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Stupa in Asia

Tracing Indo-Cambodian relations through Magnificent Stupa Architecture

Southeast Asia  was under  Indian influence from around the 3 rd century BC until the 15th century AD, when  Hindu-Buddhist influence was absorbed by local politics. India had established trade, cultural and political relations with Southeast Asian kingdoms in  BurmaThailand, Indonesia, Malay Peninsula Cambodia and, to a lesser extent,  Vietnam. To understand the stupas and pagodas that one can see throughout Asia, it is helpful to first appreciate the design of the earliest stupas, which can be found in India and Sri Lanka. These stupas exerted great influence on later designs. This article is based on the influence of later Stupas, not from India to Cambodia, but rather from Cambodian or South-east Asian countries to India. I have focused on the Votive stupas of Sarnath with a few examples from other Buddhist sites of India, and the similarity and the influence on the Indian stupa from the outer side are explored.

At Sarnath, located near the confluence of the Ganges and the Gomati rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India, only structural stupas made of brick with mud mortar and stone with dry masonry can be seen. Through excavations from British times to the 20 th century, researchers exposed many monolithic, clay, terracotta, metal, seal and other types of votive stupas.

Ancient Buddhist monasteries near Dhamekh Stupa Monument Site, Sarnath

Ancient Buddhist monasteries near Dhamekh Stupa Monument Site, Sarnath ( Wikimedia Commons )

The transmission of Indian culture to distant parts of Central Asia, China, Japan, and especially Southeast Asia is certainly one of the greatest achievements of Indian history. None of the other great civilizations - not even the Hellenic - had been able to achieve a similar success without military conquest. Local traditions refer to the establishment of political authority by Indians over most of South-East Asia.

According to Cambodian annals, an exiled prince of Indraprastha founded the kingdom of Cambodia. Around the first century AD, Kaudinya founded a kingdom in  Cambodia (Phungtian, 2000). The Buddhist monks of the Cambodia region were learned, and in the fifth century some were said to have been invited to other South East Asian countries to translate Buddhist texts from Indian languages to their own.

Historical Relations

Indian traders, adventurers, teachers and priests continued to be the dominating influence in Southeast Asia until about 1500 AD, and Indians often ruled the earliest states in these regions. Hinduism and Buddhism both spread to these states from India and for many centuries existed there with mutual toleration. The South Asian peninsula was known as  Suvarnabhumi or Suvarnadvipa, the land or island of gold (Sharan,1986:23-29). Indians traveled to the Far East through the land or sea routes. Over time trade led to political and cultural relations. Trade relations may have begun around 200-300 BC.

Indians traveled to the Far East through the land or sea routes for trade. Relief panel of a ship at Borobudur, 8th-9th century

Indians traveled to the Far East through the land or sea routes for trade. Relief panel of a ship at Borobudur, 8 th-9th century ( Wikimedia Commons ).

The first of these ‘Indianized’ states to achieve widespread importance was the  Kingdom of Funan  founded in the 1st century AD in what is now  Cambodia — according to legend, after the marriage of an Indian Brahman into the family of the local chief. These local inhabitants were  Khmer people (Herz, 1958, 11, 57). Funan flourished for some 500 years. It carried on a prosperous trade with India (Sharan, 1986:23-29). In the seventh century, Cambodia (Wolters, 1974) had a succession of rulers who patronized Hinduism and suppressed Buddhism (Brown,1965). It was not until the ninth century that Buddhism began to receive some royal patronage from the rulers.

A map of Southeast Asia in 400 AD, showing the Kingdom of Funan

A map of Southeast Asia in 400 AD, showing the Kingdom of Funan ( Wikimedia Commons )

Cultural and Religious Relations

The interactions between India on the one hand and various parts of Southeast Asia can be traced back to the 1 stcentury AD (Coedes, 1966). Historically, India-Cambodia relations are a product of Hindu and Buddhist religious and cultural influences, emanating out of India in the 4th-6th century AD, to various parts of South-East Asia (Banerji, 1972). Though Cambodia, like most of its neighbors, is a Buddhist nation, there is a strong influence of Hindu rituals, idolatry and mythology. The pervading influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Indian architecture, is borne out by the structures at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon, and other religious and historical sites in Cambodia (Coedes, 1963). This is glorious testimony of the profound cultural and social basis of India-Cambodia historical relationship.

The pervading influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Indian architecture can be seen at the spectacular Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The pervading influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Indian architecture can be seen at the spectacular Angkor Wat, Cambodia ( Jonjon Pascua / Flickr )

Subjective Stupa Architecture of Southeast Asia in light of Sarnath

The most significant architectural feature of Southeast Asia is the Buddhist stupa (Banerji, 1933), known in India from the 1st century BC, but no doubt dating from earlier. The most neglected art and architectural specimens, stupa are very important in Buddhist Art and Architecture. Both the solid stupa and the open temple can be found throughout the region. The famous architectures of  Angkor Wat and Pagan  in Cambodia and Burma, dating from around the 12th century, are in the open Hindu and Buddhist style. With the arrival of  Buddhism in Cambodia (Mazzeo, 1978), and subsequently Japan and China, the Indian architectural tradition underwent another transformation (Bhattacharya, 1924). In the 2nd century,  Kanishka, a ruler in northwest India, built a stupa in the form of a masonry tower to house some Buddhist relics. From this region, Buddhism made its way towards China along the  Silk Road . Kanishka's tower proves a fruitful model. In the hands of Chinese, Cambodian and Japanese architects, this type of stupa evolved into a style that was tall, slender, and with stairs, tiers, and platforms. With the Sarnath stupa, we have the evidence of stupa architecture from Cambodia such as Royal Palace at Phnom Penh.

The Royal Palace at Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The Royal Palace at Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Featured image: Chaukhandi Stupa on a hill, Sarnath ( Wikimedia Commons ).

Part 2: The magnificent stupa architecture of Southeast Asia.

By Dr. Sachin Kumar Tiwary

References

Banerji, A. C., 1972, Buddhism in India and Abroad, Calcutta

Banerji, R. D., 1933, The Eastern Indian School of Mediaeval Sculpture, Delhi

Bapat, P. V., 1976, 2500 years of Buddhism, (Fourth Reprint) Publications Division, Ministry of Information And Broadcasting Delhi

Bhattacharya, Benoytosh, 1924, The Indian Buddhist Iconography, The Banerjee Press, Calcutta

Brown, Percy, 1965, History of Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu), Bombay

Coedes, George, Angkor: An Introduction, trans. EmilyFloyd Gardiner, Oxford University

Coedes, George, 1966, The Making of Southeast Asia, Trans.by H. M. Wright, Berkeley

Coomaraswamy, A. K., 1927, History of Indian and Indonesian Art, London

Dumarcay J., and Smithies M., 1995, Cultural sites of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur

Herz, M.F., 1958, A Short History of Cambodia, Atlantic Books, New York, pp. 11, 57

Jumsai, M.L., 1970, Manich, History of Thailand and Cambodia, Bangkok

Mazzeo. D. and C.S. Antonini, 1978, Ancient Cambodia, Cassell, London

Phungtian, Charuwan, 1963, Thai - Cambodian Culture Relationship through Arts Press, New York and Hong Kong

Sarkar, H., 1993, Studies in Early Buddhist Architecture of India, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd., New Delhi, p.83

Sharan, Mahesh Kumar, 1986, Political History of Ancient Cambodia, Vishwavidyalaya Publishing, New Delhi, pp.23-29

Wolters, O. W., 1974, “North-Western Cambodia in the Seventh Century”, BSOAS 37, 2

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