Influence of Indian Literature on Ceylon and Southeast Asia

Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia

The shadow plays of Malaysia draw their themes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and they were presented by invoking the deities of the Hindu pantheon like Siva, Ganesha as well as important figures of the epics like Rama, Ravana, Indrajit and Arjuna.The countries of Southeast Asia formed a stronghold of Indian culture from early centuries of the Christian era. The extent of Indian influence is remarkable. Scholars have detected that the spoken languages of this region, have adopted, without loosing their basic character, Sanskrit abstract and material terms, but were also influenced by Sanskrit rhetoric and prosody and sometimes even by grammatical rules of euphony.

In Siamese, the number of Sanskrit and Pali words would be 1,362 in a total of 40,000. In the Malay dictionary some Sanskrit words have been listed. Words of Sanskrit extraction have penetrated the vocabulary of Burmese, Tagalog language of Philippines. But the largest influx has occurred in Old Javanese. In its dictionary Sanskrit words number no less than 6,790 and the ratio of Sanskrit to Old Javanese in some old texts would be as high as 4 to 9, while the proposition in the kakavins (poetical compositions) is often 1 to 4 or 2 to 7. Whereas a vast Sanskrit literature has come down to us from the Hindu Javanese period, preserved mainly in Bali, hardly anything of the same period has reached us from Kambuja, Burma, Thailand, Malaya or Sumatra.

Sanskrit inscriptions discovered in these regions numbering several hundreds indicate that Sanskrit was widely studied there. The inscriptions, usually written in flawless kavya style, may be treated as specimens of Sanskrit literature. The languages of Southeast Asia are mostly derived in scripts derived from the old Brahmi alphabet of India.

Some inscriptions have over 200 verses written in various ornate metres, besides the sloka or anustunh and the upajati-indravajra-upendravajra group. Some of the inscriptions were written in gaudi style.

Many of the rulers as well as queens and princesses were accomplished Sanskrit scholars, in particular King Suryavarman II 1116 A.D., Queen Indradevi and Prince Suryakumara. A number of kings were adept in Vedic learning. Thus Suryavarman I 100-50 has been described as proficient in the Vedangas. A Saiva Brahmin called Sakrasvamin figures in an inscription of 713 AD as being well versed in Vedanta and Tattiriya. All these studies proliferated in the Angkorian period 800-1150 and continued atleast till 1307. The study of the grammar of Panini, six systems of philosophy, Dharma-satras was pursued vigorously. King Yasaovarman 889-900 is said to have composed a commentary on the Mahabhasya of Patanjali.

A Brahman named Vidyavisesa is said to have mastered besides grammar, 3 of the 6 systems of philosophy and the texts on Buddhism. The Hora-sastra (astrology), Siddhanta-sastra (astronomy), Ayurveda (medicine) and Gandharvavidya (music) were also studied.

A record of the 6th century tells us that Somasarman, brother-in-law of King Bhavavarman I, dedicated a copy of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas for daily recitation before a deity named Tribhuvanesvara. Scholars proficient in the recitation the epics have been referred to in Cambodian inscriptions.

As the royal house worshipped the Devaraja-linga for many centuries, the deities of the Saiva-Tantric pantheon were especially honored in Cambodia. Inscriptions refer to the teachings of the doctrines of the Saiva sect of the Pasupatas and of the Vaishnava sect of the Pancaratras by competent instructors. Among the other treatise, the Siva Samhita, the Saivite Yoga manuals, Sivadharma and Guhya-tika have been mentioned in local inscriptions. The inscriptions talk of many Indian authors who traveled to Cambodia like Bharavi and Mayura.

Buddhist texts were also studied in ancient Cambodia. Mention has been made in the epigraphic records of the Pratityotpadana, Brahmaghosa amongst others. Some Pali inscriptions also attest to the growing popularity of Hinayana Buddhism during the last days of Kambuja’s greatness.

Thailand and Laos
The earliest written records in Thailand are some archaic Mon inscriptions in South Indian characters of the 6th or 7th century AD. These inscriptions contain some Sanskrit and Pali words. Thai literature did not develop fully till the 14th century. With the establishment of Ayut-thaya as the capital of the Thai kingdom, poetic compositions by the court to divine beings before the commencement of the a trial by ordeal, all of non-Buddhist texture, were made or inspired by the Brahmanas who inherited the traditions of Angkor.

The Burmese law of Code called Wagaru Dhammasattha, which largely drew upon the Manu Samhita, was introduced in Thailand. Ritualistic poems are said to have been composed by the court Brahamanas brought from Cambodia in the 13th century. In 1345 Lu Thai, grandson of the famous Rama Khambaeng, composed the Traibhumikatha (story of the Three Worlds), a voluminous text on Buddhist cosmology, and it has come down to us in the form of a Siamese tradition.

A poem entitled Lilit Yuen Pay, which is full of Sanskrit words, was composed during 1448-1495. A session of the Great Council was held at Chieng Mai on 1475 AD. to revise the Pali scriptures. Sinhalese monks settled there also contributed to the dissemination of knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures in Pali. The fillip thus imparted led to the production of two notable works, the Mangaladispani and Dhammapada-atthakatha. The latter was translated into Modern Siamese during the reign of King Rama III 1824-51.

The first known Siamese version of the Ramayana called Ramakien composed by King P Chakri between 1770-80 was incomplete. It was completed during the reign of King Rama I 1782-1809. Ramakien has been utilized by many later Thai writers. The dramatic literature of Thailand owes its origin to, and was influenced greatly by, the Rama saga of India, although its affiliation is to a certain floating Rama legends including the story of the Dasaratha Jataka. 18th century Thai literature included 14 plays, the themes of which were borrowed from the Jataka stories.

The literature of Laos is but a dialectical variation of Thai literature. Among its important productions are some edifying religious works of which the best known are the ‘Fifty Jataka Stories’ and the Laotian version of the Pancatantra consisting four collections of such stories.

The ancient Malay inscriptions, which belong to the last part of the 7th century, contain some Sanskrit words pertaining mainly to the calendar and religion. The Trengganu 1327-7 or 1386-87 AD. and Pasai 1380 stone inscriptions contain many Sanskrit words. The artificial world created by Malaysian folk-tales is linked with the folk-world of India. While some stories are influenced by the Ramayana, many have been traced in the Kathasarit-sagara and a large number have their counterparts in the Jataka stories, Panca-tantra and Katha literature.

The Malay romances have episodes speaking of merchants, princes, and ascetics from India, while Hindu fairies, sages, gods jostle in them with Islamic sages, heroes and fairies. In general, 1350-1450 AD. may be taken as the period when the Islamic matrix of Malay literature was laid, but it had not yet shed the traits of its earlier Indian character.

The Malay Ramayana, known as Hikayat Seri Rama has two versions in which the flotsam from the east, west and southwest of India were gathered to produce the prototype of Malay texts. Some of these Indians elements might have arrived in the 12th century and woven into the texture of the Hikayat Seri Rama between the 12th and 17th centuries. The Javanese Mahabharata known as Bharata-yuddha is represented in Malay by Hikayat Perang. Hikayat Rajaraja Pasai in prose contains a tag translated from the Tamil Manimekalai.

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