The Great & Beautiful Lost Kingdoms
May 9, 2015 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Yet to tell the diffusion of Indian influence at this period as two separate processes partially obscures a still more extraordinary story. For it is now increasingly clear that between the fourth and twelfth centuries the influence of India in both Southeast and Central Asia, and to some degree also China, was comparable to the influence of Greece in Aegean Turkey and Rome, and then in the rest of Europe in the early centuries BC. From the empire of the Gupta dynasty in the north and that of the Pallava dynasty in the south, India during this period radiated its philosophies, political ideas, and architectural forms out over an entire continent not by conquest but by sheer cultural sophistication.
posted by infini (21 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
This rich backstory in the Philippines is all but lost; 400 years of Spanish rule will do that. We only retain this in tantalizing hints in our language - "Diwata" from the Sanskrit "devata", we call our teachers "guro", etc. Roaming Angkor Wat, Banteay Chhmar and (hopefully in July) Bagan, it occurs to me how much we Filipinos have lost over the intervening centuries.
posted by micketymoc at 4:42 AM on May 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

Now the plateau was full of archaeologists urgently scraping away at the ground with trowels before the Chinese company that owns the land moves in, destroys the Buddhist remains, and turns it all into a vast copper mine.
Gah, how infuriating.
posted by vanar sena at 4:51 AM on May 9, 2015

For what it is worth, the author William Dalrymple is a great historian and a very engaging writer, and anybody with an enduring love affair or even a passing fancy with the subcontinent should seek out his books. You won't regret it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:56 AM on May 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

On similar lines, here's a graphic travelogue called The Vanished Path about the disappearance of Buddhism from India. (full disclosure: it was written by my cousin)
posted by dhruva at 6:26 AM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's always been pretty clear in the history of Java, particularly when you have sites like Prambanan and Borobudur, and dozens of smaller ones.
posted by gimonca at 6:43 AM on May 9, 2015

Woah, flashbacks. In high school I did a group project about this period in history. We wound up writing a poem in the style of Dr Seuss. I still remember the opening lines because they were so ridiculous:

There once was an Indian civilization
Which, all things considered, was quite a sensation
It was more advanced in its culture than most
And absorbed other cultures as easy as toast.

I was also particularly proud of this rhyme:

The Muslims did not try to prostelytize
So the Hindus, they mostly accepted those guys
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:52 AM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Finding out that the name Singapore comes from the Sanskrit really opened my mind about how wide-spread Indian civilzation was.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:14 AM on May 9, 2015

I'm still looking for a good book that's the history of this era, the expansion of Hindu / Buddhist culture. I Asked Metafilter about this a few months ago and ended up trying to read John Keay's India: A History but only got halfway through. I've come to appreciate that part of what makes this era of scholarship tricky is it's tied up with notions of Indian national identity, a topic fraught with complexity.

I just want to understand how there were Hindu temples in Cambodia and there are no Hindus left, why there's still a Hindu culture in Bali, or how Buddhism started in India but is mostly gone from there while it's widespread further east. I can give you a vaguely informed answer for similar questions about Muslims and Christians in Europe / North Africa / the Middle East, or for the schisms within Christianity. But the Hindu and Buddhist history is so opaque to me.
posted by Nelson at 10:31 AM on May 9, 2015

I was working on collecting links on the Hindu kingdoms of South East Asia when I accidently deleted my bookmarks folder. I honestly can't recall if I ever made that post or not. I'll be back here with something at some point this weekend. Growing up in the ASEAN, this heritage fascinated me as hints of its erasure after the arrival of Islam with the Arabs came through in our history books.
posted by infini at 10:58 AM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

In the meantime, the Srivijaya Kingdom and its associated offshoots may be of interest for those looking closer at the ASEAN.
posted by infini at 11:08 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

This page and the next - Ashoka's rise and decline - may shed light on Buddhism's decline
posted by infini at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

What a great post. I just watched the "bones of the Buddha" on PBS.

Nelson, what excellent questions. I would start with infinis' links and would suggest anything by Chandler concerning Cambodia and its Asian influences. (As a Primer) I can through you some titles concerning archeology if you want. They are not easy question(s).
Journey well micketymoc!
posted by clavdivs at 1:00 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nelson: the Hindus never truly left Cambodia. A Brahmin priesthood continues to serve the Cambodian King.

clavdivs: thank you!
posted by micketymoc at 7:50 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was clicking through a bunch of Indonesian history topics on Wikipedia just now and came across this:
200 BC: "Dvipantara" or "Yawadvipa" Hindu kingdom is thought to have existed in Java or Sumatra as it was mentioned in India's earliest epic, the Ramayana; Sugriva, the chief of Rama's army dispatched his men to Yawadvipa in search of Sita.[2]
The citation being a Google Books link to what looks like a textbook, that isn't viewable at present unfortunately.
posted by XMLicious at 1:48 AM on May 10, 2015

Try logging in to your Google account and then viewing that page. Try this link as well: History Of Ancient India.
posted by Gyan at 3:33 AM on May 10, 2015

Oh how I love William Dalrymple. Thanks infini, that was great.
posted by BinGregory at 7:06 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Crash Course in World History is a bit cloying but gives a quick overview of the Indian Ocean Trade. It is hard to visualise the scale of trade between Africa, Arabia, India and South East Asia in pre common era times. There are very favourable trade winds which favour extensive sea travel. An example is the spread of the Swahili language along the east coast of Africa.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 3:51 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

An example is the spread of the Swahili language along the east coast of Africa.

I will take a request this week if anyone cares to frame a question
posted by infini at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

"While many people think of Swahili as just one of the languages of Africa, I've heard that it arose as a trading language and shows the influence of Arabic, and maybe other languages too. What are the details, and what's the historical and linguistic evidence for this?"
posted by benito.strauss at 9:47 AM on May 11, 2015

After much research, I believe that the article linked to below answers your question without too much repetition of the same old blocks of text. The author is considered one of the source citations in Swahili and African linguistics. One interesting point that has come to light is the framing by researchers on African history, much of which is oral, that the history of language may shed light on teh broader historical developments. An example is this, which looks iron smelting.


A rather fascinating read.
posted by infini at 9:07 AM on May 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have a truck filled with favorites for you, infini. Where do you want it delivered?
posted by benito.strauss at 6:31 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older The Magic of Modern Living   |   The School of English: a story by Hilary Mantel Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments