Do you know? Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Well, of course, growing from one to two is not a big thing. Nonetheless, people who follow Hinduism are growing. It is of no surprise to know that Hinduism is originated in the Indian Subcontinent and has spread across the world, no, not because of the people who migrated in the last century; Hinduism has its deeper roots all over the world, particularly in Southeast Asian region. Ever wondered why the largest Hindu Temple in the world in not in India? Ever wondered why thousands of South Koreans visit Ayodya every year? Ever wondered whether there are any references to other parts of world, apart from Indian subcontinent, in Hindu Scriptures/epics? Well, it is your lucky day.
There is a term to refer India when it was in its full force, ‘Greater India’ (Or Hindu Major). No wonder it was a Great India, as it encompass Indonesia, Afghanistan and everything in between them. The earliest reference about SEA region in our scripts can be found in Ramayana, in which Sugriva, chief of Rama’s army, dispatched his men to Yavadwaipa (Yava=Current day Jawa and Dwaipa=Island). There was even reference to current day Australia in Vishnu Purana; it was referred as ‘Shalmali Dwaipa’. Hinduism had spread to south-eastern Asia (will be addressed as SEA, henceforth) region roughly around 500 BC, there is no consensus on date, when an Indian trader married a Sundanese princess and set up his kingdom over there. Subsequent kings were also practiced Hinduism in that region, till the 10-10th century AD, Hinduism was the majority practice in that region.
Formal writings of Ramayana dates back, at least, 500 BC (but, it is much older than that) which was 500 years before the birth of Christ and almost a millennium before the ‘formal’ birth of Islam. The point is not to undermine other religions, this is just to drive my point home. Taruma kingdom was established in current day Jakartha Island as early as 500 CE who worshipped Vishnu. Even today, 3% of people follow Hinduism in Indonesia, and almost 84% people of Bali follows Hinduism.
The infamous Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple in the world, is located outside of current day India. No prizes for guessing, it is in Cambodia. Cambodia had tasted Hinduism as early as 1 CE, during Funan’s rule. Not just the Cambodia, but also current day Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos have practiced Hinduism under Funan clan’s rule. Hinduism flourished in Cambodia during Khmer’s empire, even Angkor Wat was built during their time. Vishnu and Shiva were the most revered Gods in Khmer’s reign. Though the current day Hinduism in southeast part of Asia (Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand etc) can be majorly attributed to the Tamil migrants, Hinduism had its roots deeply penetrated in this region.
Spread of Hinduism throughout ancient SEA was a spectacular aspect of this particular region’s history. In some parts of SEA, there was a confluence between Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, Buddhism is being practiced in some Hindu temples (even in the largest one of the world) and Muslim wedding dress and few rituals are based on Hindu traditions in Malaysia. Indonesia’s state carrier name is Garuda (I don’t think I have to explain what that stands for). Several ceremonies of Thailand (Likes of Vishaka Pooja, Songkran Festival, Kathin ceremony etc) drew their inspiration from Hinduism. Even today, Hindu astrology plays a vital role in the day-to-day lives of Thai people. In spite of onslaught of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity over a period of millennia, influences of Hinduism are still visible and vibrant in SEA region.
The Mon people of Burma, who were originally thought to have descended from China, replaced an earlier sect called Pyu, who were known to be practicing Hinduism. Even the Mon people were of no exception, they drew part of their inspiration from the Hindu traders as early as 3rd century BC. At least, 8,00,000 people are believed to be practicing Hinduism in current day Burma. Certain section of South Korean people considers Ayodhya as their maternal home. Because, they believe that their infamous queen, Hur Hwang –ok, was actually a princess of Ayodhya who travelled to South Korea by a boat before marring King Suro of Kark Clan and she is revered as god-like figure in South Korea. Though the official census of Vietnam doesn’t quote number of Hindus in that country, it is believed to have about 50000 Hindus in Vietnam. Balinese Hinduism known as Agama Hindu Dharma retains a theological foundation derived from Indian philosophy and indigenous beliefs. These include ancestors and spirit worship in shrines where agricultural goods are offered on a regular basis.
Throughout the SEA region, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishu were worshipped extensively and Brahmins played a major role in doing so. The Hindu concept of the universe as a central continent, Jambudvipa, with its central cosmic mountain, Mt. Meru, made its way into Southeast Asian thought through the vehicle of Buddhism. So did the belief that all life was subject to periodic creation and destruction and the idea that world history, from creation to annihilation, was divided into four yugas (periods of immense length) which together formed a kalpa, a day in life of Brahma.
Even though, currently, there are other beliefs that dominate SEA region, the influence of Hinduism in this region is indispensable. In most of the parts, even today, you find yourself amazed to see how close their way of life is similar to Hinduism or the one that we practice now. After all, at one point of time, everything was a part of ‘Greater India’.
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Tags: hinduism south east asia hindu india vishnu brahma shiva siva burma vietnam indonesia thailand malaysia islam christianity history ramayana rama