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Indonesia History - 670-1375 - Srivijaya-Palembang

Srivijaya was manifestly not an Empire, but rather was a coalition of city-states which owed fealty to the largest economic unit in the coalition, typically the cities of Palembang or Jambi (Srivijaya was just the name of the dominant polity). Srivijaya began in Palembang, then shifted over to Jambi. At its height it controlled most of the Malayan Peninsula, the Sunda Strait, the Straits of Malacca. For a time it had a very tenuous hold in Eastern Java through the Saliendra, a Javanese dynasty which may have been setup by Srivijaya to rule an area it had taken over, and which would later rule Srivijaya itself. It never had influence over the Moluccas, or any further east than Java (and even then for a period of less than a century), and may have briefly held something near former Funan.

The Mahayana Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty ruled the Sri Vijaya / Srivijaya kingdom of early medieval Sumatra. The Sailendras controlled central Java during the 8th & 9th Centuries. The Royal family was Funanese who had been deposed by Chenla. They returned to conquer & rule southern Chenla until defeated by Jayavarman II of Angkor in 802. Interestingly, the Malacca kingdom that conquered Majapahit claimed its origins among the vanquished of Srivijaya.

Srivijaya included a network of small ports all along the east coast of Sumatra from Pasai to Jambi. These were often controlled independently of each other and Palembalang (the Srivijaya capital till the 11th century). Each port was controlled by a local military functionary of the Srivijaya kingdom, who may or may not have also been a landowner or merchant. Srivijaya, and its inland capital Palembalang, were ruined following an attack in the late 11th century by the Cholas of Southern India. Later, the Hindu kingdoms of central Java (Kediri and Majapahit) conquered the remnants of Srivijaya.

The first institutionalized spread of Malay occurred during the Srivijaya Empire (seventh through fourteenth centuries AD) which used Malay as its official language. From its capitol at contemporary Palembang in southern Sumatra and a secondary base at Kedah on the Malay Peninsula, Srivijaya eventually conquered all of Sumatra, West and Central Java, and the Malay Peninsula, and established colonies along all seacoasts and major rivers within its domain. It maintained diplomatic relations with both India and China and effectively controlled both the Straits of Malacca and the Straits of Sunda for over five centuries.

Archaeological data gathered since the 1990s in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces of Indonesia reveal the broad extension of the Srivijaya polity during the years that preceded or immediately followed its foundation at Palembang in the 670s and 680s. The spatial distribution of Buddhist sanctuaries and sculptures mark the outreach of the growing political center. The shared styles of these statues also reveal the connections between the newly established Sumatran power and other contemporary polities in Southeast Asia.

Although historical records and archaeological evidence are scarce, it appears that by the seventh century AD, the Indianized kingdom of Srivijaya, centered in the Palembang area of eastern Sumatra, established suzerainty over large areas of Sumatra, western Java, and much of the Malay Peninsula. Dominating the Malacca and Sunda straits, Srivijaya controlled the trade of the region and remained a formidable sea power until the thirteenth century.

Serving as an entrepôt for Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian markets, the port of Palembang, accessible from the coast by way of a river, accumulated great wealth. A stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism, Srivijaya attracted pilgrims and scholars from other parts of Asia. These included the Chinese monk Yijing, who made several lengthy visits to Sumatra on his way to India in 671 and 695, and the eleventh-century Buddhist scholar Atisha, who played a major role in the development of Tibetan Buddhism.

From the 7th century to the 13th century Srivijaya / Sriwijaya prospered and it became a maritime empire controlling western Java and part of the Malay Peninsula. It was also a center of Buddhist learning. However in the 13th century the Sriwijaya Empire broke up into separate states.

King Syailendra from Sriwijaya Kingdom (in Palembang) came to expand his territory. He succeeded in conquering the southern part of Central Java and drove Hindu Mataram Kingdom to the northern part of Central Java. The sovereignty of King Syailendra, a Buddhist, was succeeded by his offspring, Syailendra Dynasty. Therefore, within a century from AD 750-850, Central Java was controlled by two rulers, Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty and Buddhist Syailendra Dynasty. During this era temples in Central Java were built extensively. As a result of different faiths adopted by the dynasties, temples in the northern part of Central Java were Hindu, while those in the southern part of Central Java were Buddhist. Both dynasties were bound by marriage when Rakai Pikatan (AD 838-851) wedded Pramodawardhani, the son of the great King Samarattungga of Syailendra Dynasty.

The ancient kingdoms of Singapore and Palembang are no myth; the latter, at least, must have played a great part in history. the accounts of Chinese trade with Sumatra that the kingdom of Palembang was a powerful State, certainly as far back as the year 900 AD, perhaps even as far back as the year 450 AD. There are even the names (often mutilated beyond recognition by Chinese transcribers) of a large number of the old kings of Palembang. These ancient rulers bore high-sounding Sanskrit titles, almost invariably beginning with the royal honorific seri that is still used by great Malay dignitaries.

But while the Malay annalist allows a single generation to cover the whole period from the founding of the State of Palembang by Sang Sapurba down to the establishment of the city of Singapore, the period in question must have covered many centuries, and that even a millennium may have elapsed between the days of the founder of Palembang and those of the colonizer of Tamasak or Singapore. Although Sang Sapurba may be nothing more than a name the ancient legend is historical in so far that there must have been a time when an Indian or Javanese dynasty with a very high conception of kingly power supplanted the un-ambitious Palembang headmen who bore homely titles like Demang Lebar Daun and claimed no social superiority over their fellow-villagers.

The story given in the "Malay Annals" is only an idealized version of what must have really occurred. The most mysterious feature in the legend is the reference to Mount Siguntang. Although this famous hill (which is believed by all Malays to be the cradle of their people) is located with curious definiteness on the slopes of the great volcano, Mount Dempo, in the hinterland of Palembang, there is no local tradition to guide us to the exact spot or to suggest to us why that locality, above all others, should be singled out for special honor. The culture of the Malay States that accepted the Hinduised Palembang tradition differs completely from that of the primitive Sumatran communities who have not been affected by foreign influence. Such differences could not have been brought about in any brief period of time. The history of the State of Palembang must go back extremely far into the past; and if only we could unearth some real records they might explain why the proud rulers of the country thought it an honor to claim descent from some still more ancient dynasty associated with the name of a hill-district from which all traces of imperial power have long since passed away.

Srivijaya controlled the Malay Archipelago from 7th thru 13th Century. It controlled the Straits of Malacca and Sunda plus Isthmus of Kra with a powerful fleet. The capital at Palembang was a center of Buddhist learning. Srivijaya benefited from collapse of Funan and surge in Chinese trade during the Tang dynasty, thought it was conquered briefly by Rajendra Chola in 1025. In the reign of the Chinese Emperor Hsiau Wu (A.D. 454-464), a kingdom of "Kandali" sent articles of gold and silver to China. In AD 502 a king of this same Kandali sent an envoy to China with other valuable gifts. In AD 519 and again in AD 520 similar missions were sent. After this date "Kandali" disappears from history.

Although Chinese records positively identify this country with San-bo-tsai or Palembang, all that contemporary Chinese notices tell us about Kandali is that it was a Buddhist kingdom on an island in the Southern Sea, that its customs were those of Cambodia and Siam, that it produced flowered cloth, cotton and excellent areca-nuts, and that its kings sent letters to the Chinese Emperor congratulating him on his fervent faith in Buddha. Still, as one of these kings is reported to have compared the Chinese Emperor to a mountain covered with snow, we may take it that the accuracy of even this meager account of Kandali is not above suspicion. We can perhaps see traces of Javanese influence in the reference to "flowered cloth," as the expression suggests the painted floral designs of Java rather than the woven plaid-patterns of the Malays.

In AD 905 Palembang reappears in Chinese records under the name of San-bo-tsai. In that year the ruler of San-bo-tsai "sent tribute" to China, and received from the Emperor the proud title of "the General who pacifies distant Countries." In AD 960 "tribute" was again sent—twice. In A.D. 962 the same thing occurred. From AD 962 onwards there is a continuous record of similar tribute-bearing missions until the year 1178 when the Chinese Emperor found that this "tribute" was too expensive a luxury to be kept up, so he "issued an edict that they should not come to court any more but make an establishment in the Fukien province."

After this date the Palembang merchants ceased to be tribute-bearers and became ordinary traders — a change which caused them to disappear temporarily from official records. "Tribute" was, of course, merely a gift made to the Emperor in order to secure his permission to trade; it flattered his pride and was invariably returned to the giver in the form of titles and presents of very high value. So much was this the case that Chinese statesmen, when economically inclined, were in the habit of protesting against the extravagance of accepting tribute.

None the less the Emperor encouraged these men of Palembang, for in AD 1156 he declared that "when distant people feel themselves attracted by our civilizing influence their discernment must be praised." One Malay envoy received the title of "the General who is attracted by Virtue," a second was called "the General who cherishes Civilizing Influence," a third was named "the General who supports Obedience and cherishes Renovation." The manners of the men of San-bo-tsai must have been as ingratiating as those of their successors, the Malays of the present day.

Beginning with the last Sung dynasty (960-1279), intercourse between China and Sri-Vishaya was fairly frequent and continuous down to the time of its capture and destruction by the great Javanese empire of Madjapahit, in 1377. Because of its importance as the source of the first Philippine civilization, the early Chinese descriptions of this state are of unusual interest. The capital city was fortified and surrounded by a wall built of bricks, which was more than ten miles in length. Most of the common people lived in scattered villages outside of the city, though many also lived on rafts built in the water. Several writers mention these rafts and the expert use made of them by the people. This is especially interesting in view of the fact that the Visayan pirates who made numerous raids on the Chinese coast during the twelfth century are said to have used sailing-rafts and not boats. The Sri-Vishayans had books, written in characters similar to those of India; they were also able mathematicians, and traders reported that they could calculate future eclipses of the sun and moon. They practiced suttee, or the burning of wives and slaves with the bodies of dead kings and great chiefs. Menangkabau appears to have been regarded as an integral part of Sri-Vishaya.

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Page last modified: 20-05-2012 19:06:58 ZULU