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The Dynamics of Cultural Borrowings

What was the role of the people of Southeast Asia in this process of cultural borrowing ?
Were they merely passive recipients of a culture bestowed upon them by them by the Indians ?
Did they actively participate in this transfer ?

The passive thesis was originally emphasized by Indian advocates of the 'Greater India' idea, as well by as European scholars who belonged to the elite of the colonial powers then dominant in Southeast Asia. The concept of an earlier 'Indianisation' of Southeast Asia seemed to provide a close parallel with the later 'Europeanisation' under colonial to provide a close parallel with the later "Europeanisation" under colonial rule. The first transchant criticism of this point of view came from the young Dutch scholar JC van Leur.

Van Leur highlighted the great skill and courage of Indonesian seafarers and emphasized the fact that Indonesian rulers them selves had invited Indian Brahmins and had thus taken a very active role in the process of cultural borrowing. Van Leur's book an Indonesian trade and society was published posthumously, in 1955. In the meantime, further research has vindicated his point of view.

The Indian influence is no longer regarded as the prime cause of cultural development; rather, it was a consequence of a development, which was already in progress in Southeast Asia. Early Indonesian inscriptions show that there was a considerable development of agriculture, before Indian influence made itself felt. However, indigenous tribal organization was egalitarian and prevented the emergence of higer forms of political organization. The introduction of such forms required at least a rudimentary form of administration and a kind of legimation of these now governmental forms which would make them, in the initial stages, acceptale to the people. It was at this point that chieftains and clan heads required Brahmin assitance. Althoug trade might have helped to spread the necessary information the inititative came forr those indigenous rulers. The invited Brahmins were isolated from the ruler. People and kept in touch only with their patrons. In this way the royal styles emerged in South-East Asia just as it had done in India.

A good example of this kind of development is provided by thed earliest Sanksrit inscription found of Indonasia (it was recorded in Eastern Borneo around 400 A.D.) Several inscription on large Megaltihs mention a ruler whose name, Kundunga shows not the slightest trace of Sanskrit influence. His son assumed a Sanskrit name, Ashavavarman, and founded a dynasty (vansa). His grand son Mulavarman, the author of the incription, celebrated great sacrifices and gave valuable presents to the Brahmins. Of the latter it is explicitly state that they had come here - most likely from India. After being consecrated by the Brahmins, Mulavarman subjected the nighbouring rulers and made them tribute givers (kara--da) Thus these inscription present in a nutshell the history of the rise of an early Indonesian dynasty. It seems that the dynasty had been founded by a son of clan chiefly independently of the Brahmins, who on their arrival consecrate the ruler of the third generation. With this kind of moral support and the new administrative know-how the ruler could subject his neighbours and otain tribute from them.

The process paralleled that which we have observe in south and Central India. In its initial stages, however, it was not necessarily due to Indian influence at all. Around the middle of the first millennium AD several of such small states seem to have arisen in this way in South-East Asia. They have left only a few inscription and some ruins of temples, most of them were obviously very short lived. There must have been a great deal of competition, with many petty rajas vying with each other and all wishing to be recognized as maharajas entitled to all the Indian paraphernalia of Kingship. Indian influenced increased in this way and in the second half of the first millennium AD a hectic activity of temple erection could be observed on Java and in Combadiam, wher the first larger realms hac dome into existence.

Though it is now generally accepted that southeast Asian rulers played on active role in this process of state formation, we cannot entirely rule out the occasional direct contrbutin of Indian adventures who proceeded to the East. The most important example of this kind is that of the early history of Fuman at the mouth of the Mekong. Chinese sources report the tale of a Brahmin, Kaundinya, who was inspired bya divine dream to go to the Funan. There he vanquished the local Naga princess by means of his holy bow and married her, thus founding the first dynasty of Funan in the late first century AD. We have heard of a similar legend in a connection with the rise of the Pallava dynasty and this way indicate that Kundinya came from south India where the Kundinyas were known as a famous Brahmin lineage. A Chineage source of the fourth century AD describes an Indian usurper of th throne of Funan. His name is given as Chu Chan-t' an' 'Chu' always indicates a person of Indian origin and Chan-t-an could have been a transliteration of the title 'Chandana' which can be traced to the Indo-Scythians of northern India.

Presumably a member of the dynasty went to southeast Asia after having been defeated by Samnudragupta. In the beginning of the fifth century AD another Kaudinya arrived in Funan and of his it is said in the Chinses annals :

He was originally a Brahmin from India. There a supernatural voice told him: 'You must go to Funan, Kaundinya rejoiced in his heart. In the south he arrived at "P" an-p' an. The people of Funan appeared to him. The whole kingdom rose up with joy, went before him and chose him king. He changed all the laws to confirm to the system of India.

This report on the second Kaundinya is the most explicit refernce to an Indian ruler who introduced his laws in southeast Asia. In the same period we notice a general wave of Indian influence in southeast Asia, for which the earliest Sanskrit inscription of Indonasia - discussed above - also provide striking evidence. We must however, note that even in the case of early Funan there was no military intervention. Kaundinya had obviously stayed for some time at P'an-P'an at the Isthmus of Siam, then under the control of Funan and he ewas later invited by the notables of the court of Funan to ascent the throne at a time of political unrest.

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