In this article we will discuss about the important colonies set up by India in various countries during ancient times. The first Colonies were set up in countries like Burma, Siam, Champa, Kambuja (Funan) or Cambodia, Malaya Archipelago, Java, Bali, Borneo and Philippines.
The early history of the relations between India and Burma is rather obscure. But it is generally believed that the people of Kalinga had established some sort of contact with the people of Burma. But it was really with the spread of Buddhism in Burma during the times of Ashoka and after him that Burma felt the cultural impact of India.
Some sort of contact continued between the two countries till eleventh century when Chola King Rajendra I sailed over to Burma and annexed it. This contact naturally resulted in deep impact of Indian thought and art on the Burmese life.
A number of Buddhist and Hindu remains of the Gupta period have been found at Thatun, Pegu and Proma. A manuscript written in a script bearing resemblance to the Kannada-Telugu script has also been discovered in lower Burma. The Indianization is also evident from the names of the rulers who adopted Indian titles of Vikram and Varman.
Siam became a colony of India in the third century A. D. and in the course of time was completely Indianized. A little later the Mahayana form of Buddhism spread to Siam from the neighbouring colony of Cambodia. The Siamese considerably influenced in the field of religion, literature, art and social institutions by the Indians. Even their language borrowed its script from Pali.
Most of the Hindu rites and sanskaras were adopted by the people. They also celebrate most of the Indian festivals like Dussehra: In the Siamese literature we come across many episodes and elements of the two famous Hindu epics— Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The traces of Hindu influence are also found in the names and titles of the kings. According to Dr. B. G. Gokhale, “The influence of Indian ceremonial in Siamese court life is very extensive, and even today the coronation of a Siamese prince can be performed only by the Brahman priest”.
The colony of Champa located on the main land of Indo-China was founded in the second century A. D. The colony was important because it served as an important link between the Indian and the Chinese commercial and cultural inter-course, in view of its half-way house location.
The first important ruler of Champa was Dharm Maharaj Shree Bhadravarma. He was a devotee of Shiva and constructed a Shiva temple at Myson. The Shiva Linga in the temple was named Bhandreshwara.
The rulers of Champa maintained a close contact with India and one of its rulers abdicated his throne and undertook a pilgrimage to India. The Indian custom of associating the name of the king with the divine image was followed in Champa.
For almost thirteen centuries this Hindu kingdom flourished before it was overrun by the Mongolian hordes. The impact of the Indian culture was quite deep in this kingdom and the native people were completely Hinduised. They worshipped Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiva, Shakti, Ganesh, Skanda, Vishnu, Krishna, Buddha etc.
In the field of art they followed the subject-matter as well as the technique of the Gupta art: A number of documents and inscriptions in Sanskrit have been discovered in Champa which implies that it was very popular language. Most probably it was also the official language.
Kambuja (Funan) or Cambodia:
Kambuja was another important empire established by the Hindus on the main land of Indo-China. This empire located to the South of Champa was founded before the beginning of the Christian era. The origin of this empire is shrouded in obscurity.
According to an old legend Kambuja dynasty was founded by Kaundinya, a Brahmana, who married the Naga princess. According to another legend he was the son of Adityavarma, king of Indraprastha. But one thing which can be said with certainty is that he was a Hindu. This kingdom subsequently came to be known as Cambodia.
It was the most powerful Indian colony in the eighth century and exercised suzerainty over several vassal states. Jivaraman I and II, Yashovarman and Suryavarman were its important rulers and they greatly raised its prestige. The kingdom of Cambodia suffered a decline in the thirteenth century, following the Annamese invasion. Subsequently it was occupied by the French.
Saivism was the most popular religion of the Cambodians. Vaishnavism and Buddhism were also practiced by the people. The people of Cambodia also worshipped rivers like Ganges and Saraswati. Sanskrit was the official language. Several Sanskrit inscriptions composed in beautiful Kavya style have been discovered.
The Hindu religious works like Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas were studied by the people of Cambodia with keen interest. The Indian medicine books were studied and the Indian methods of treatment were popular with the Cambodian people.
It is said that king Rudra Varman invited Indian physicians to his court. In short we can say that Kambuja not only adopted Hindu religion but also accepted the culture, civilization, political system, social ideas and customs of the Hindus.
The most outstanding testimony of the deep impact of Indian culture is provided by the temple of Angkor Vat, a shrine dedicated to Shiva. This temple built by King Suryavarman is one of the largest temple ever built by man and is considered as one of the wonders of the world.
A number of Hindu Colonies were also founded in the Malaya Archipelago. This is proved by the discovery of numerous remains in this region. First Hindu Empire in the area was formed by Sailendra dynasty in the fourth century A.D.
It consisted of the whole Malaya Peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Borneo. It is also assumed that there were certain Hindu colonies in the Malaya Peninsula even during the earlier period but do not know anything for certain about them.
The Sailendra dynasty continued to flourish till the eleventh century A. D., when Rajendra Chola, the famous king of Southern India conquered a large part of the Sailendra Empire. However, he could not maintain proper control over such distant areas and the Sailendras successfully shook off the suzerainty of the Chola kings in the next century.
But as a result of this victory Sailendras were considerably weakened and in the fourteenth century they were eclipsed by the new Hindu kingdom of Java.
The Sailendra kings were followers of Mahayana Buddhism and built numerous monasteries and viharas. The most important monastery is at Nalanda and the most important Vihar is at Naga patnam. The Sailendra kings also patronized art and produced splendid monuments like Chandi Kalasan and Barabudur in Java.
Bdrabudur is particularly known for its splendour. It was constructed on a hill in Central Java between 750 and 850 A. D. It consists of nine successive stone terraces, each of rising height and diminishing size. The centre of the top-most terrace is crowned by a simple bell- shaped stupa.
It also contains a large number of images of Dhyan, Buddha. The images of Dhyani Buddha resemble the figures of the Gupta period and therefore it can be said that the Javanese art derived inspiration from the Gupta art of India.
The Hindu colonies were established in Java in the first century of the Christian era. The colonists mainly went from Kalinga. By the beginning of the second century Devavarman had established a strong Hindu kingdom, which continued to flourish till the fifth century A. D.
Another Hindu empire was founded in central Java by Sanjaya which was known as kingdom of Mataram after the name of its capital. But Java came under the sway of Sailendras and continued to be part of his empire till the ninth century, when it regained its independence.
During subsequent centuries a number of powerful Hindu kingdoms rose and fell in the eastern Java, the prominent among them being the kingdom of Kadiri, Singhasari, Majapahit, and the Malacca. As a result of the aggression of Islam Java’s Hindu ruler took refuge in the island of Bali and the kingdom of Jaya became a Muslim kingdom.
The Indian art and literature had deep impact on the art and literature of Java. There is fully borne out by the large number of ruins of temples found in Java. The temple of Lara-Jongrang in Central Java was made in the Indian style. The sculptures on the temple depict episodes from the lives of Rama and Krishna.
The decorative ornaments used in the images possess Indian motifs and one which occurs very frequently is known as Kala-makara, which Dears close resemblance to the Indian prototype. The religious literature of the Javanese was also based on Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The mystic philosophy of the Upanishads and even later on growths of Tantrik rites was also due to Indian influence. Composite God Shiva-Vishnu are also found in Java. The poetry and the prose works of the Javanese were also immensely influenced by the rules of prosody and literary traditions of India.
The names of the kings of Java were of Indian origin. Their court customs and manners also bear the stamp of Indian influence.
Bali was also an important colony of India in ancient times. When the Indian civilization was uprooted from other colonies of Malaya Archipelago and Islam was established there, Bali provided refuge to the Hindu rulers and culture. It cannot be said with certainty as to when Bali was colonised by India. But it can certainly be said that in the sixth century it was under the Indian rule.
Towards the close of the tenth century Bali was overpowered by Java, but it regained its independence in the thirteenth century. The Dutch established their supremacy over Bali in 1839, and submerged it in their empire in 1911. With this the rule of the Hindu rulers came to an end. Bali retains the old and indigenous culture even to this day and is the last refuge of Brahmanical religion and Hindu culture in the Far East.
Borneo became a colony of the Hindus in the first century A.D., but the Indian rule over the island was established in the fourth century A.D. It continued to flourish till it was brought under Javanese sway in the twelfth century.
The ruins discovered in Borneo include the idols of gods like Shiva and Buddha, and a wooden temple. Though indigenous elements are visible in the architectural art of Borneo, but the impact of the Indian art is also quite evident.
Modern scholars hold that India had established her colonies in Philippines also. They have found deep influence of the South Indian culture and traditions on the life of the people of Philippines.
The handicrafts, coins, folk-songs as well as religious customs clearly show the influence of Hinduism. The discovery of the statue of Ganesh in Philippines is taken as a proof that the people followed Brahmanism. The hill tribes of Luzon worship early Vedic gods till this day.
It is thus evident that the people of ancient India not only travelled to far off places to preach the Indian culture, but also established colonies where their culture left a deep mark.
According to Dr. R.C. Majumdar,
“The history of the colonies demonstrates the unsoundness of the popular belief that Hinduism cannot be adopted by foreigners ‘but it meant only for those who are born without its fold. It shows the great vigour with which it could absorb and vitalize foreign culture and could elevate even the most primitive races to higher sphere of culture and civilization. If we remember that Indian culture and civilization played a similar role, though perhaps in a lesser degree, in western, central and eastern Asia, we can realise an aspect of the true greatness of India, not always sufficiently emphasized. The colonial and cultural expansion of India is one of the most brilliant, but forgotten, episodes of Indian History, of which any Indian may justly feel proud.”