A Glorious Hindu Legacy: Indic influence in Southeast Asia

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Champa, on the coast of Annam, was another Indianized state, about which more information is available. It constantly clashed with the nearby Chinese colonies established in Tonkin during the Han period, and hence Chinese historians frequently refer to Champa. The name Champa is clearly Indian whether it was named after the capital of the Anga country in the lower Ganges Valley, or after the Chola capital of the same name. Situated on the main sea routes from India and Java to China, and at the foot of spice-bearing mountains, Champa soon attracted the attention of Indian traders, and played a significant role in spreading Indian culture in eastern Asia. Sri Mara was the first Hindu king of Champa, and established his dynasty about 200 over an extensive area, including Tonkin and part of northern Annam.

The Kingdom of Champa in Vietnam, which flourished from the second to the 15th centuries, was strongly influenced by Hinduism. Hindu temples were constructed, Sanskrit was used as a sacred language, Indian art was idolized and Hindu Deities, especially Siva, were worshiped. In fact, Lord Siva was regarded as the founder and protector of the Champa dynasties. It first appeared around present-day Danang and later by 8th century spread south to what is now Nha Trang and Phan Rang. The Cham adopted Hinduism, employed Sanskrit as a sacred language and borrowed heavily from Indian art.

One of the most stunning sights in Hoi An area is My Son, Vietnam’s most important Cham site. During the centuries when Tra Kieu (then known as Simhapura) served as the political capital of Champa. Dong Dong (then known as Indrapura) served as the Cham’s religious centre. Recent excavations in Tra-Kieu, the most ancient capital of Champa, have revealed ample evidence of Indian influence in the form of Sivaite and Vaisnavite shrines and bas-reliefs.

The earliest inscriptions found in the region and possibly the whole of Southeast Asia, is the Vo-canh inscription written in a South Indian script and dating from the second or third century. Vo Canh inscription near Nha Trang, is the oldest evidence in the whole Indochina peninsula for the use of Sanskrit. It dates from the 3rd/4th centuries. All the evidence seems to point to a process of Indianization beginning on the southern shores and gradually spreading north-wards up to frontiers of the province near Chin. The most ancient bronze statue found in Champa is that of the Buddha of Dongduong which is one of the most beautiful specimens of Amaravati art; even a principality in that area was called Amaravati. Inscriptions of Kind Bhadravarman, both in Sanskrit and Cham, have been found; they belong to about 350 and are the earliest inscriptions found in Champa proper.

Champa was formed in AD 192, during the breakup of the Han dynasty of China. Although the territory was at first inhabited mainly by wild tribes involved in incessant struggles with the Chinese colonies in Tonkin, it gradually came under Indian cultural influence, evolving into a decentralized country composed of four small states, named after regions of India, Amaravati (Quang Nam), Vijaya (Binh Dinh), Kauthara (Nha Trang), and Panduranga (Phan Rang). The four states had a powerful fleet that was used for commerce and for piracy. The Cham people, of Malayo-Polynesian stock and Indianized culture, were finally united under the rule of King Bhadravarman around 400AD. He was noted commander and scholar. He dedicated a temple to Shiva at Mison which was called Bhadresvarasvami and became the centre of royal worship in later centuries. It is said that King Bhadravarman abdicated the throne to spend his last days on the banks of the Ganges.