Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Srivijaya and Lanna

A maritime empire called Srivijaya (from Sanskrit: sri means shining, radiant, and vijaya excellence, victory) once ruled Sumatra, Java, western Borneo and the Malay peninsula north past the Kra Isthmus. Srivijaya traded with Arabia and India, along Africa’s east coast, among the Spice Islands and the ports of south China, especially Canton (Guangshou/Kuangchou) and other ports of the Guangdong/Kwantung provincial area (Macao is there), and also the Fujian (Min) Kingdom where Fukien (“Happy Establishment”) Province (Min Sheng) and the ports of Amoy (Hsia-men/Xiamen) and Fu-chou (Fuzhou/Foochow “Happy City’) are. These ports only became really important under the Sung Dynasty (which started about 960, but was in the south only after 1127), but trade with Srivijaya went on for hundreds of years before that. A formidable sea power until the 13th century, Srivijaya had hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of soldiers. Early Khom (Angkor Khmer) civilization was likely tributary, and a reconstructed jedi in Chaiya, SuratThani (south Thailand) is heritage from Srivijayan influence. In the early 11th century, through 20 years of raids by the Chola (Cola) king of Coromandel India, Srivijaya lost control over China-India trade and went into decline, ending around 1400. Islam had then come to Sumatra; the last Srivijaya prince founded the Sultanate of Malacca in 1402, and converted to Islam in 1414.
Perhaps Srivijaya was the result of financially insecure Indian Kshatriya (lords and warriors) and Vaishyas (trader) caste princes, younger sons with inferiority complexes, or perhaps only a driving urge to prove themselves by gaining great wealth and power, going out to win and show off to those back home whatever they could. It would be difficult to prove, certainly, but when one considers the advantages Roman rulers gained by keeping large armies of the disaffected and domestically useless, and keeping them far from home, it’s easy to think India might have done likewise. India, invaded by Alexander of Macedon, was hardly oblivious to later Roman reality.
Italy had more coastline than other Mediterranean countries – as would contribute to maritime proclivities. India also has extensive coastline - 3,533 miles (5,686 kilometers) for 1,222,559 square miles (3,166,414 square kilometers) of land. China’s coastline is about 8700 miles (for 3,696,100 square miles/9,572,900 square km), but much of that coast is coldwater – certainly it has the greatest contrast in temperature between its northern and southern borders of any nation in the world. China has over 100 large and small bays and has some 20 deepwater harbors, most of which are ice-free throughout the year, but much less lucrative nearby trading potential than India. Korea, the Philippines and Japan can hardly be thought to compete with Ceylon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Persia, Arabia, east Africa and Madagascar for trade potential in early trading times. And India has about as third as much coastline in relation to total landmass. That doesn’t really apply, as much of China’s landmass wasn’t integrated in ancient times, but the point is that Indians may have had more incentive for maritime activity, and certainly Srivijaya became thalassocratic – meaning it had “naval or commercial supremacy over a large area of sea or ocean” (Encarta).
According to an article on India in the 2005 Encyclopedia Britannica, “Alexander established a number of Greek settlements, which provided an impetus for the development of trade and communication with western Asia” (in 327 BCE). Mauryan society (~320 – 150 BCE) “soldiers were very well paid, and, if Pliny's figures for the army are correct - 9,000 elephants, 30,000 cavalry, and 600,000 infantry - their support must have required a considerable financial outlay.” This was hard on the economy, and “For a population of mixed agriculturalists and others to support an empire of <50 million> would have been extremely difficult without intensive exploitation of resources. Recent excavations at urban sites show a distinct improvement in material prosperity in the post-Mauryan levels. This may be attributable to an increase in trade, but the income from trade was unlikely to have been sufficient to supplement fully the land revenue in financing the empire.” “Trade with… the northern parts of the subcontinent provided considerable economic momentum for the South Indian states. Given the terrain of the peninsula and the agricultural technology of the time, large agrarian-based kingdoms like those of northern India were not feasible, although the cultivation of rice provided a base for economic change. Inevitably, trade played more than a marginal role, and overseas trade became a major economic activity. Almost as soon as the Roman trade began to decline, the Southeast Asian trade commenced; in subsequent centuries this became the focus of maritime interest.” “Babylonian builders used Indian teak and cedar in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The Buddhist Jataka literature mentions trade with Baveru (Babylon). After the decline of Babylon, Arab merchants from southern Arabia apparently continued the trade, probably supplying goods to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. The discovery of the regular seasonal monsoon winds, enabling ships to drive a straight course across the Arabian Sea, made a considerable difference to shipping and navigation on the route from western Asia to India.” “Indian merchants… ventured out to Southeast Asia seeking spices and semiprecious stones.” India’s “east coast… was not only the most fertile area of the peninsula but was also wealthy from the income of trade with Southeast Asia.” Under Srivijaya, Britannica says, “The kings of Śrivijaya… founded monasteries at Negapatam in India.”
Romila Thapar again: “The Coḷas (Cholas) were by far the most important dynasty in the subcontinent at this time , although their activities mainly affected the peninsula and Southeast Asia.” “A naval campaign led to the conquest of the Maldive Islands, the Malabar Coast, and northern Sri Lanka, all of which were essential to the Coḷa control over trade with Southeast Asia and with Arabia and East Africa. These were the transit areas, ports of call for the Arab traders and ships to Southeast Asia and China, which were the source of the valuable spices sold at a high profit to Europe.” “The most spectacular campaign, however, was a naval campaign against the Srivijaya kingdom in Southeast Asia in 1025. The reason for the assault on Srivijaya and neighboring areas appears to have been the interference with Indian shipping and mercantile interests seeking direct trading connections with South China. The Coḷa victory reinstated these connections, and throughout the 11th century Coḷa trading missions visited China.”
Well, that’s about what one can get from Britannica. Srivijaya used Sanskrit (an Indo-Aryan language from northwest India). It did not colonize in the manner of later Europeans, instead only maintaining strong trading stations – inland peoples may have been seen as useful for providing manpower, but certainly not as worth ruling otherwise. That is, until the Khom (Cam, Krom) decided to rule the Khmer, and become god-kings.
Do we know Srivijayan rulers were from India? No; but we know their dominant cultural influences were. It is also apparent that they had no real land base – there is no local society they seem to have grown out of. This is also the case with the first great rulers in Cambodia – they seem to have arrived with an idea of their destiny to rule with greatness.

For a millennia and a half before the beginning of the Lanna empire in the area now called the Golden Triangle, important long-range trade had been going on, but it was the results of wealth accumulation that brought about Lanna’s advent. Well, that and the Mongol threat… Genghis Khan claimed he conquered only as the civilizations around him had become weakened through “haughtiness and their extravagant luxury.” This sensuous indulgence which so annoyed the great conqueror, could have only come about from trade. Srivijaya existed only for trade; when it lost its monopoly, new avenues for trade arose, new wealth arose, and new opportunities. The realities of trade both made and broke Lanna – much as Genghis’ neighbors became corrupt, so did Lanna’s rulers. Had they not become substantial in wealth and commercial importance, less effort would have been spent to conquer them. Had they not misused their potential, a country might have endured, as many local people still wish it had. Had there been as little commercialism in Lanna reality as its few fragments of history narrate, it might not be remembered at all.


Fascinating books to revise concepts of history and the world

Fascinating books to revise concepts of history and the world:

“The Omnivore's Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, 2006. (VERY IMPORTANT)

“Alpha Beta, How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World”, by John Man

Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia”, a fabulist travel narrative, and “The Songlines”, a beautiful, elegiac account of following the invisible pathways traced by the Australian aborigines

“Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky
“The Story of Salt” by Mark Kurlansky and S. D. Schindler
“The History Of Salt: With Observations on its Geographical Distribution, Geological Formation And Medicinal And Dietetic Properties” by Evan Marlett Boddy
“The Natural History of Coal” by Edward Alexander Newell Arber
“Coal: A Human History” by Barbara Freese

“The Measure of All Things” by Ken Alder
“Greenwich Time and Longitude” by Derek Howse
“Plotting the Globe: Stories of Meridians, Parallels, and the International Date Line (Explorations in World Maritime History)” by Avraham Ariel and Nora Ariel Berger
“On the Line: The Story of the Greenwich Meridian” by Graham Dolan
“Longitude” by Dana Sobel
“The Longitude Prize” by Joan Dash and Dusan Petricic
“Mapping the World: Maps and Their History”, by Nathaniel Harris
“Tracks in the Sea”, by Matthew Fontaine Maury
“The Mapping of the Oceans”, by Chester G. Hearn
“The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon” by Robert Whitaker
”Pendulum – Léon Foucault and the Triumph of Science”, by Amir D. Aczel

“Aurora : The Northern Lights in Mythology, History and Science” by Harald Falck Ytter and Torbjorn Lovgren
“The Northern Lights: The True Story of the Man Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Aurora Borealis” by Lucy Jago and Michael Cumpsty (the story of Norwegian physicist Kristen Birkeland)
“The Invention of Clouds – How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies” by Richard Hamblyn

“Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, by Mark Kurlansky
“A Continent of Islands”, by Mark Kurlansky

“A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present” by Jan Rogonzinski

“Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History”, by Giles Milton

“Time's Pendulum: From Sundials to Atomic Clocks, the Fascinating History of Timekeeping” and “How Our Discoveries Changed the World” by Jo Ellen Barnett

“Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets”, by John McMillan

“Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse (History & Politics)” by H. R. Trevor-Roper

“Our Inner Ape”, by Frans de Waal, 2005

“The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary”, by Simon Winchester, and “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary” also by Simon Winchester

“Plagues and Peoples” by William H. McNeill
“Viruses, Plagues, and History” by Michael B. A. Oldstone
“Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History” and “Modern Times” by Arno Karlen
“Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond(although not holding up as well as hoped)

“Newton's Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World”, by David Berlinski

“Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius” (Citadel Press Book) by Marc Seifer

DEATH OF A PEOPLE: Volume (1) (i) One: “People of the Deer - The Ihalmiut”; Volume (2) (ii) Two: “The Desperate People - The Ihalmiut” by Farley Mowat

“Foreign Mud: Being an Account of the Opium Imbroglio at Canton in the 1830's and the Anglo-Chinese War That Followed”, and also “Siamese White”, both by Maurice Collis

“Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador” (American Encounters/Global Interactions) by Suzana Sawyer “Savages”, by Joe Kane

“Lost World of the Kalahari” by Laurens Van der Post

“Great Plains”, by Ian Frazier (geography as history), and maybe his “On the Rez” too…

“Evolution's Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle” by Peter Nichols

“The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World” by David W. Anthony
“The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia by Rene Grousset (has important material but goes back and forth across such varied geographic areas and uses such far-flung place names so quickly that it is impossible for anyone without a PhD in Central Asian history or geography to keep up)…

“Storming Heaven”, by Jay Stevens (has interesting history up to Leary and the Pranksters) - “LSD and the American Dream is the subtitle.
“The Haight-Ashbury”, by Charles Perry – another, no more valid, look, at my own preferred ‘sub-culture’…

“Flushed; How the Plumber Saved Civilization” by W. Hodding Codder (2006) – only about 60,000 very chatty words, and on page 30 he gets the dates for Helen of Troy wrong by a millennium, but he is trying to do something good and interesting, and recommends:
“Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century” by Stephen Fenichell, which sounds quite interesting… W. Hodding Codder says it's a good read... In his bibliography, Codder mentions:
“The History of Shit” – but I haven’t seen it… maybe interesting, but surely a better title...?

and, for a comprehensive view of the half of civilization our histories tend to leave out, neglect, forget, disparage and ignore:
“Science and Civilisation in China”, by Joseph Needham

"The Assassination of Julius Caesar; A People’s History of Ancient Rome", by Michael Parenti, The New Press, NY, USA, 2003
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, 2006
The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan, Random House, NY 2001
“Alpha Beta, How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World”, by John Man

For a comprehensive view of the half of civilization our histories tend to leave out, neglect, forget, disparage and ignore:
“Science and Civilisation in China”, by Joseph Needham

The many essays, blogs and editorials of Joe Bageant, author of "Deer Hunting With Jesus", and the forthcoming Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (neither of which I’ve seen, but both of which I understand to be quite good).

and, perhaps the master narrative of our time, Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine", which demonstrates that the global 'free market' has never been democratic. At over 500 pages, the mass of depressing detail can be overwhelming - to me reminiscent of Mort Rosenblum's "Mission to Civilize: The French Way": another depressing mass of details regarding our all-too-human failure to be very human to each other (or, rather, to anyone not of one's particular class, culture, religion, street address or whatever). A must read for anyone truly concerned with current events, economics, politics and truth. Also important for understanding the way things are is "War is a Racket" by General Smedley Butler.