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.



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