Review on Chihara’s The Architecture of Srivijaya and Malayu

Indianization would seem to predate Islam in the islands of Indonesia.  Early evidences, such as the remains of Hindu-Buddhist temples, and smaller ones equivalent to the present-day chapel, known as stupa, dating as far back as the pre-Islamic era of the 9th century A.D.

, have been unearthed and studied by scholars from both the Western and Eastern schools of thought.  Diagoro Chihara mentions in his book two major ancient kingdoms in the said era, as being dominant figures in the world of ancient Buddhism-Hinduism, and whose recent discoveries through excavations have proven India’s strong influence with the succeeding Islamic religion and culture that later ruled the region; they are the Srivijaya and Malayu (Chihara, 1996, p. 211).Srivijaya and MalayuDiscoveries made through excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries have established that as early as 850 AD, as was seen in an inscription found at Nalanda, Srivijaya was gifted by Balaputra, a Sumatran king of the era, of a monastery temple for the religious followers from Java.

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  The succeeding discovery of another inscription bearing the date 1005 AD, known as the Larger Leyden Plate, and which also bore the writings of the said giving of monastery, further solidifies the notion that Srivijaya’s king as being related to the dynasty of the Sailendras’ kings (Chihara, 1996, p. 210).  Evidences presented by Chihara point to the economic prospering of Srivijaya during the 10th century as a consequence of the Arabs’ expeditions of on the Indian Ocean in search of an alternative route to the Silk Road. This activity of the Arabs resulted in the monopolization by the Srivijaya of the trade and commerce from both the East and the West.  This was evidenced by the fact that both the Chinese and the Arabs both have names for this kingdom: San fo ch’i and Zabag, respectively (Chihara, 1996, p. 210).Srivijaya’ decline in both its economic and military might began in 990 AD, with the king of an eastern Java Kadiri dynasty attempting to conquer Sumatra.

  However, the battle ended with Srivijaya’s victory in 1006 AD which resulted in the death of the invader’s king, Dharmavamsa.It was the Cola dynasty of southern India, however, that succeeded in ending the Srivijayan Empire.  This dynasty first emerged in the middle of the 9th century, and had reached its zenith of power between 985 and 1044 AD, with King Rajaraja and the succession of his son, Rajendra (Chihara, 1996, p. 211).  Kedah, one of the major towns of Srivijaya, was conquered by the Colas in 1015, and in the ensuing battle Srivijaya’s king was captured and the entire kingdom pillaged.  This was the reason for the kingdom’s eventual economic downfall, that by the middle part of the following century, the capital of Sumatra had been moved to Jambi.

During the 12th century, Malayu came into existence in Jambi, the same place where Srivijaya’s waning of its power became apparent, and by the start of 13th century, Malayu had totally superseded the former as the authority in the region.  However, Malayu’s reign proved short-lived.  In the mid-13th century, the kingdom was conquered by Kertanagara, belonging to Singhasari dynasty from the eastern part of Java.  Left with no recourse, the Malayu enterd a matrimonial alliance with their conquerors and had thus retained their kingdom, but only as a colony of the Singhasari Dynasty (Chihara, 1996, p. 211).Resurrected TemplesAmong all the 13,000+ islands of Indonesia, Sumatra is the most geographically-strategic island, with regards to the sea routes that connects India, China, and the routes of Spice Trades of the era, and understandably, Indianization had found its way earlier here than in other islands such as Java.  However, compared with neighboring islands like Java, Sumatra had a small population and was underdeveloped.  As a result, archeological studies in the modern age had been far too few in Sumatra, and in fact only in recent times had the authorities in Indonesia busied itself with discovering past relics of its civilization.

Many archeological sites relating to Hindu-Buddhist religion have been discovered in Batang Hari, in the province of Jambi, and along the Malay Peninsula, which was also under the rule of Srivijaya.  In Chaiya, Thailand, a town 550 kms. south of Bangkok, various remains have also been discovered bearing designs and styles similar to that of Srivijaya, with most of them belonging to Mahayana Buddhism style.  Perhaps the Srivijayan influence in the southern part of Thailand had continued and was assimilated into the Sukhothai art in the 13th century.

  Official records would reveal that in Chaiya alone in the year 775, three Mahayana temples were built by an unnamed king of Srivijaya.  Consequent diggings in 1946 led to the discovery of yet another temple, measuring 30m square, and thought to be built somewhere in the 9th century (Chihara, 1996, p. 213).  Various temples in Chaiya considered to have been built during the Srivijayan era also abound, but due to the restoration works done by in the past, their original architectures have been lost forever.

In Padang Lawas, which translates to vast plain in Thai, various temples have also been unearthed dating back to the Malayu era, seven of which can be reached by trekking.  During his travels to the sites, Diagoro Chihara describes these temples as:Each complex consists of an enclosure surrounded by a wall inside of which there stands a main sanctuary, which appears to have been a single-chambered cella, together with a smaller chapel, a stupa, and terraces that are thought to have been surmounted by wooden structures. (p. 215)The Srivijaya buildings were made with bricks, similar in almost all the places their temples were found.  These bricks measured 28 cms. long, 17 cms.

high, and 5 cms. wide (Chihara, 1996, p. 216).  Their architecture generally consists of the 3 components of podium, body and roof, with the upper portion of the roof noticeably embedded with a stupa (Chihara, 1996, p.

216).In Muara Takus, a province of Riau, Buddhist temples have been found, already in its dilapidated stage.  These temples are considered to date back from the 11th or the 12th century.  Excavations in this site were first done in 1893, and then again in 1935, but it was only in 1980 that the Indonesian authorities made its own excavation and tried to restore the temples back to its original state (Chihara, 1996, p. 217).

  According to the excavation leader in 1935, Schnitger, the site was composed of six temples surrounded by walls, with a gate estimated to be in the middle of the north wall.  He had also found a Maligai Stupa, which was somewhat similar to the styles in India and Sri Lanka, and bore a unique form uncommon in all of the other excavations in Indonesia or Thailand (Chihara, 1996, p. 217).ConclusionDiagoro Chihara’s studies on Srivijaya and Malayu had made evident to his readers the extent of the vastness and depth India’s architectural style had manifested in other country’s religious beliefs and culture, particularly those of Indonesia and Thailand.

  These influences, evident in the arts and in religious temples of other kingdoms; first evidenced in Srivijaya, and later in Malayu culture, had seemed to have outlasted the very kingdoms that were the sources for this inspiration.Chihara had also shown a glimpse of the culture of the said empires pre-dating Islamic and colonial era of both Indonesia and Thailand, and what was evident was that both of this present day nations had in their past, a history of Hindu-Buddhism, and that their respective kings of the ancient era, had lineage directly traceable to the dynastic rulers in India.  This should prove imperative to the present administrations and the populace, in general.  They should realize Chihara’s unspoken lesson: that what they are today as a nation, is the result of who they were in the past eons.ReferenceChihara, D. (1996). The Architecture of Srivijaya and Malayu.

Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia (pp. 211-221) (ISBN 9004105123, 9789004105126). Leiden – New York – Koln.  

Author: Roderick Guzman


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