தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Home  > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > The Tamil Heritage - History & Geography > Early Tamil Cultural Influences in South East Asia

Early Tamil Cultural Influences
in South East Asia

S.J.Gunasegaram, from Selected Writings published 1985
[see also One Hundred Tamils of 20th Century - S.J.Gunasegaram]
To read the Tamil script you will  require the Mylai Plain font which may be downloaded here

References made in the early Sangam Literature of the Tamils, foreign notices found in the writings of the Greeks and Romans, and Tamil loan words found in Hebrew and Greek along with other evidence brought to light by excavations in Ur of the Chaldees and Palestine, give us some idea of the early trade and cultural contacts of the Dravidians, (and in particular of the Tamils) with ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome and Arabia.

The extent of this trade and a critical estimate of these contacts require a separate lecture. As a result of the more recent excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Chittaldrug in Mysore and at Adichanallur further south, the probability that civilisation spread from India to Egypt and Babylon, and not, as it was believed earlier, from the Valley of the Nile or the Euphrates to India, has been strengthened.

K. M. Panikkar in his, 'A Survey of Indian History’ (1954) says:

‘One thing, however, is certain and can no longer be contested—civilisation did not come to India with the Aryans. This doctrine of the Aryan origin of Indian civilisation which finds no support in Indian Literature which does not consider the Dasyus (Dravidians) as uncivilised, is the result of the theories of Indo-Germanic scholars who held that everything valuable in the world originated from the Aryans. Not only is Indian civilisation pre-Vedic, but the essential features of Hindu religion as we know it today were perhaps present in Mohenjo-Daro."

"There is enough in the fragments vie have recovered," says Sir John Marshall, "about the religious articles found on the sites to demonstrate that this religion of the Indus people was the lineal progenitor of Hinduism. In fact, Siva and Kali, the worship of the Linga and other features of popular Hinduism, were well established in India long before the Aryans came".

This civilisation and culture were not destroyed by the Aryans, and the Indus Valley religious ideas which centred round the worship of Siva (the oldest monotheistic religion known to the world) who combines in himself the male as well as the female principle in creation, continue to be cherished in Dravidian India, and particularly in the Tamil countries , to this day. 

"The clearest evidence of the Dravidian origin of Siva worship'. says Panikkar, "is found in the Aryan attitude towards Linga and the God whom it symbolises. In Rig Veda (vii) Ch. 21-5 we have the significant statement:

"'Let those whose deity is the Phallus not penetrate our Sanctuary"

Siva assumes increased importance only in the later Vedas, and from the period of the Yajur Veda, Siva definitely assumes the aspect of Maheswara or the Great God.

Hall in his "Ancient History of the Near East" wrote long ago, "The Culture of India is pre-Aryan in origin. As in Greece, the conquered countries civilised the conquerors. The Aryan Indian owed his civilisation and his degeneration to the Dravidians as the Aryan Greek to the Mycaeneans."

Hall also believes that "the Sumerians derived their culture from India-... Investigators have been struck by the fact that similar seals found both in Baylonia and in India belong to the earliest phase of the Mesopotamian culture, not to the latest phase of the Indus civilisation which suggests the priority of Dravidian India."

Childe, another historian, confirms this when he states, "the Indus civilisation was ahead of the Babylonian at the beginning of the third millennium B.C. This it should be noted, is a later phase of the Indian."

Will Durant, a living American historian, speaking of the Dravidians in his book, "Our Oriental Heritage", says:

"They were already a civilised people when the Aryan broke down upon them; their adventurous merchants sailed the sea even to Sumeria and Babylon and their cities knew many refinements and luxuries. It was from them, apparently, that the Aryans took their village community and their system of land-tenure and taxation. To this day the Deccan is still essentially Dravidian in stock and customs, in language, literature and arts."

Who were these adventurous merchant seamen who sailed the seas? Their descendants are present today in this very hall to listen - not to their glorious ventures across the Arabian and Mediterranean seas - but to their building of Greater India and their spread of Indian Culture in the regions now known as South-East Asia.

The Dravidians who were identified with Dramilas (Tamils) were also known as Thirayar - the men who rode the waves - the race which in the very dawn of history carried its and culture across the waves to the West and to the East - the harbingers of civilisation.

They were able to declare through the lips of their incomparable poets,

"yaathum Ure yaavarum kELIr"

"yaTmf Uer yavRmf EkqIrf"

The one world idea, new to the modern world, was already old to the Tamils of the Sangam age - ocean rovers, dauntless Thirayars who sang -

"thiraik katalOtiyum thiraviyam thEtu"

"tiArkf kdElaFy<mf tirviymf EtD"

In an old Tamil poem of the Medieval period the writer mentions 17 countries where the Tamil language, and consequently  Tamils culture, were known. I quote the words of the verse:

"cigfkqwf Eca[kwf cavkwf cI[nfTQkfKdkgf
ekagfk]gf k[f[dgf ekalflnf etLgfkmf vgfkgf
kgfkmtgf kdargf kldgf kDgfKclnf
tgfKmf p<kzf tmizf Vzf ptiE[zf p<vi tamiAvEy

Among the seventeen countries referred to are: Ceylon, Java, Malaya, Cambodia and China. The word (Chonakam) should be taken to include Arabia and neighbouring countries.

Some South Indian Brahmins, in their histories of the Tamil language and of South India, have attributed such references to ignorance on the part of early Tamil writers. Since the appearance of such works,  much research has been done (thanks to the energy of European scholars). This research  has revealed unmistakable traces of the Tamil language and culture in these and other lands across the seas.

Similarly, Chinese historical sources which refer to the maritime traders bringing typical Indian products to China as far back as 7th Century B.C., 'were generally regarded with incredulity.' These accounts have now received striking confirmation by the discovery in the Philippines of a number of Iron age finds bearing close resemblance to objects found in South India of about the same period - the first millennium B.C.

(According to Paul Palliot there is evidence in Chinese literature of diplomatic relations between South Indian Courts and the Chinese Empire as early as the 2nd Century B.C. A Chinese writer, Pau Kou who lived at the end of the 1st century, mentions that in the time of the Hun Emperor the Chola Kings sent ambassadors to China. - K. M. Pannikar "India and China", pp. 17, 18. )

"Professor Beyer conducted a remarkable series of excavations during the years 1926 to 1930, and the evidence has been summed up by R.B.Dixon, who did a first-hand examination of the objects brought to light by Prof. Beyer. Among the finds were a large variety of iron weapons and implements and glass beads and bangles made in the Tamil country." (K.A.N.Sastri).

I shall quote what Dixon has to say of these:

"Now both the iron and glass objects are similar to, and in some cases identical with, the prehistoric glass and iron finds in the South of India. They occur in the dolmen tombs and urns which are found by hundreds and thousands, and which almost antedate the historic Chola, Chera, Pandyan kingdoms whose history goes back to the beginning of the Christian era or before. As finds of similar glass bead. and bangles have recently been excavated in the Malay Peninsula, in dolmen tombs in Java and in North Borneo, the inference is inescapable that we have clear evidence of trade contact with the Northern Philippines and Southern India, running well back into the first millennium B.C

"The extensive trade and colonisation and later conquests of South Indian kingdoms in Sumatra and Java as well as in Indo-China in the early centuries of the Christian era, of course, are well known. This new material, however, seems to make it clear that this was far from being the beginning of such contacts, but rather the last stages in an association reaching as far as the Northern Philippines which had begun many centuries before."

At Adichanallur, an ancient site on the banks of the Tambraparani in the Tinnevely district, extensive prehistoric urn burials and iron implements related to those found in the Philippines and Palestine have been unearthed. A remarkable find was the three-pronged fork or trident of iron. Many such tridents were discovered at Adichanallur. This evidence suggests that the worship of Murugan or Velan, the son of Siva (known as the God of Kataragama in Ceylon), was popular in the Tamil country even in those remote times. This Muruga worship would appear to have been carried by the Tamils to Palestine and Syria in the West, to Ceylon in the South, and to the distant Philippines across the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

In 1200 B.C at Adichanallur, the Tamils were found to have cultivated rice, and it was in this region that the iron industry had its origin. There is every evidence to prove that the Tamils were the earliest people to introduce the cultivation of rice and the use of iron implements to the countries in the West as well as in South East Asia.

In support of this contention I would quote two distinguished authorities -

Piggott in his "Prehistoric India., page 43 (Pelican Books, 1952), says with regard to rice -

"It seems probable that rice cultivation began earlier in India than it did in China and that the knowledge reached the latter country about 2000 B.C.".

He adds in page 259 -

"The Rig Veda knows nothing of rice "

In other words, the Aryan immigrants into India learnt the cultivation of rice from the Dravidians.

In the light of these facts, it is amusing to find that some of our local historians have been at pains to show that rice cultivation was introduced into Ceylon by the Aryans. This, of course, is the least of the glaring historical inaccuracies in some of our so-called histories of Ceylon.

With regard to the centre of origin of iron, I give an extract from the Bulletin of the British Iron and Steel Federation,1949. Sir William Larke, Director of the British Iron and Steel Federation, says -

"The centre of origin is variously placed in India, where there are historical traditions and remains indicating a highly developed iron culture. Hyderabad and Trichinopoly are considered by many to have been the centres of production of wootz..... This steel was noted for centuries, being carried by merchants from India to Damascus and Toledo.."

It will be noted that both these sites are in South India (Deccan). Sir William gives the date of this origin of the iron age as 1400 to 1500 B.C. The iron implements found in the Adichanallur site about the same period, and the transport of iron hoes and tridents to distant countries such as Palestine and the Philippines confirms this conclusion.

For the purpose of studying the influence of Indian Art and Culture in the countries of South-East Asia, Quaritch Wales in his recent work, "The Making of Great India", divides South-East Asian countries into two zones - the Western Zone and the Eastern Zone.

Under the Western Zone he includes Ceylon, Burma, Central Siam, Malaya and Sumatra; while he includes Java, Champa (Siam) and Cambodia in the Eastern Zone.

The author (Quaritch Wales} points out that Indian scholars - most of them North Indians and a few Aryanised Brahmins of South India - seem often to have tended to over emphasise the overseas influence of their own part of the country - the implication being that they have exaggerated the role played by North Indian and Aryan culture in South-East Asia. He, however, accepts unhesitatingly the conclusion arrived at by M. Coedes, another great authority on South-East Asian Culture that -

"All the regions of India contributed more or less to this expansion, and it is South India that had the greatest part, for the Southern half of the Greater India - consisting of Ceylon, Java. Sumatra. Borneo, Malaya and Bali - was naturally most exposed to South Indian influence."

More recently, M. Stern has shown that even in Champa (Siam) and Cambodia which are included in the Eastern Zones by Quaritch Wales, Pallava (Tamil) influences have played a significant part from very early times in the evolution of their culture.

The Indianisation of these countries in the Western as well as in the Eastern Zone would appear to have proceeded in successive waves of cultural expansion.

All five waves of Indian cultural expansion affected the countries in the Western as well as the Eastern Zones of South East Asia. In the Western Zone which includes Ceylon, Burma, Central Siam, Malaya and Sumatra, Quaritch Wales states that Indianisation was so intense that no indigenous art or culture ever developed, and that the bulk of the upper classes were mainly Indian colonists. There was no evolution of any art or culture for lack of local genius to act as a shaper of evolution. "The archaeological remains represent simply the reflection of one or other waves of Indian cultural expansion. They may be justly called, colonial or Indianesque."

In the light of these facts we in South Ceylon have very little reason or right to speak of an indigenous culture. From very early times the culture of Ceylon has been one imposed on its people by successive waves of Indian cultural contacts. In more recent centuries the people of South Ceylon came under Portuguese, Dutch and British cultural influences and they absorbed them with equal avidity, though apparently devoutees of ‘Buddhist Culture’. With the coming of Independence and a "Sinhalese only" Government we witness their struggle to get back to their 'ancient culture', the shape and nature of which they themselves do not appear to be certain of.

It will be remembered that the earlier cultural influences brought to bear on Ceylon were Pandyan and Chollyan, though no archaeological remains of any consequence are available. The truth of this contention, however, is admitted by the author of the Mahavamsa who says that Vijaya and his 500 followers got their wives from the Pandyan country, and that these 'brides were followed by craftsmen and a thousand families of eighteen guilds'. He adds that all this multitude of men disembarked at Mahathitha (i.e. Mantota near Mannar, a city sacred to the Hindus)

Could any reasonable person believe that the Tamil men and women described as a 'multitude' - the women of the court, the craftsmen and the members of the thousand families of eighteen guilds, spoke to one another and taught their children in an Aryan tongue, which the modern Sinhalese assumes Vijaya and his 500 followers spoke, or that they developed a culture and followed a religion alien to their ancestral heritage? Who could doubt that the culture of these people was Dravidian, their language Tamil, and their religion Hinduism pure and simple?

The Mahavamsa itself associates Vijaya with the Kalingas —a Dravidian people - whose ruling family seems to have had marriage alliances with the Pandyan Tamils. The Mahavamsa records further that when Vijaya died childless he was succeeded by Panduvasudeva, a Pandyan in name, whose mother was the daughter of the King of Madda (now Madras). (vide Mahavamsa Geiger's translation, Chapter VII). Tamil and Tamil culture are not likely to have been something strange either to Vijaya or to his successor Panduvasudeva.

We cannot escape the assumption that the early rulers of Ceylon were drawn either from the descendants of Panduvasudeva or imported from South India when no heir was available in Ceylon.

These rulers were in fact not Sinhalese but strictly speaking 'the kings of the Sinhalese'. In course of time the term 'Sinhalese' appears to have been used to designate the indigenous people of the country, and not the rulers or their kith and kin and their followers.

Emerson Tennent in his 'Ceylon', Vol 1, pp. 370,1' has noted this when he points out that -

"The Mahavamea and the Rajaratnacari, in order to vindicate the inferiority of the natives to their masters, speak of their labours as that of 'men and snakes', 'men and demons'.. Because they were so numerous in number, they were given seats of equal eminence with the king on festive occasions...The feeling was encouraged and matured into a conviction which prevailed to the latest period of Sinhalese Sovereignty, that no individual of pure Sinhalese extraction could be elevated to the supreme power, since no one could prostrate himself before one of his own nation."

If you care to read the brief history of Ceylon published in the latest Ceylon Observer Directory, you will notice that whenever a recognised Tamil Hindu dynasty took over Ceylon the occasion is referred to as 'Tamil Usurpation'. You will be puzzled to discover whom the Tamil usurped - the kings of the Sinhalese who seem to be accepted as Sinhalese even when they happen to be Dravidians, provided they had a Pali - Buddhist name and professed the Buddhist religion, or the large mass of people whom the rulers looked down upon as not fit to be considered their equals, or to supply a single individual of their species to occupy the throne of the Sinhalese.

This is but a brief reference to Tamil cultural influences in Ceylon. This subject, which concerns us vitally, requires a book by itself.


From very early times Hinduism and Buddhism appeared to have flourished side by side in Burma. From the archaeological excavations made at Prom, the chief city of old Burma, Harvey says that the finds were mainly Hindu rather than Buddhist. In later times, though Burma became predominantly Buddhist, Hindus lived with a Buddhist population and wore shipped in their own temples.

This early entry of Saivaism was probably an event in the great Tamil trade movement which started in the 2nd millennium B.C., and swept across the seas to the Southern Islands and Malaya as far north as the Philippines

The earliest colonists to exercise authority over Burma appear to have been again South Indians. The city of Prom was also known as Vanadesi, the name of the capital of the Kadambas in South India. The earliest inscription discovered at Prom Is in the South Indian Kadamba script of the 5th Century A.D.

In the 5th and 6th centuries, however, Burma became the centre of Southern Buddhism. A number of terracotta plaques carrying the effigy of Buddha were found inscribed in South Indian characters. The contact of South Indian merchants with Burma in the early centuries of the Christian era is attested to by Ptolemy, who had noticed that, large ships used to sail from the East coast of South India to Burma.

The rise of Hinayana Buddhism in the 5th C. A.D., was mainly due to inspiration received by Burma from the great movement which started at Kanchi (Kanchipuram) in the Tamil country. Kanchi it will be remembered is referred to in Manimekhalai, the great Tamil Buddhist epic. It was the home of that illustrious Tamil Buddhist Scholar Dharmapala (6th C. A.D.) who was the Head of the Nalanda University. He should not, however, be confused with the other Dharmapala, a Tamil himself and a Buddhist scholar, who came to Ceylon and wrote the famous commentaries.

In the excavations made in 1926-1927 a relic chamber of a stupa containing many finds of great interest were found. The chamber was found closed by a stone slab bearing a representation of a stupa having a cylindrical dome with a rounded top and five umbrellas above, indicating that these had a South Indian origin. Though most Burmese became Buddhists, the worship of Siva and Vishnu continued to be popular, the majority of the Hindus being South Indian settlers and colonisers from India.

Most of the old kings of Burma, it will be noted, have the Varman ending and the scripts used in almost all the inscriptions found in the country are South Indian in character. The Pallavas of South India - Tondayar or Tondamans - have contributed the greatest share towards the culture and greatness of ancient Burma. Of the magnificent Buddhist temple of Ananda, Quaritch Wales says - "Here we have a South Indian temple crowned with a North Indian Sikara".

Scott, an authority on Burmese Archaeology and History - in his account of the reign of Alaungsithu (1112-1187), observes:

"The connection with India was still maintained and the form of the many Pagan temples suggests architects from the Deccan... Many of the images and the attitudes are quite South Indian.

"The presence of' a considerable number of South Indian Tamils, through the centuries is attested by the well-known Grantha Tamil inscription of Pagan attesting the existence of a Vishnu temple built there by Nanadesi merchants and a gift to the temple made in the 13th C. by a merchant from one of the port towns on the Malabar Coast." (Epigraphia Indica)

Malay Peninsula

It has been found that in the Malay Peninsula early South Indian colonists had founded a number of independent states. There are no records except Chinese notices to form an exact idea of the nature and origin of these states. By the end of the 13th century the entire region came under the power of the Sailendras and later fell an easy prey to the Siamese.

Malacca was an early Indian Hindu colony as proved by the Makara fragment built into the retaining wall near an ancient Portuguese Church The Portuguese generally had no regard for antiquities or relics except for those of their own faith. The find, however, is an indication that the Pallavas of South India had exercised authority in Malaya in the early centuries of the Christian era.

Perak, another district, has been identified as an ancient Hindu colony. 'A seal with an inscription in a South Indian script of the 5th C., or earlier was found.'

Kedah was an unmistakable Hindu settlement. Dr. Quaritch Wales investigated no fewer than 30 sites round about Kedah. The results show that this site was in continuous occupation by South Indian - Hindus and Buddhists - mainly Tamils. On a low spar of the Kedah peak to the south have been discovered traces of a Siva Temple. A large Siva Temple also had been identified as such by a four-armed Ganesh figure and a bronze weapon of Muruga. This temple is assigned to the 11th century. M. Coedes believes that Kedah is the same as - Kadaram of Tamil (Chola)

Takua - Pa

Lajonquiere's investigations at Takua-pa, which is a town situated north of the Perak district, brought to light a number of old sculptures and monuments which go to prove that Takua-pa was a well-known harbour and an early trading centre resorted to by South Indian and particularly Tamil traders. This has been supported by a Tamil inscription discovered in 1902 by Mr. Bourke, a mining engineer of the Siamese Government. Further in the interior on a hill in a dilapidated condition were found the figure of Siva and Parvati and a danseuse. Describing the finds, Lajonquiere observes:

"The costumes in numerous folds treated with details, the profusion of jewels, the elegant movements of the body, recall very nearly the oldest sculptures of Dravidian India.

Near this sculpture is a slab which carries a Tamil inscription. It records the construction of a tank by one who describes himself as the Lord of Nangur. The tank is placed under the protection of the members of the Manigramam, under the residents of the Cantonment described as Senamukham and one other group of which the nature is obscured by a gap in the inscription.

No one, however, knows who maintained a Senamukham at Takua-pa, and for what purpose. Was the Lord of Nangur a Tamil military Chieftain or just a Merchant Prince? The term Manigramam implies the large and influential guild of Tamil merchants of whom we read in diverse connections. These historical associations would have been lost to us but for the scientific zeal of Western explorers (K. A. N. Sastri).

Pierre Dupont has pointed out that Pro No' Visnu of Takua-pa is a pure Pallava product of the 7th C. A.D., while the seventh century Siva temple remains excavated in Kedah by Quaritch Wales have been ascribed by him to South Indian colonists, most of whom were from the Tamil country.

Among the statues found belonging to different periods and styles was the admirable bust of Lokeswara (Siva) discovered by Prince Dumrong and now in the Bangkok Museum.

M. Coedes says of this statue:

"The benevolent serenity of the face, the noble bearing of the shoulder and the magnificence of dress and adornment class this statue, badly mutilated, among the masterpieces of Indian sculpture."

At Ligor on the eastern coast of the peninsula was found a Tamil inscription dated in a Saka year in words. The word for the hundred figure is lost. The record mentions some charity in favour of Brahmins instituted according to the orders of a Dharmasenapathi..

Malaya and Islam

The Malay Peninsula continues to be in debt to South India and Ceylon to this day to thousands of Tamil and Tamil speaking Muslim merchants, Tamil educationists, doctors, engineers and labourers. The Malayasians themselves would appear to have appreciated the value of this contact by recognising Tamil as a language to be taught at the Malayasian Universitv. The results on the cultural side of these contacts have struck all observers.

"There are many similarities," says Annandale, "between the Muhamadanism of the Labbies of the Indian shore of the Gulf of Mannar and that of the Malays. I think it would not be impossible to find striking parallels between objects in daily use, and especially in the pattern, with which these objects are adorned among the two races."

It has been established that an old type of South Indian water vessel known in Tamil as kendi, the kendi with a spout, is in use by the Malays and called by the Tamil name. Again, the importance of Rama and Hanuman in the folklore of the Malays, Buddhists and Muhamadans alike agree with legends which link these with the region round Adam's Bridge region, whence came the bulk of the Tamils resident in Malaya."

Annandale goes on to add, "I would even hazard the suggestion that it is largely owing to the commercial activities of the Labbies and their ancestors that the Malays of the mainland were- first converted from Shamanism to Hinduism and then from Hinduism to what they call, in phraseology of curiously mingled derivation, the Agama Islam".

Several common Malay words like those for washerman, kind or sort, marriage pledge, leaf, couple, and so on, have been traced indubitably to Tamil origins and these are some of the results of an unbroken contact throughout the centuries that follow the early period of colonisation. (K.A.N. Sastri South Indian Influences in the Far East. )


By about A.D 400, Indian culture and Hindulsm had obtained firm footing in Java. Though the extant inscriptions in West Java are of a later date than those of Borneo: "There can be no doubt" says Nilakanta Sastri, "that Hindu culture must have reached Java, if anything a little earlier, from South India, than it reached Borneo."

The Inscriptions of West Java are engraved in the distinctly South Indian type of characters, and these are actually half a century later than the inscriptions of Mulavarman found in Borneo.

West Javan inscriptions refer to the 'Illustrious Purnavarman' who once ruled at Taruma in Java. The inscriptions are all in South Indian characters identical with the Grantha alphabet used by the Pallavas of South India (300 to 800 A.D.)

Another inscription found at Changal (732 A-D.) describes the consecration of a Linga by King Sangaya of Central Java, whose ancestors came from Kunjara-kunjadesa in South India. Another at Dinaya of the year A.D. 760 describes the erection of an image of Agastya. In all these the era used is Saka era, an essentially South Indian reckoning. The Northern Vikrama era is unknown.

On the Dieng Plateaux, 6,500 feet above sea level, there are five groups of temples of an earlier period, all dedicated to Siva. The style of architecture is Dravidian and South Indian. Kroom points out that the Dieng Art shows 'most agreement with, or properly least difference from, South Indian Art, specifically from the square plan, symmetry, roof stages and stresses on horizontal lines'.

Though Siva worship had been introduced by Tamil merchants and colonists in pre-Christian centuries, the later Pallava-Tamil influences are strongly indicated by the presence of' Kala Makara over doorways, 'for the Kala-Makara combined motif was a Pallava innovation in Indian Art.'

The Sailendras, who ruled over Java and Sumatra and whose origins have not been finally decided upon by scholars, were Mahayanist Buddhists, and in all probability a dynasty that had its origin in South India Throughout their imperial authority they had been in contact with South India and South Indian Buddhists till they were overpowered later by the Chola Empire.

Here is what K, M. Panikkar says in his 'India and China' p. 20: "Its relations with India were of the most Intimate kind. We know, for example, that Sri Vijaya Kings endowed institutions in Nalanda and had monasteries erected at their expense in Nagapatam... The Saliendra monarchs of Sri Vijaya enjoyed great prestige in India. and their envoys frequently visited Indian Courts "

It is interesting to note that while in Java there has been a fusion between Saivaism and Mahayanist Buddhism, Bali has always remained Hindu. That South Indian culture is bound up with the Art of Java is clearly evidenced in the dance forms and worship of the Balinese. The Saiva form of Hinduism ante-dated Buddhism in Java while Bali still remains Hindu; and Saivaism was in all probability introduced by Tamil merchants and colonists in pre Christian times. The majestic Sivan Temple in Perambanam in Java is thought by many competent judges to contain the finest sculptured panels to be found in Java. Kroom considers the Perambanam to represent 'the apotheosis of Saivaism as Borobodor does of Buddhism.'

"In the organisation of rural economy and village communities the institution and ideas appear unmistakably to have been brought from South India. Institutions of Village Government are either unknown or quite different in their nature in non-Hindu parts. The proceedings in village meetings in Java even today strongly remind one of the conditions of village administration in South India in ancient days as it is vividly portrayed in the numberless inscriptions of the Chola monarchs." (K.A.N. Sastri).

Java has had continuous contacts with South India in later times. The Chola Empire in the 10th and the 11th century had chose association with Java, and Japanese culture was further influenced by Tamil culture after the Cholas defeated the Sailendras of Java. Bhikkus from Kanchipuram praise the Javanese ruler Hayam Wuruk in the 14th C.; Jayanagara adopted the characteristic Pandyan title Sundarapandya at the coronation in the 14th century and adopted the Pandyan emblem of the two fishes for his seal.


The rulers of Sumatra according to Chinese historical records, were in communication with China during the period 450-562 A.D. The names of these rulers, judged from the Chinese transcriptions, are typical Hindu names, and the manners and customs similar to the South Indian customs of Champa and Kumbuja [Siam and Cambodia).

In Sumatra are found certain names of tribal sub divisions which are unmistakably South Indian, and specifically Tamilian names such as Choliya, Pandiya, Maehliyala and also Pallava as well as Tekam (or Tekkanam or Deccan).

"The social organisation of some of these tribes seems to date from a very remote past and it is quite probable that these names were taken over when they were still powerful realities in South India," says Nilakanta Sastri.

No temples in Sumatra belonging to this ancient period have survived as they had probably been built of wood following the South Indian practice in pre-Christlan times. This contact with Sumatra was kept up by South India for well over a thousand years.

In the 11th century A-D. the Cholas invaded Sumatra which was at that time under the Sailendras. Tamil inscriptions of this period have been found at Luba Tua, dating from the year 1088. Tamil tribal names are still found among the Batak of Sumatra.

Thus Sumatra had not only been colonised by the Tamils but it also became an integral part of the Greater Indian cultural area


In Celebes, a large island further east of Borneo and Java and south of the Philippines traces of South Indian influences have been found. The Buddha images there show affinities with the earliest form of the Amaravati Art (Second century A.D.). Archaeologists have not been able to decide how far this culture has penetrated into the interior of the Island. Recently, however, an ancient bell and a pair of cymbals have been discovered. The bell and cymbals are very similar to those still in daily use in South India in domestic worship and otherwise. The probability is that South Indian cultural influence had preceded the arrival of South Indian Buddhism.

The Pallava-Tamil period was the age of South Indian colonisation par excellence, and unmistakable marks of evidence of Pallava rule are found scattered all over South East Asian countries including Celebes. "But, says Sastri, "palaeography and art styles are the two unmistakable marks of the antiquity of objects belonging to really early times and attesting direct contact of these lands, and the tests, as we have seen, point to a time much earlier than that of the rise of the Pallavas."


The earliest archaeological evidence in Borneo is a Sanskrit inscription fully and decidedly South Indian, referring to the conquest of Mulavarman, a Pallava king. There is also evidence of the Agastya cult in Borneo already noticed in Java, a cult which is essentially South Indian. The Ganesha image found in Sarawak, North Borneo, a Linga and Yoni found in West Borneo and a Pallava inscription in the East coast of Borneo, prove unmistakably the early colonisation of Borneo by the South Indians, and particularly by the Tamils.


In the early stages of this lecture, I have already referred to the Iron age finds in the Philippines bearing close resemblance to objects found in South India about the same period, more than a thousand years before Christ, and also to other evidences of trade contact with Malaya, Indo-China North Borneo and Philippines in those remote times. The Spanish who dominated the Philippines in recent centuries are not likely to have preserved religious and cultural antiquities of other faiths. In 1820, however, a copper image of Siva was discovered in one of those islands which points to a remote period in which the worship of Siva had been introduced by South Indian merchants.

That these facts are by no means unsupported by other evidence may be shown by the remarks made by Mr. Phiroz Kutar, Technical Director, which were reported in the Madras 'Hindu' (October 1954):

"Researches into the cultural and racial origins of the people of Ceylon and of countries lying eastward have shown that they were once colonised from South India and in particular the Filipino script has striking similarities with that of Tamilark. These researches have also shown that Filipino dialects belonged to the Dravidian family."


I have so far not been able to touch on Tamil cultural influences in Central Siam, Champa and Cambodia .I am afraid that the lecture is already long and that this aspect of the subject would require a separate lecture. I would crave your indulgence to refer to a state ceremony in Cambodia, where Saiva Tamil hymns are sung even today, to indicate the extent of Tamil cultural influence in these regions.

Cambodia had come under Saiva Tamil influence, not to speak of Southern Buddhism from very early days.

Though Buddhism continues to be its State religion, the old Saiva ceremonies conducted by the Tamil Brahmin priests are still found incorporated in its Coronation ceremonies. The Saiva Brahmins of Cambodia would appear to have come originally from Rameswaram. In South India many of these, with the ascendancy of Buddhism and the adoption of the Siamese themselves as Brahmins, seem to have taken along with them, elsewhere, valuable documents which would otherwise have revealed more fully the nature of South Indian Tamil influence in the religious ceremonies and court life of the Siamese in Cambodia.

Quaritch Wales, in describing the swinging festival on the occasion of the crowning of Cambodian Kings, says: -

"The King seated himself on a throne beneath an umbrella of seven tiers which, after the King was crowned, was replaced by one of nine tiers emblematic of full sovereignty. The high priest of Siva then came to him, and after rendering homage, pronounced the Tamil mantra, the name of which means 'Opening of the Portals of Kailasa’"

Wales adds that the Siamese priests now know neither Sanskrit nor Tamil, but that in an earlier period there were Brahmins who did understand these Indian languages.

The texts which the Siamese priests still possess are Sanskrit and Tamil hymns with instructions in Siamese for the preliminary rites intended to be used in daily worship.

The Rev. Fr. Thani Nayagam, a member of the Tamil Cultural Society and the Editor of 'Tamil Culture,' visited the Brahmin Temple in Bangkok last year and heard the Brahmin priests recite the Tamil verses used in the 'Tirvambavay— Tirupavay' a swinging festival at the coronation of their Kings. He has shown that the verses are actually the first two songs of Manickavasagar's Thiruvempavai.

For a further account of this ceremony and a discussion on further research that should be undertaken by Tamil scholars in South-East Asian countries, I would refer you to the excellent article by Fr. Thani Nayagam appearing in the 1955, July Number of the 'Tamil Culture' Magazine.

(The Cambodian kings bore the title of Varman which reminds one of the Pallava kings of South India. The magnificent temples of Angkor-Vat of Bayon are similar to those of Southern India. Taking all these facts together, as well. as the introduction of Natara ja Siva from South India he thinks that the colonists perhaps came from Southern India - P. Nath Bose)

Before I close, I would bring to your notice certain facts which will enable you to understand more fully the study of the Indian influences in these colonies.

1. In most of the South-East Asian colonies the strong Dravidian cultural influence is stressed by the fact that the Saka Era, a distinctly South Indian Calendar, as opposed to the Vikrama Era of the Northerner, has been in vogue.

2. The New Year celebrated in many of these countries including Champa (Cambodia) and Ceylon is the Tamil New Year 13th-14th April. This is an ancient Tamil astronomical fixture going back to the Mohenjo-daro period and continued through the Sangam Age. In Ceylon under the British it was termed Hindu, and has now come to be called 'Hindu' or 'Sinhalese'.

3. The Brahmins most of them Saivites mentioned in connection with the Indian colonies were Tamils or South Indian 'adopted' Brahmins This is a process referred to in one of the Upanishads where it is stated that of the white, brown and dark Brahmins the last were the cleverest because they knew all three Vedas, while the others knew only one and two respectively (Brthadaranayaka Upanishad).

4. In the purely religious inscriptions in these colonies Sanskrit was used by Vaishnavites and Mahayana Buddhists and Pali by the Hinayana Buddhists, though they came from the South, because these languages alone were considered fit vehicles for their respective religious pronouncements Again, the Pallava Kings (Tondayars), though they were patrons of Sanskrit, became champions of Tamil after their conversion to Saivaism.

5. Rigid caste divisions were unknown among the early Tamils. The caste system, as we know it today, was brought into the South of India by Brahminism. In the maritime activity of the early Dravidians, the men who lived along the sea-coast, apparently, played the largest part. With the introduction of the Brahminical prejudice against fish and sea-faring activities (intentional or otherwise), may be said to have commenced the gradual weakening of the maritime enterprise and cultural expansion of the Dravidian peoples and of the Tamils in particular.


Childe, G. 'The Most Ancient East', 1928.

Coedes, M. - 'Indian Art and Letters'.

Hall, J.A.W. - Eminent Asians, 1929.

Marshall, Sir John - Mohenjo-Daro and the Indian Civilisation 1931.

Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. - History of South India, 1955; South Indian Influences in the Far East, 1949.

Panikkar, K.M. - 'A Survey of Indian History', 1954; 'India and China', 1957.

Piggott, Stuart - 'Prehistoric India' (Pelican Book), 1952.

Quaritch Wales, H.G. - 'The Making of Greater India', 1957; 'Siamese State Ceremonies', 1931.

Reginald Le May - 'The Culture of South East Asia', 1954.

Scott, J.G. - 'Burma from the Earliest Times to the Present Day', 1924

Will Durant - 'Our Oriental Heritage', 1942

Sir William Larke - 'Bulletin of the British Iron and Steel Federation', 1949

Dixon - 'Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, V. 639, 1930.

Rev. Fr. Thani Nayagam - 'Tamil Culture', Vol V, No. 3, July, 1 1955

Epigraphia Indicia.

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