on the origins of Civilization in Southeast Asia”. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol.42, No.1, Nov., 1982.
 Victor Lieberman. Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global context, c.800-1830. Vol.1: Integration on the Mainland. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
 Majumdar, R.C. Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, Vol.1 – Champa (1927); and Vol.2 – Suvarnadvipa (1937)
 Coedes, George (1944). Histoire ancienne des etats hindouises d’Extreme-Orient. Translated into English as The Indianized states of Southeast Asia Ed. Walter F.Vella, translated by Susan Brown Cowing. Hawaii: East-West Center Press, 1968.
 Hall, D.G.E. A history of South-east Asia. London: Macmillan Limited, 1955
 Legge, J.D. “The writing of Southeast Asian History”, in Nicholas Tarling et al, The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, Volume one, From early times to c.1800, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.6.
 Legge, J.D. “The writing of Southeast Asian History”, p.6.
 Majumdar, Hindu colonies in the Far East. Calcutta, 1944, p.4.
 Ibid., p.6
 Ibid., p.6
 Ibid., p.6.
 Legge, J.D. “The writing of Southeast Asian History”, p.7.
 G.Coedes, Histoire ancienne des Etats Hindouises d’Extreme-Orient, Hanoi, Imprimerie d’Extreme-Orient, 1944. G.Coedes, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia, Edited by Walter F.Vella, translated by Susan Brown Cowing. East-west center Press, Honolulu, 1968.
 G.Coedes, The Indianized states. p. XV.
 Ibid., p.XVI
 Ibid., p.16.
 Victor Lieberman. Strange Parallels… p.7.
 John R.W. Smail. “On the possibility of an autonomous history of modern Southeast Asia”, Journal of Southeast Asian History, Vol.2, No.2, Jul., 1961.
 Paul Mus, “Cultes indiens et indigenes au Champa”, BEFEO, 33 (1933), translated into English as Indian seen from the east – Indian and indigenous cults in Champa. Monash papers on Southeast Asia, number three, 1975.
 Van Leur. Indonesian Trade and Society. The Hague: W. van Hoeve. 1955, p.17.
 Ibid., p.95
 Victor Lieberman. Strange Parallels…p.11.
 O.W. Wolters. Early Indonesian Commerce: A study of the origins of Srivijaya. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967, p.247.
 O.W. Wolters. History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1999.
 Ibid., p.23.
 Ibid., p.66.
 Ibid., p.67.
 Ibid.,, p.21.
 I.Mabbet. “The ‘Indianization’ of Southeast Asia: Reflections on the historical sources”, in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol.8, No.2 (Sep., 1977), pp.157-158.
 I.Mabbet. “The ‘Indianization’ of Southeast Asia: Reflections on the historical sources”, in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol.8, No.2 (Sep., 1977), p.160.