vendredi, novembre 26, 2004

ANCIENT KINGDOMS A potted History of Hindu influence and the Coming of Islam

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, a grand Malay epic, tells the story of Langkasuka, a Kingdom whose origins were shrouded in mystery. Mythology has it that Langkasuka, a peaceful and prosperous settlement was supposedly brought to prominence by an Indian prince who led his people in a great battle against the ferocious Garuda. The lack of documented proof does not rule out the existence of this Malay Kingdom as references in Chinese and Indian ancient text point to the existence of an early Hindu civilization near Gunung Jerai, Kedah circa 100 AD.

The fact remains that around the same period, India sought safer and faster routes in search of gold as the marauding Huns had cut-off the overland route to China and the Roman Emperor Vespian had stopped shipments of gold to India. In addition, the lure of Savarndvipa and Savarnabhumi - a mystical wealthy Kingdom spurred an Indian odyssey to the East which brought them to the Malay archipelago. As we know, Ptolemy found the Malay Peninsular significant enough to call it Aureus Chernysese which means Land of Gold on his legendary maps, further suggesting that the peninsular was an attractive destination for those in search of riches and wealth.

The Straits of Melaka was then, and remains until today, the busiest natural waterway in the world and the whole world sought this passage for purposes of trade, religion and expansion. But the  region was not entirely kind to visitors - the humidity, the forest was daunting and the Orang Laut  controlled the waters vigorously. So religious scholars, travelers and traders generally mixed with locals and gained riches only to return to their country of origin as were their original intention. However, the ideologies and religion generally replaced the paganism and animism widely practiced by the people of the land.

About four centuries later, around 450AD, Srivijaya rose to prominence in Palembang, Sumatera and for a millennia shaped much of the civilization and trade in the region. Srivijaya remained a powerful kingdom based on Hinduism/Buddhism which conquered many of the coastal areas of the islands including Kedah and ruled over much of the Malay Peninsula in the 9th century. The region continued to grow as a centre for gold, aromatic woods and spices and the Hindu culture swept throughout the land.

Their princes and princesses widely travelled and this influence extended all over the region. One instance is the alliance between Sailendra and Srivijaya when Samaratungga, who finalized the candy we now know as Borobodur, married Dewi Tara in the 9th century. Their son Balaputra returned to Palembang, after his sister Pramodhani and her husband engineered a coup,  to rule and Srivijaya became even more powerful than before.

From Java, Majapahit, the last of the Hindu Empires slowly overtook Srivijaya as the greatest maritime empire in the region. Hayam Wuruk, its renowned ruler reigned from 1350 to 1389 together with Gajah Mada, its most powerful minister in office from 1331 to 1364, extended Majapahit’s rule over Sumatra, Bali, Borneo and Malaya especially Kedah and Patani. Islam began to spread its influence, beginning in Pasai, then Jambi.

At the turn of the 14th century, a rebel prince of Palembang, Parameswara, fled to Tumasek, then continued to travel up-north along the coast to found Malacca. His diplomatic ties with China and a structured governmental hierarchy including firm policing of its waters to keep away pirates ensured a firm footing for Malacca’s continued growth as the region’s most prominent port. Malacca became the center of court, arts and trade.

Parameswara’s conversion to Islam formalized and marked the arrival of Islam to the Malay Peninsula. The Malaccan Sultanate which lasted until 1511 became the model for other sovereigns in the land with firm adherence to the Islamic teachings and Malay traditions.

October 2004

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