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Hindu-Malayan empires

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Hindu-Malayan empires

Hinduism in Southeast Asia gave birth to the former Champa civilization in southern parts of Central Vietnam, Funan in Cambodia, the Khmer Empire in Indochina, Langkasuka Kingdom, Gangga Negara and Old Kedah in the Malay Peninsula, the Srivijayan kingdom on Sumatra, the Singhasari kingdom and the Majapahit Empire based in Java, Bali, and parts of the Philippine archipelago. The civilization of India influenced the languages, scripts, calendars, and artistic aspects of these peoples and nations.

Prominent Hindus (e.g., Swami Sadananda Maharaj[1]) from India have visited South East Asia for the purpose of exploring the Hinduism of these places.


Indian scholars wrote about the Dvipantara or Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra around 200 BC. Southeast Asia was frequented by traders from eastern India, particularly Kalinga, as well as from the kingdoms of South India.

The Taruma kingdom occupied West Java around 400. There was a marked Buddhist influence starting about 425.

These seafaring peoples engaged in extensive trade, which attracted the attention of the Mongols, Chinese and Japanese, as well as Islamic traders, who reached the Aceh area of Sumatra in the 12th century.

Some scholars have pointed out that the legends of Ikshvaku and Sumati may have their origin in the Southeast-Asian myth of the birth of humanity from a bitter gourd. The word Ikshvaku means "bitter gourd". The legend of Sumati, the wife of King Sagar, tells that she produced offspring with the aid of a bitter gourd.[2]

Modern era

Today, vibrant Hindu communities remain in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines mainly due to presence of Indians, such as Tamil people migrated from Indian sub-continent to Southeast Asia in past centuries. One notably Southeast Asian aspect of Hinduism is the festival of Thaipusam, while other Hindu religious festivals such as Diwali is also well-observed by Hindus in the region. In Thailand and Cambodia, Thai and Khmer people practiced Hindu rituals and traditions along with their Buddhism faith, Hindu gods such as Brahma is still well revered by them.

In Indonesia, it is not only Indian descents that practice Hinduism, Hinduism still survive as the major religion in Bali island, where one of Native Indonesians, the Balinese people adheres Agama Hindu Dharma, a variant of Hinduism derived from ancient Java-Bali Hindu traditions developed in the island for almost two millennia that often incorporates native spiritual elements. Other than Balinese, a small enclave of Javanese Hindu minorities are also can be found in Java, such as around Tengger mountain ranges near Bromo and Semeru volcanoes, Karanganyar Regency in Central Java, and near Prambanan, Yogyakarta. Similar case is also found among Cham minority in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia, just like Javanese, majority of them are Muslims but the minority are Hindus. In other parts of Indonesia, the term Hindu Dharma is often loosely used as umbrella category to identify native spiritual beliefs and indigenous religions such as Hindu Kaharingan professed by Dayak of Kalimantan.

The resurgence of Hinduism in Indonesia is occurring in all parts of the country. In the early 1970s, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to be identified under the umbrella of 'Hinduism', followed by the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in 1980. In an unpublished report in 1999, the National Indonesian Bureau of Statistics admitted that around 100,00 she had officially converted or 'reconverted' from Islam to Hinduism over the previous two decades.[3] The Ministry of Religious Affairs, as of 2007 estimates there to be at least 10 million Hindus in Indonesia[4]

The growth of Hinduism has been driven also by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya.

Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno's PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the 'religion of Majapahit' (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.

The new Hindu communities in Java tend to be concentrated around recently built temples (pura) or around archaeological temple sites (candi) which are being reclaimed as places of Hindu worship. An important new Hindu temple in eastern Java is Pura Mandaragiri Sumeru Agung, located on the slope of Mt. Semeru, Java's highest mountain. Mass conversions have also occurred in the region around Pura Agung Blambangan, another new temple, built on a site with minor archaeological remnants attributed to the kingdom of Blambangan, the last Hindu polity on Java, and Pura Loka Moksa Jayabaya (in the village of Menang near Kediri), where the Hindu king and prophet Jayabaya is said to have achieved spiritual liberation (moksa). Another site is the new Pura Pucak Raung in East Java, which is mentioned in Balinese literature as the place from where Maharishi Markandeya took Hinduism to Bali in the 5th century.

An example of resurgence around major archaeological remains of ancient Hindu temple sites was observed in Trowulan near Mojokerto, the capital of the legendary Hindu empire Majapahit. A local Hindu movement is struggling to gain control of a newly excavated temple building which they wish to see restored as a site of active Hindu worship. The temple is to be dedicated to Gajah Mada, the man attributed with transforming the small Hindu kingdom of Majapahit into an empire. Although there has been a more pronounced history of resistance to Islamization in East Java, Hindu communities are also expanding in Central Java near the ancient Hindu monuments of Prambanan.

The current estimates of Hinduism in Indonesia range from 4 to 8 percent

Royal Ballet of Cambodia.



Hinduism in Burma is practised by less than 2% of the population (approximately 240,000), with most practitioners being Burmese Indians. Because a reliable census has not been taken in Burma since colonial times, the given figures are rough estimates. Despite its minority designation today, Hinduism has been greatly influential in Burmese history and literature. Hinduism, along with Buddhism, greatly influenced the royal court of Burmese kings in pre-colonial times, as seen in the architecture of cities such as Bagan. Likewise, the Burmese language contains many loanwords from Sanskrit and Pali, many of which relate to religion. Several aspects of Hinduism can be found in Burma today. In nat worship, which is practised by the dominant Bamar ethnic group, Burmese adaptations of Hindu gods are worshipped. For example, the king of the nats, Thagyamin, is identified with the Hindu god Indra. Burmese literature has also been enriched by Hinduism, including the Burmese adaptation of the Ramayana, called Yama Zatdaw. Many Hindu gods are likewise worshipped by Burmese Buddhists, including Saraswati (known as Thuyathadi in Burmese), the goddess of knowledge, who is often worshipped before examinations.

According to the Myanmar government, the distribution of Hindus there is as follows:[5]

Region Population Hindu population  % Hindu
Rakhine State 2,744,000 5,500 0.20%
Mon State 2,466,000 29,600 1.20%
Kayin State 1,431,377 11,500 0.80%
Shan State 4,851,000 14,600 0.30%
Kayah State 259,000 300 0.10%
Kachin State 1,270,000 15,200 1.20%
Chin State 480,000 500 0.10%
Bago Region 5,099,000 35,700 0.70%
Mandalay Region 7,627,000 15,300 0.20%
Sagaing Region 5,300,000 5,300 0.10%
Magwe Region 4,464,000 4,500 0.10%
Tanintharyi Region 1,356,000 2,700 0.20%
Yangon Region 5,560,000 55,600 1.00%
Ayeyarwady Region 6,663,000 6,700 0.10%


Cambodia was first influenced by Hinduism during the beginning of the Funan kingdom. Hinduism was one of the Khmer Empire's official religions. Cambodia is the home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma in the world. Angkor Wat of Cambodia is the largest Hindu temple in the world.


Main article: Hinduism in Indonesia

Today in Indonesia, Hinduism is practiced by only 3% of the total population, with 92.29% of them resides in Bali and 15.75% in Central Kalimantan as of the 2000 census. However, between 4th-century to 15th-century, Hinduism and Buddhism was adhered by the majority of the population, along with native indigenous animism and dynamism beliefs that venerated natural and ancestral spirit. By 15th to 16th-century Islam has supplanted Hinduism and Buddhism as the majority religion in Indonesian archipelago. The influence of Hinduism has profoundly left its marks in Java, Bali, and Sumatran culture. Bali has become the last remnant of once Hindu dominated region.

Hindu influences reached the Indonesian Archipelago as early as first century. In 4th-century, the kingdom of Kutai in East Kalimantan, Tarumanagara in West Java, and Holing (Kalingga) in Central Java, were among the early Hindu states established in the region. Several notable ancient Indonesian Hindu kingdoms are Mdang i Bhumi Mataram, famous for the construction of the majestic 9th-century Trimurti Prambanan temple, followed by Kediri, Singhasari, and reached the peak of its influence in the 14th-century Majapahit, the last and largest among Hindu-Buddhist Javanese empires.

The Hindu civilizations has left its marks in Indonesian culture. The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, became enduring traditions among Indonesian artforms, expressed in wayang shadow puppet and dance performances.

Today, the Indonesian government has recognized Hinduism as one of the country's six officially sanctioned religions, along with Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Confucianism.[6]


Laos used to be part of Khmer Empire. The Wat Phou is one of the last influences of that period. The Laotian adaptation of the Ramayana is called Phra Lak Phra Lam.


Main article: Hinduism in Malaysia

The Philippines

Before the arrival of an Arab trader to Sulu Island in 1450 and Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed in behalf of Spain in 1521, the chiefs of many Philippine islands were called Rajas, and the script was derived from Brahmi. Karma, a Hindu concept is understood as part of the traditional view of the universe by many Philippine peoples, and have counterparts such as kalma in the Pampangan language, and Gabâ in Visayan languages. The vocabulary in all Philippine languages reflect strong Hindu influences.

In the archipelago that was to become the Philippines, the statues of the Hindu gods were hidden to prevent their destruction by a religion which destroyed all cult images. One statue, a "Golden Tara", a 4-pound gold statue of a Hindu-Malayan goddess, was found in Mindanao in 1917. The statue, denoted the Agusan Image, is now in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. The image is that of a Hindu-Malayan female deity, seated cross-legged. It is made of "twenty-one carat gold and weighs nearly four pounds." It has a richly ornamented headdress and many ornaments in the arms and other parts of the body. Scholars date it to the late 13th or early 14th century. It was made by local artists, perhaps copying from an imported Javanese model. The gold that was used was from this area, since Javanese miners were known to have been engaged in gold mining in Butuan at this time.

The existence of these gold mines, this artifact and the presence of "foreigners" proves the existence of some foreign trade, gold as element in the barter economy, and of cultural and social contact between the natives and "foreigners." As previously stated, this statue is not in The Philippines. Louise Adriana Wood (whose husband, Leonard Wood, was military-governor of the Moro Province in 1903-1906 and governor general in 1921-1927) raised funds for its purchase by the Chicago Museum of Natural History. It is now on display in that museum's Gold Room.

According to Prof. Beyer, considered the "Father of Philippine Anthropology and Archaeology", a woman in 1917 found it on the left bank of the Wawa River near Esperanza, Agusan, projecting from the silt in a ravine after a storm and flood. From her hands it passed into those of Bias Baklagon, a local government official. Shortly after, ownership passed to the Agusan Coconut Company, to whom Baklagon owed a considerable debt. Mrs. Wood bought it from the coconut company.

Another gold artifact of Garuda, the phoenix who is the mount of Vishnu, was found in Palawan.

Today, there is a "Hindu Temple" (attended mostly by Sindhīs) on Mahatma Gandhi Street and a "Khalsa Diwan Indian Sikh Temple" (attended mostly by Pañjābīs) on United Nations Avenue. Both are in Manila city's Paco-Pandacan area, the traditional Indian enclave, and are about 15 minutes walk away from each other.[7] As per estimate there are 22 gurudwāras all over the Philippines today, although most of the adherents are Indians, Sri Lankans and Nepalese. There are various Hare Krishna groups in the country that are gaining in popularity.

The spread of Hinduism was deterred by the spread of Christianity by the Spaniards and the spread of Islām by Malay and Javanese missionaries before the Spaniards.


Main article: Hinduism in Singapore

The introduction of Hinduism into Singapore dates back to the early 19th century, when immigrants from southern India, mostly Tamils, arrived as labourers for the British East India Company, bringing with them their religion and culture. Their arrival saw the building of Dravidian temples throughout the island, and the beginnings of a vibrant Hindu culture. The first temple, Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore's Chinatown. There are currently about thirty main temples in Singapore, dedicated to various gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. Today, two government bodies deal with all Hindu affairs: The Hindu Endowments Board and The Hindu Advisory Board.


A number of Hindus remain in Thailand. They are mostly located in the cities. In the past, the nation came under the influence of the Khmer Empire, which had strong Hindu roots. The epic, Ramakien, is based on the Ramayana. The city, Ayutthaya, is named after Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama. Numerous rituals derived from Brahminism are preserved in rituals, such as use of holy strings and pouring of water from conch shells. Furthermore, Hindu deities are worshipped by many Thais alongside Buddhism, such as the famous Erawan shrine, and statues of Ganesh, Indra, and Shiva, as well as numerous symbols relating to Hindu deities are found, e.g., Garuda, a symbol of the monarchy. The famous Hindu rituals of The Giant Swing and the Triyampavai-Tripavai ceremony depict a legend about how the god created the world.

The élite, and the royal household, often employ Brahmans to mark funerals and state ceremonies such as the ploughing ceremony to ensure a good harvest. The importance of Hinduism cannot be denied, even though much of the rituals has been combined with Buddhism.[8]

According to the Thai Census of 2005, there are 52,631 Hindus living in Thailand, making up just 0.09% of the total population.[9]


The Champa civilization was located in the more southern part of what is today Central Vietnam, and was a highly Indianized Hindu Kingdom, practicing a form of Shaivite Hinduism brought by sea from India. Mỹ Sơn, a Hindu temple complex built by the Champa is still standing in Quang Nam province, in Vietnam. The Champa were conquered by the Vietnamese and today are one of the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. Hindu temples are known as Bimong in Cham language and the priests are known as Halau Tamunay Ahier.

The Balamon Hindu Cham people of Vietnam make up only 25% of the overall Cham population (the other 75% are Muslims or Cham Bani). Of these, 70% belong to the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste[10] (pronounced in Vietnamese as "Satrias"), and claim to be the descendants of the Champa Empire.[11] A sizeable minority of the Balamon Hindu Cham are Brahmins.[12]

In all, approximately 50,000 Chams in Vietnam are Hindu, with another 4,000 Hindus living in Ho Chi Minh City; some of these are ethnic Cham, but most are Indian (Tamil) or of mixed Indian-Vietnamese descent. The Mariamman Temple is one of the most notable Hindu temples in Ho Chi Minh City. In Ninh Thuan Province, where most of the Cham in Vietnam reside, Cham Balamon (Hindu Cham) numbers 32,000; Out of the 22 villages in Ninh Thuan, 15 are Hindu.[13]

See also


External links

  • Map of Khmer Empire art reveals ancient urban sprawl
  • Thailand Hinduism - A report on Hinduism in Thailand
  • Hindu-Buddhist Java and Southeast Asia
  • Hindu-Kaharingan Tiwah ceremony in Borneo
  • Hindu revival in Java
  • A tribute to hinduism
  • Hindu influence in Southeast Asia
  • Siddha Yoga Tradition in Malaysia
  • Heritage bid unites border rivals
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