Indians in Southeast Asia: A History
In Southeast Asia, there are roughly 5–6 million Indians living abroad. The Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India has released a statement outlining the estimated number of Indians living abroad by nation, based on information from Indian Missions and Posts abroad.
There are 2,987,950 Indians in Malaysia, 2,009,207 in Myanmar, 650,000 in Singapore, 195,000 in Thailand, 120,000 in the Philippines, 11,769 in Brunei, 5,500 in Vietnam, 1,510 in Cambodia, 528 in Laos, and 100 in Timor-Leste.
Indian and Chinese ethnic groups have historically played a significant role in Southeast Asian society. These towns have served as a connection point between the two areas. However, it is comparatively a recent phenomena for India to employ the "diaspora" as a tool for its foreign policy.
India and China have historically had a significant influence on Southeast Asia in the areas of art, culture, architecture, court etiquette, religion, and many other things. The area was so heavily influenced by Indian culture that Europeans used to refer to it as "Further India" or "East Indies" or both.
Some of the "Indianized" states of Southeast Asia included Funan (Cambodia), Khmer (Cambodia), Pagan (Myanmar), Champa (Vietnam), Sri Vijaya (Sumatra, Indonesia), Sailendra (Java, Indonesia), and Majapahit (Java, Indonesia). As a result, Indian civilisation organically spread throughout the regions of modern Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia and India share comparable weather characteristics. The "monsoon" was a recurring element that was crucial in strengthening bonds between the locals. When the weather was favorable, Indian traders would set off for Southeast Asia. Aside from trade, the spice and silk routes promoted the flow of people, ideas, and cultures.
Due to this, Southeast Asia saw a massive influx of mariners and traders. In addition, the region's aristocracy would employ Brahmins as priests, astrologers, and counselors at their courts, all of which promoted active inter-group relationships. Indians were not viewed as "outsiders" in pre-colonial periods.
Myanmar was a crucial link between India and Southeast Asia due to its proximity to India geographically. As a result, Northeast India and Southeast Asia had the most impact on the area, and as a result, the two countries became close allies. This region of Southeast Asia borders India, and since prehistoric times, both Southeast Asians and Indians have used a land passage through the untamed Arakan Mountains.
Intercultural exchange was aided by the Bay of Bengal, which joins the contemporary nations of Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. Local customs still in existence are proof that Indian immigrants established some political power in Myanmar.
The first individuals to interact with Indians were members of the still-existing Mon ethnic group from lower Myanmar to Thailand's east of the Salween River. The predominance of Sanskritized names and business ties indicate this tight connection.
Through traders and Buddhist missionaries who reached lower Myanmar, cultural exchange between the two regions flourished, leading to the establishment of Indianized kingdoms.
According to materials like rouletted ware, knobbed vessels, glass beads, semi-precious stones, ivory, and others from both countries, India and Thailand first came into contact around the fourth century BCE. Another theory holds that interaction occurred when Indian traders traveled to Thailand by water in the sixth century BCE.
When Buddhism was introduced to Thailand, existing religious practices were adopted through a process that produced an indigenous version of Buddhism that was distinct from both the form and the substance of Indian Buddhism.
For instance, Thai Buddhism stole ancestor worship from local animism. The concept of spirits (phi) is still widely held in modern Thai culture. Phi, an indigenous idea, and the god (thewada) from Hindu-Buddhist cosmology indicate that the process of blending many religious traditions had already started.
Buddhism also merged with other newly acquired Hindu cultural trends in addition to animistic practices. As a result, Buddhism, Hinduism, and animistic ideas all coexisted in Thailand to form a singular, distinct tradition.
Thai civilization assimilated Indian aspects into its cultural patterns, and Thai culture has demonstrated a remarkable ability to integrate various traditions while still maintaining its unique characteristics.
The former French territories of Cochin-China, Annam, Tonking, Cambodia, and Laos made up the Indo-Chinese region (modern-day Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos). Strong Indianized kingdoms like Campa, Funan, Chenla, Angkor, and Lan Xang thrived in this region.
The eastern coast of central and southern Vietnam is home to the Cham people, an ethnic group with Malay roots. Because of the trade ties that existed between Viet Nam and India, they were highly impacted by the Buddhist and Hindu traditions of that country.
Reaching the port of Oc Eo in South Vietnam, which is close to the Cambodian border, required Indian traders to cross the Gulf of Siam. From the second to the sixth centuries CE, Oc Eo served as a significant harbor for trade. Beads, seals with Sanskrit writing, gold medallions, and priceless statues have all been found in Oc Eo excavations.
The Malay world includes the Indonesian islands and the Malay Peninsula. Since the early years of the Common Era, a sizable population of Indian traders, Brahmans, and Buddhists have lived in the states of the Malay Peninsulas. A Siva temple's remnants have been discovered in the state of Langkasuka, which dominated trade routes to the east.
The peninsula achieved prominence in linking a worldwide commerce network connecting Rome, India, and China thanks to its ports, including Kedah and Takupa. A significant location is Kuala Selinsing on the coast of Perak, which has produced crystal and carnelian beads in addition to a seal with the name Sri Visnuvarman written on it that dates to the year 400 CE.
A Tamil inscription describing the Manikkiramam merchant guild was discovered close to Takupa. The political and administrative systems on the peninsula were efficient. Strong Indian influence is indicated by the bead trade, the discovery of Buddhist votive tablets, and the discovery of Hindu iconography.
Source: mea.gov.in, earp.in, asianstudies.org
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