Greater India

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Indian Cultural Sphere
Greater India
File:Indian cultural zone.svg
Indian cultural extent
Dark orange: The Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan).
Light orange: Southeast Asia culturally linked to India, notably Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Champa (Southern Vietnam), Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.
Yellow: Regions with significant Indian cultural influence, notably, Afghanistan, China's Yunnan and Tibet provinces and the Philippines.
Southeast Asia
Indianized kingdoms



Butuan, Champa, Dvaravati, Funan, Gangga Negara, Chenla, Kalingga, Kutai, Langkasuka, Pagan, Pan Pan, Tarumanagara, Tondo

devaraja, Harihara

Angkor, Borobodur

Sanskrit, Pali
South Asia
Buddhism Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka
Hinduism Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
East Asia
Buddhism China (Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism), Japan, Korea, Mongolia
Central Asia
Buddhist monasticism Central Asia (Afghanistan · Uzbekistan)
Indosphere  · Hindu texts  · Buddhist texts  · Folklore of India  · Ramayana (Versions of Ramayana)

The term Greater India is most commonly used to encompass the historical and geographic extent of all political entities of the Indian subcontinent and beyond, that had to varying degrees been transformed by the acceptance and induction of cultural and institutional elements of pre-Islamic India. Since around 500 B.C. Asia's expanding land and maritime trade had resulted in prolonged socio-economic and cultural stimulation and diffusion of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs into regional cosmology, in particular in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.[1] In Central Asia transmission of ideas were predominantly of religious nature.[2]

By the early centuries of the common era most of the principalities of maritime and continental Southeast Asia had effectively absorbed defining aspects of Hindu culture, religion and administration. The notion of divine god-kingship was introduced by submission to the concept of Harihara, Sanskrit and other Indian epigraphic systems declared official like those of the south Indian Pallava dynasty and Chalukya dynasty.[3][4] These Indianized Kingdoms, a term coined by George Cœdès were characterized by surprising resilience, political integrity and administrative stability.[5]

To the north, Indian religious ideas dissipated into the cosmology of Himalayan peoples, most profoundly in Tibet and Bhutan. Buddhist monasticism extended into Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia and Buddhist texts and ideas successfully reached China and Japan in the east.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag Unlike Southeast Asia cultural and technological stimulation in East Asia always went in both directions.[6] To the west, Indian culture converges with Greater Persia via the Hindukush and the Pamir Mountains.[7]

Other uses[edit]

File:Prambanan Complex 1.jpg
The 9th-century Shivaistic temple of Prambanan in Central Java near Yogyakarta, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia

European designations[edit]

Lua error in Module:Hatnote_list at line 44: attempt to call field 'formatPages' (a nil value). The concept of the Three Indias was in common circulation In pre-industrial Europe. Greater India was the southern part of South Asia, Lesser India was the northern part of South Asia, and Middle India was the region near the Middle East.[8] The Portuguese form (Portuguese: Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Lang/ISO 639 synonyms' not found.[8][9][10][11]) was used at least since the mid-15th century.[9] The term, which seems to have been used with variable precision,[12] sometimes meant only the Indian subcontinent;[13] Europeans used a variety of terms related to South Asia to designate the South Asian peninsula, including High India, Greater India, Exterior India and India aquosa.[14]

However, in some accounts of European nautical voyages, Greater India (or India Major) extended from the Malabar Coast (present-day Kerala) to India extra Gangem[15] (lit. "India, beyond the Ganges," but usually the East Indies, i.e. present-day Malay Archipelago) and India Minor, from Malabar to Sind.[16] Farther India was sometimes used to cover all of modern Southeast Asia and sometimes only the mainland portion.[14] Until the fourtheenth century, India could also mean areas along the Red Sea, including Somalia, South Arabia, and Ethiopia (e.g., Diodorus of Sicily of the first century BCE says that "the Nile rises in India" and Marco Polo of the fourteenth century says that "Lesser India ... contains ... Abash [Abyssinia]")[17]

In late 19th-century geography Greater India referred to British India, Hindustan (Northwestern Subcontinent) which included the Punjab, the Himalayas, and extended eastwards to Indochina (including Burma), parts of Indonesia (namely, the Sunda Islands, Borneo and Celebes), and the Philippines."[18] German atlases distinguished Vorder-Indien (Anterior India) as the South Asian peninsula and Hinter-Indien as Southeast Asia.[14]


Greater India, or Greater India Basin signifies "the Indian Plate plus a postulated northern extension", the product of the Indian–Asia collision.[19] Although its usage in geology pre-dates Plate tectonic theory,[20] the term has seen increased usage since the 1970s.

The hypothesis is legitimate as long as the controversy of the location and time of the India-Asia convergence exists. How and where the India–Asia (Indian and Eurasian Plate) convergence was accommodated, after the collision, at or before 52 Million years ago? Since the plates have converged up to 3,600 km (2,200 mi) ± 35 km (22 mi), yet the upper crustal shortening documented from the geological record of Asia and the Himalaya is up to approximately 2,350 km (1,460 mi) less.[21]

Nationalist movement[edit]

The use of Greater India refers here to a popularization by a network of Bengali scholars in the 1920s who were all members of the Calcutta-based Greater India Society. The movement's early leaders included the historian R. C. Majumdar (1888–1980); the philologists Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1890–1977) and P. C. Bagchi (1898–1956) and the historians Phanindranath Bose and Kalidas Nag (1891–1966).[22]

The term Greater India and the notion of an explicit Hindu expansion of ancient Southeast Asia have been linked to both Indian nationalism[23] and Hindu nationalism.[24]

Indianised kingdoms[edit]

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Ruins of Ayutthaya in Thailand which was named after Ayodhya

The concept of the Indianized kingdoms, a term coined by George Coedès, describes maritime and continental Southeast Asian principalities that since the early common era as a result of centuries of socio-economic interaction had incorporated central aspects of Indian institutions, religion, statecraft, administration, culture, epigraphy, writing and architecture.[25]

Iron age trade expansion caused regional geostrategic remodeling. Southeast Asia was now situated in the central area of convergence of the Indian and the East Asian maritime trade routes, the basis for economic and cultural growth. The earliest Hindu kingdoms emerged in Sumatra and Java, followed by mainland polities such as Funan and Champa. Selective adoption of Indian civilization elements and individual suitable adaption stimulated the emergence of centralized states and development of highly organized societies. Ambitious local leaders realized the benefits of Hindu worship. Rule in accord with universal moral principles represented in the concept of the devaraja was more appealing than the Chinese concept of intermediaries.[26][27]

The exact nature, process and extent of Indian influence upon the civilizations of the region is still fiercely debated by contemporary scholars. Debated are most claims over whether it was Indian merchants, brahmins, nobles or Southeast Asian mariner-merchants who played a central role in bringing Indian conceptions to Southeast Asia. Debated is the depth of the influence of traditions for the people. Whereas early 20th-century scholars emphasized the thorough Indianization of Southeast Asia, more recent authors argued that this influence was very limited and affected only a small section of the elite.[28]

Hinduism, authority and legitimacy[edit]

The pre-Indic political and social systems in Southeast Asia were marked by a relative indifference towards lineage descent. Hindu god kingship enabled rulers to supersede loyalties, forge cosmopolitan polities and the worship of Shiva and Vishnu was combined with ancestor worship, so that Khmer, Javanese, and Cham rulers claimed semi-divine status as descendants of a god. Hindu traditions especially the relationship to the sacrality of the land and social structures indicates that Hinduism was characterized by transnational features. The epic traditions of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa further legitimized a ruler identified with a god who battled the demonic forces that threaten the ethical order of the world.[28]

Hinduism does not have a single historical founder, a centralized imperial authority in India proper and a bureaucratic structure ensuring relative religious independence for the individual ruler. It also allows for multiple forms of divinity, centered upon the Trimurti the triad of Brahma, Visnu, and Siva, the deities responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.[29]

Butuan, Champa, Dvaravati, Funan, Gangga Negara, Kadaram, Kalingga, Kutai, Langkasuka, Pagan, Pan Pan, Po-ni, Tarumanagara and Tondo had by the 1st to 4th centuries CE. adopted Hindu cosmology, the devaraja concept of kingship, and Sanskrit as official writing. Despite the fundamental cultural integration, these kingdoms remained independent from the Indian mainland states.[30]

Adaption and adoption[edit]

It is unknown how immigration, interaction and settlement took place, whether by key figures from India or through Southeast Asians visiting India who took elements of Indian culture back home. It is likely that Hindu and Buddhist traders, priests, and princes traveled to Southeast Asia from India in the first few centuries of the Common Era and eventually settled there. Strong impulse most certainly came from the region’s ruling classes who invited Brahmans to serve at their courts as priests, astrologers and advisers.[31] Divinity and royalty were closely connected in these polities as Hindu rituals served to validate the powers of the monarch. Brahmans and priests from India proper played a key role in elevating ruling dynasties through exact rituals. Dynastic consolidation was the basis for more centralized kingdoms that emerged in Java, Sumatra, Cambodia, Burma, and along the central and south coasts of Vietnam during the 8th century.[32]

Art, architecture, rituals, and cultural elements such as the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata had been adopted and customized increasingly developed a regional character. The caste system, although adopted was never applied universally and reduced to serve for a selected group of nobles only.[33]

States such as Srivijaya, Majapahit and the Khmer empire with territorial continuity, resilient population and surplus economies soon rivaled those in India itself. Borobudur in Java and Angkor in Cambodia are, apart from their grandeur examples for a distinctly developed regional culture, style and expression.[34]

Southeast Asia is called Suvarnabhumi or Sovannah Phoum - the golden land and Suvarnadvipa - the golden Islands in Sanskrit.[35] It was frequented by traders from eastern India, particularly Kalinga. Cultural and trading relations between the powerful Chola dynasty of South India and the Southeast Asian Hindu kingdoms led the Bay of Bengal to be called "The Chola Lake", and the Chola attacks on Srivijaya in the 10th century CE are the sole example of military attacks by Indian rulers against Southeast Asia. The Pala dynasty of Bengal, which controlled the heartland of Buddhist India, maintained close economic, cultural and religious ties, particularly with Srivijaya.[36]

Indian roots of pre-Islamic West and Central Asia[edit]

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Map of Ancient India with locations of cities and places during the time of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Buddha.

West and Central Asia had been culturally close to mainland India from ancient times. Western parts of India were dominated by tribes who had a slightly different culture that was considered as non-Vedic by the mainstream Vedic culture. Similarly there were some tribes in the eastern regions of India, considered to be in this category. Tribes with non-Vedic culture specially those of barbaric nature were collectively termed as Mlechha. Very little was mentioned in the ancient Indian literature, about the kingdoms to the North, beyond the Himalayas. China was mentioned as a kingdom known as Cina, often grouped with Mlechcha kingdoms.

Ancient Indian or Indianized kingdoms of Central or West Asia include:-

A Jain Temple at Sirkap, part of the Indo-Greek kingdom

Individual mainland kingdoms[edit]

File:Angkor wat temple.jpg
Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest Hindu temple in the world
  • Funan: Funan was a polity that encompassed the southernmost part of the Indochinese peninsula during the 1st to 6th centuries. Centered at the lower Mekong,[67] Funan is noted as the oldest Hindu culture in this region, which suggests prolonged socio-economic interaction with maritime trading partners of the Indosphere in the west.[68] Cultural and religious ideas had reached Funan via the Indian Ocean trade route. Trade with India had commenced well before 500 BC as Sanskrit hadn't yet replaced Pali.[68] Indian author Dr. Pragya Mishra even postulates: "Funan Was One Of The Colonies Established By Indians Within Cambodia...[sic]" in his essay "Cultural History of Indian Diaspora in Cambodia".[69] Funans language has been determined as to have been an early form of Khmer and its written form was Sanskrit.[70]
  • Chenla was the successor polity of Funan that existed from around the late 6th century until the early 9th century in Indochina, preceding the Khmer Empire. Like its predecessor Funan, Chenla occupied a strategic position where the maritime trade routes of the Indosphere and the Sinosphere converged, resulting in prolonged socio-economic and cultural influence and the adoption of the epigraphic system of the south Indian Pallava dynasty and Chalukya dynasty.[69][71][72] Chenla's first ruler Vīravarman adopted the idea of divine kingship and deployed the concept of Harihara, the syncretistic Hindu "god that embodied multiple conceptions of power". His successors continued this tradition, thus obeying the code of conduct Manusmṛti, the Laws of Manu for the Kshatriya warrior caste and conveying the idea of political and religious authority.[3]
  • Langkasuka: Langkasuka (-langkha Sanskrit for "resplendent land" -sukkha of "bliss") was an ancient Hindu kingdom located in the Malay Peninsula. The kingdom, along with the Old Kedah settlement, are probably the earliest territorial footholds founded on the Malay Peninsula. According to tradition, the founding of the kingdom happened in the 2nd century; Malay legends claim that Langkasuka was founded at Kedah, and later moved to Pattani.[73]
  • Champa: The kingdom of Champa (or Lin-yi in Chinese records) controlled what is now south and central Vietnam since approximately 192. The dominant religion was Hinduism and the culture was heavily influenced by India. By the late fifteenth century, the Vietnamese—descendants of the Sinic civilisation sphere—had conquered the last remaining territories of the once powerful maritime kingdom of Champa.[74] The last surviving Chams began their diaspora in 1471, many re-settling in Khmer territory.[75][76]
  • Kambuja: The Khmer Empire was established by the early 9th century in a mythical initiation and consecration ceremony to claim political legitimacy by founder Jayavarman II at Mount Kulen (Mount Mahendra) in 802 C.E.[77] A succession of powerful sovereigns, continuing the Hindu devaraja cult tradition, reigned over the classical era of Khmer civilization until the 11th century. A new dynasty of provincial origin introduced Buddhism as royal religious discontinuities and decentralisation result.[78] The royal chronology ends in the 14th century. Administration, agriculture, architecture, hydrology, logistics, urban planning and the arts saw an unprecedented degree of development, refinement and accomplishment in execution on the basis of a distinct expression of Hindu cosmology.[79]
  • Mon kingdoms: From the 9th century until the abrupt end of the Hanthawaddy Kingdom in 1539, the Mon kingdoms (Hariphunchai, Pegu, Pagan) were notable for facilitating Indianised cultural exchange in lower Burma, in particular by having strong ties with Sri Lanka.[80]
  • Sukhothai: The first Tai peoples to gain independence from the Khmer Empire and start its own kingdom in the 13th century. Sukhothai was a precursor for the Ayutthaya Kingdom and the Kingdom of Siam. Though ethnically Thai, the Sukhothai kingdom in many ways was a continuation of the Buddhist Mon-Dvaravati civilizations, as well as the neighboring Khmer Empire.[citation needed][81]

Individual island kingdoms[edit]

File:Durga Loro Jonggrang copy.jpg
A statue of Hindu goddess Durga Mahisasuramardini in Prambanan northern cella, dated to the 9th-century Medang i Bhumi Mataram kingdom in Central Java.
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription is a legal document inscribed on a copper plate in 900 AD in Laguna in the Philippines.
A painting of a mother and child belonging to the Maharlika or Maginoo class.
The sculpture of gold Kinnari with its fine 3D features (c. 10th century CE).
A golden vestment worn by the Hindu Brahmin Caste, found in archeological digs from Butuan.
  • Butuan: or Butwan which often called 蒲端國, Púduānguó in Chinese records, was an Indic polity centered on present Mindanao island in the city of Butuan in what is now the southern Philippines. It was known for its mining of gold, its gold products and its extensive trade network across the Nusantara area. The kingdom had trading relationships with the ancient civilizations of Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Persia, Cambodia and areas now comprised in Thailand.[82][83] The balangay (large outrigger boats) that have been found along the east and west banks of the Libertad river (old Agusan River) have revealed much about Butuan's history. As a result, Butuan is considered to have been a major trading port in the Caraga region during the pre-colonial era.[84]
  • Salakanagara: Salakanagara kingdom is the first historically recorded Indianised kingdom in Western Java, established by Indian trader after marrying a local Sundanese princess. This Kingdom existed between 130-362 AD.[85]
  • Tarumanagara was an early Sundanese Indianised kingdom, located not far from modern Jakarta, and according to Tugu inscription ruler Purnavarman apparently built a canal that changed the course of the Cakung River, and drained a coastal area for agriculture and settlement. In his inscriptions, Purnavarman associated himself with Vishnu, and Brahmins ritually secured the hydraulic project.
  • Kalingga: Kalingga (Javanese: Karajan Kalingga; 訶陵 Hēlíng or 闍婆 Dūpó in Chinese sources) was the 6th century Indianized kingdom on the north coast of Central Java, Indonesia. It was the earliest Hindu-Buddhist kingdom in Central Java, and together with Kutai and Tarumanagara are the oldest kingdoms in Indonesian history.
  • Malayu was a classical Southeast Asian kingdom. The primary sources for much of the information on the kingdom are the New History of the Tang, and the memoirs of the Chinese Buddhist monk Yijing who visited in 671, and states was "absorbed" by Srivijaya by 692, but had "broken away" by the end of the eleventh century according to Chao Jukua. The exact location of the kingdom is the subject of studies among historians.
  • Srivijaya: From the 7th to 13th centuries Srivijaya, a maritime empire centred on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, had adopted Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism under a line of rulers from Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa to the Sailendras. A stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism, Srivijaya attracted pilgrims and scholars from other parts of Asia. I Ching reports that the kingdom was home to more than a thousand Buddhist scholars. A notable Buddhist scholar of local origin, Dharmakirti, taught Buddhist philosophy in Srivijaya and Nalanda, and was the teacher of Atisha. Most of the time, this Buddhist Malay empire enjoyed cordial relationship with China and the Pala Empire in Bengal, and the 860 Nalanda inscription records that Maharaja Balaputra dedicated a monastery at the Nalanda university in Pala territory. The kingdom ceased to exist in the 13th century due to various factors, including the expansion of the Javanese, Singhasari, and Majapahit empires.[86]
  • Tambralinga was an ancient kingdom located on the Malay Peninsula that at one time came under the influence of Srivijaya. The name had been forgotten until scholars recognized Tambralinga as Nagara Sri Dharmaraja (Nakhon Si Thammarat). Early records are scarce but its duration is estimated to range from the seventh to fourteenth century. Tambralinga first sent tribute to the emperor of the Tang dynasty in 616. In Sanskrit tambra means "red" and linga means "symbol", typically representing the divine energy of Shiva.
  • Medang Mataram: Medang i Bhumi Mataram Kingdom flourished between the 8th and 11th centuries. It was first centred in central Java before later moving to east Java. This kingdom produced numbers of Hindu-Buddhist temples in Java, including Borobudur Buddhist mandala and Prambanan Trimurti Hindu temple dedicated mainly for Shiva. The Sailendras are the ruling family of this kingdom in an earlier stage in central Java before replaced by the Isyana Dynasty.
  • Kadiri: In the 10th century, Mataram, challenged the supremacy of Srivijaya, resulting in the destruction of the Mataram capital by Srivijaya early in the 11th century. Restored by King Airlangga (c. 1020–1050), the kingdom split on his death; and the new state of Kediri, in eastern Java, became the centre of Javanese culture for the next two centuries, spreading its influence to the eastern part of island South East Asia. The spice trade was now becoming of increasing importance, as the demand by European countries for spices grew. Before they learned to keep sheep and cattle alive in the winter, they had to eat salted meat, made palatable by the addition of spices. One of the main sources was the Maluku Islands (or "Spice Islands") in Indonesia, and Kediri became a strong trading nation.
  • Singhasari: In the 13th century, however, the Kediri dynasty was overthrown by a revolution, and Singhasari arose in east Java. The domains of this new state expanded under the rule of its warrior-king Kertanegara. He was killed by a prince of the previous Kediri dynasty, who then established the last great Hindu-Javanese kingdom, Majapahit. By the middle of the 14th century Majapahit controlled most of Java, Sumatra and the Malay peninsula, part of Borneo, the southern Celebes and the Moluccas. It also exerted considerable influence on the mainland.
  • Majapahit: Majapahit empire centred in East Java succeeded the Singhasari empire and flourished in Indonesian archipelago between the 13th and 15th centuries. Noted for their naval expansion the Javanese spanned west—east from Lamuri in Aceh to Wanin in Papua. Majapahit was one of the last and greatest Hindu empires in Maritime Southeast Asia. Most of Balinese Hindu culture, traditions and civilisations were derived from Majapahit legacy. A large number of Majapahit nobles, priests, and artisans found their home in Bali after the decline of Majapahit to Islamic Demak Sultanate.
  • Galuh was an ancient Hindu kingdom in the eastern Tatar Pasundan (now West Java province and Banyumasan region of Central Java province), Indonesia. It was established following the collapse of the Tarumanagara kingdom around the 7th century. Traditionally the kingdom of Galuh was associated with Eastern Priangan cultural region, around the Citanduy and Cimanuk rivers, with territory spanned from Citarum river on the west, Pamali and Serayu river on the east. Its capital was located in Kawali, near today Ciamis city.
  • Sunda: The Kingdom of Sunda was a Hindu kingdom located in western Java from 669 to around 1579, covering the area of present-day Banten, Jakarta, West Java, and the western part of Central Java. According to primary historical records, the Bujangga Manik manuscript, the eastern border of the Sunda Kingdom was the Pamali River (Ci Pamali, the present day Brebes River) and the Serayu River (Ci Sarayu) in Central Java.
  • Tondo: also known as Tundun was an Indianised kingdom in the 10th century, Tondo capitalised on being central to the long-existing ancient regional trading routes throughout the archipelago to include among others, initiating diplomatic and commercial ties with China during the Ming Dynasty. Thus it became an established force in trade throughout Southeast Asia and East Asia.

Indian cultural sphere[edit]

File:006 Bujang Valley Candi.jpg
Candi Bukit Batu Pahat of Bujang Valley. A Hindu-Buddhist kingdom ruled ancient Kedah possibly as early as 110 CE, the earliest evidence of strong Indian influence which was once prevalent among the pre-Islamic Kedahan Malays.


The term Indosphere encompasses the full extent of Indian linguistic and cultural influence in Asia in a non-geographical sense. It is commonly used in areal linguistics in contrast with the Sinosphere.[87]

Cultural sphere[edit]

The use of Greater India to refer to an Indian cultural sphere was popularised by a network of Bengali scholars in the 1920s who were all members of the Calcutta-based Greater India Society. The movement's early leaders included the historian R. C. Majumdar (1888–1980); the philologists Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1890–1977) and P. C. Bagchi (1898–1956), and the historians Phanindranath Bose and Kalidas Nag (1891–1966).[22][88]

Some of their formulations were inspired by concurrent excavations in Angkor by French archaeologists and by the writings of French Indologist Sylvain Lévi. The scholars of the society postulated a benevolent ancient Indian cultural colonisation of Southeast Asia, in stark contrast—in their view—to the colonialism of the early 20th century.[89][90][91]

The term Greater India and the notion of an explicit Hindu expansion of ancient Southeast Asia have been linked to both Indian nationalism[92] and Hindu nationalism.[93] However, many Indian nationalists, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore, although receptive to "an idealisation of India as a benign and uncoercive world civiliser and font of global enlightenment,"[94] stayed away from explicit "Greater India" formulations.[95] In addition, some scholars have seen the Hindu/Buddhist acculturation in ancient Southeast Asia as "a single cultural process in which Southeast Asia was the matrix and South Asia the mediatrix."[96] In the field of art history, especially in American writings, the term survived longer due to the influence of art theorist Ananda Coomaraswamy. Coomaraswamy's view of pan-Indian art history was influenced by the "Calcutta cultural nationalists."[97]

By some accounts Greater India consists of "lands including Burma, Java, Cambodia, Bali, and the former Champa and Funan polities of present-day Vietnam,"[98] in which pre-Islamic Indian culture left an "imprint in the form of monuments, inscriptions and other traces of the historic "Indianising" process."[98] By some other accounts, many Pacific societies and "most of the Buddhist world including Ceylon, Tibet, Central Asia, and even Japan were held to fall within this web of Indianising culture colonies"[98] This particular usage—implying cultural "sphere of influence" of India—was promoted by the Greater India Society, formed by a group of Bengali men of letters,[99] and is not found before the 1920s. The term Greater India was used in historical writing in India into the 1970s.[100]

Cultural expansion[edit]

File:Hinduism Expansion in Asia.svg
Expansion of Hinduism in Southeast Asia.

Culture spread via the trade routes that linked India with southern Burma, central and southern Siam, the Malay peninsula and Sumatra to Java, lower Cambodia and Champa.

The Pali and Sanskrit languages and the Indian script, together with Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism and Hinduism, were transmitted from direct contact as well as through sacred texts and Indian literature.

Southeast Asia had developed some prosperous and very powerful colonial empires that contributed to Hindu-Buddhist artistic creations and architectural developments. Art and architectural creations that rivaled those built in India, especially in its sheer size, design and aesthetic achievements. The notable examples are Borobudur in Java and Angkor monuments in Cambodia. The Srivijaya Empire to the south and the Khmer Empire to the north competed for influence in the region.

A defining characteristic of the cultural link between Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent is the spread of ancient Indian Vedic/Hindu and Buddhist culture and philosophy into Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaya, Laos and Cambodia. Indian scripts are found in Southeast Asian islands ranging from Sumatra, Java, Bali, south Sulawesi and most of the Philippines.[101]

File:Atashgah Fire Temple.jpg
Atashgah of Baku, a fire temple in Azerbaijan used by both Hindus[102][103] and Persian Zoroastrians


The Ramayana and the Mahabharata have had a large impact on the South Asia and Southeast Asia. However, the Mahabharata has faded from the memory of many Southeast Asian nations and is not as widely known as the Ramayana.[citation needed]

Shared traditions[edit]

One of the most tangible evidence of dharmic tradition commonality, probably is the widespread of Añjali Mudrā as the gesture of greeting and respect. It is demonstrated in Indian namasté, and similar gestures are known in Southeast Asia, as it cognate to the Cambodian sampeah, Indonesian sembah and Thai wai.

Cultural commonalities[edit]

Religion, mythology and folklore[edit]

The Heliodorus pillar, erected [110], by Heliodorus, ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas, was surmounted by a sculpture of Garuda and was apparently dedicated to Vāsudeva
  • Sun Wukong also known as the Monkey King, is a main character in the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West published in the 16th century[111]. Sun Wukong is considered by some scholars to be influenced by both the Hindu deity Hanuman from the Ramayana and elements of Chinese folklore.[112][113][114][115]
  • Philippine mythology includes the supreme god Bathala and the concept of Diwata and the still-current belief in Karma—all derived from Hindu-Buddhist concepts.
  • Malay folklore contains a rich number of Indian-influenced mythological characters, such as Bidadari, Jentayu, Garuda and Naga.
  • Wayang shadow puppets and classical dance-dramas of Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand took stories from episodes of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • Tengri was the main god of the Turkic pantheon, controlling the celestial sphere.[116] Tengri is considered to be strikingly similar to the Indo-European sky god, *Dyeus, and the structure of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion is closer to that of the early Turks than to the religion of any people of Near Eastern or Mediterranean antiquity.[117]
  • Qormusta Tengri (Qormusata Tngri "King of the Gods", also transliterated as Qormusta Tngri and Hormusta) is a god in Mongolian mythology and shamanism, described as the chief god of the 99 tngri and leader of the 33 gods.[118] It is the same of Turkish deities / gods Hürmüz and Kormos Han.[119][120]According to Walther Heissig, the group of 33 gods led by Qormusata Tngri exists alongside the well-known group of 99 tngri. Qormusata Tngri is to be equated with Ahura Mazda, the chief Iranian god, and with Esrua, who in turn is Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. The Indian influence may explain the 33 gods, analogous with Indra (to whom Michael York compares him, as a more active being[121]) and his 33 planets (or gods).[122]
  • In case of the Aesir-Asura correspondence, it could have been that the Indo-Iranian Asura or Ahura left India and traveled west until they found the home of the Vanir (and fought and defeated them). In the Indian stories, the violent Asura fight the Deva (Iranian Daeva) and leave. In Norse stories the Aesir arrive and fight with the more peaceable Vanir. When the Aesir win, they take hostages from the Vanir in the form of the god Nord, as well as his children Frey and Freja. It could be that the stories told in both places are related, that it tells the story of migration, perhaps the leaving of more aggressive members of the Indo-Iranian community, who then moved to the harsher climate of Europe and Scandinavia, bringing their own version of events with them.

Architecture and monuments[edit]

Linguistic influence[edit]

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A map of East, South and Southeast Asia. Red signifies current and historical (China, Vietnam) distribution of Chinese characters. Green signifies current and historical (Greater India) distribution of Indic scripts. Blue signifies the current use of non-Sinitic or Indic scripts.

Scholars like Sheldon Pollock have used the term Sanskrit Cosmopolis to describe the region, and argued for millennium-long cultural exchanges without necessarily involving migration of peoples or colonisation. Pollock's 2006 book The Language of the Gods in the World of Men makes a case for studying the region as comparable with Latin Europe and argues that the Sanskrit language was its unifying element.

Sanskrit and related languages have also influenced their Sino-Tibetan-speaking neighbours to the north through the spread of Buddhist texts in translation.[125] Buddhism was spread to China by Mahayanist missionaries sent by Emperor Ashoka mostly through translations of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit texts, and many terms were transliterated directly and added to the Chinese vocabulary. The situation in Tibet is similar; many Sanskrit texts survive only in Tibetan translation (in the Tanjur).

In Southeast Asia, languages such as Thai and Lao contain many loan words from Sanskrit, as does Khmer to a lesser extent. For example, in Thai, Rāvaṇa, the legendary emperor of Sri Lanka, is called 'Thosakanth' which is derived from his Sanskrit name 'Daśakaṇṭha' ("having ten necks").

Many Sanskrit loanwords are also found in Austronesian languages, such as Javanese particularly the old form from which nearly half the vocabulary is derived from the language.[126] [127] Other Austronesian languages, such as traditional Malay, modern Indonesian, also derive much of their vocabulary from Sanskrit, albeit to a lesser extent, with a large proportion of words being derived from Arabic. Similarly, Philippine languages such as Tagalog have many Sanskrit loanwords.

A Sanskrit loanword encountered in many Southeast Asian languages is the word bhāṣā, or spoken language, which is used to mean language in general, for example bahasa in Malay, Indonesian and Tausug, basa in Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese, phasa in Thai and Lao, bhasa in Burmese, and phiesa in Khmer.

Linguistic commonalities[edit]


  • Suvarnabhumi is a toponym that has been historically associated with Southeast Asia. In Sanskrit it means "The Land of Gold". Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport is named after this toponym, signifying its intent to be a major transport hub of Southeast Asia.[citation needed]
  • Several of Indonesian toponyms has Indian parallel or origin, such as Madura with Mathura, Serayu and Sarayu river, Semeru with Sumeru mountain, Kalingga from Kalinga Kingdom, and Ngayogyakarta from Ayodhya.
  • Siamese ancient city of Ayutthaya also derived from Ramayana's Ayodhya.
  • Names of places could simply renders their Sanskrit origin, such as Singapore, from Singapura (Singha-pura the "lion city"), Jakarta from Jaya and kreta ("complete victory").
  • Some of Indonesian regencies such as Indragiri Hulu and Indragiri Hilir derived from Indragiri River, Indragiri itself means "mountain of Indra".
  • Some Thai toponyms also often have Indian parallels or Sanskrit origin, although the spellings are adapted to the Siamese tongue, such as Ratchaburi from Raja-puri ("king's city"), Buriram from Puri-Rama ("city of Rama"), and Nakhon Si Thammarat from Nagara Sri Dharmaraja.
  • The tendency to use Sanskrit for modern neologism also continued to modern day. In 1962 Indonesia changed the colonial name of New Guinean city of Hollandia to Jayapura ("glorious city"), Orange mountain range to Jayawijaya Mountains.
  • Malaysia named their new government seat as Putrajaya ("prince of glory") in 1999.

See also[edit]


  • For Pollock, the fact that tradition local writers have written about Ayodhya, mount Meru, Ganga, etc., in multiple locations is dumbfounding and irrational..... I propose a different interpretation of the same data. As per our tradition, the conceptual space of Hindus can be replicated and localized easily. The Hindu metaphysics of immanence leads to the decentralization of sacred geography. The Vedic principle of 'rtam' is about recreating a universal structure in one's own particular locale, desh. This is why such localized references to the sacred geography of India are prevalent, and are perfectly fine. In fact, in the Vedic yajna, the mantras define the local space of the yajna as a replica or representation of the cosmos, and the universal deity is invoked to be present locally. Pollock ignores the Vedic bandhuta principles that made it easy to find local equivalences and adaption rather than impose a homogeneity from a central template. This is why people in south India substitute their local rivers for Ganga for ritualist purposes; there is a town called Ayodhya in Thailand; the cognitive landscape of people in Java started to include Mount Meru as a local place, and so on.
    • The Battle for Sanskrit by Rajiv Malhotra
  • Many similar views were also expressed in the Sanskrit Commision Report written under the Nehru government in the 1950s. That report declares: "The State in ancient India, it must be specially pointed out, freely patronised education establishments, but left them to develop on their own lines, without any interference or control. It says that until the British disruption, the salient features of our traditional education included: 'oral instruction, insistence on moral discipline and character-building, freedom in the matter of the courses of study, absence of extraneous control ....' .... We can never insist too strongly on this signal fact that Sanskrit has been the Great Unifying Force of India, and that India with its nearly 400 millions of people is One Country, and not half a dozen or more countries, only because of Sanskrit.
    • The Battle for Sanskrit by Rajiv Malhotra

  • "The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it will reaquire centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom." (Gandhi: Hind Swaraj Chapter ix)


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  92. (Keenleyside 1982, pp. 213–214) Quote: "Starting in the 1920s under the leadership of Kalidas Nag-and continuing even after independence-a number of Indian scholars wrote extensively and rapturously about the ancient Hindu cultural expansion into and colonisation of South and Southeast Asia. They called this vast region "Greater India"–a dubious appellation for a region which to a limited degree, but with little permanence, had been influenced by Indian religion, art, architecture, literature and administrative customs. As a consequence of this renewed and extensive interest in Greater India, many Indians came to believe that the entire South and Southeast Asian region formed the cultural progeny of India; now that the sub-continent was reawakening, they felt, India would once again assert its non-political ascendancy over the area.... While the idea of reviving the ancient Greater India was never officially endorsed by the Indian National Congress, it enjoyed considerable popularity in nationalist Indian circles. Indeed, Congress leaders made occasional references to Greater India while the organisation's abiding interest in the problems of overseas Indians lent indirect support to the Indian hope of restoring the alleged cultural and spiritual unity of South and Southeast Asia."
  93. (Thapar 1968, pp. 326–330) Quote: "At another level, it was believed that the dynamics of many Asian cultures, particularly those of Southeast Asia, arose from Hindu culture, and the theory of Greater India derived sustenance from Pan-Hinduism. A curious pride was taken in the supposed imperialist past of India, as expressed in sentiments such as these: "The art of Java and Kambuja was no doubt derived from India and fostered by the Indian rulers of these colonies." (Majumdar, R. C. et al. (1950), An Advanced History of India, London: Macmillan, p. 221) This form of historical interpretation, which can perhaps best be described as being inspired by Hindu nationalism, remains an influential school of thinking in present historical writings."
  94. (Bayley 2004, pp. 735–736) Quote:"The Greater India visions which Calcutta thinkers derived from French and other sources are still known to educated anglophone Indians, especially but not exclusively Bengalis from the generation brought up in the traditions of post-Independence Nehruvian secular nationalism. One key source of this knowledge is a warm tribute paid to Sylvain Lévi and his ideas of an expansive, civilising India by Jawaharlal Nehru himself, in his celebrated book, The Discovery of India, which was written during one of Nehru’s periods of imprisonment by the British authorities, first published in 1946, and reprinted many times since.... The ideas of both Lévi and the Greater India scholars were known to Nehru through his close intellectual links with Tagore. Thus Lévi’s notion of ancient Indian voyagers leaving their invisible ‘imprints’ throughout east and southeast Asia was for Nehru a recapitulation of Tagore’s vision of nationhood, that is an idealisation of India as a benign and uncoercive world civiliser and font of global enlightenment. This was clearly a perspective which defined the Greater India phenomenon as a process of religious and spiritual tutelage, but it was not a Hindu supremacist idea of India’s mission to the lands of the trans-gangetic Sarvabhumi or Bharat Varsha."
  95. (Narasimhaiah 1986) Quote: "To him (Nehru), the so-called practical approach meant, in practice, shameless expediency, and so he would say, "the sooner we are not practical, the better". He rebuked a Member of Indian Parliament who sought to revive the concept of Greater India by saying that ‘the honorable Member lived in the days of Bismarck; Bismarck is dead, and his politics more dead!' He would consistently plead for an idealistic approach and such power as the language wields is the creation of idealism—politics’ arch enemy—which, however, liberates the leader of a national movement from narrow nationalism, thus igniting in the process a dead fact of history, in the sneer, "For him the Bastille has not fallen!" Though Nehru was not to the language born, his utterances show a remarkable capacity for introspection and sense of moral responsibility in commenting on political processes."
  96. (Wheatley 1982, pp. 27–28) Quote: "The tide of revisionism that is currently sweeping through Southeast Asian historiography has in effect taken us back almost to the point where we have to consider reevaluating almost every text bearing on the protohistoric period and many from later times. Although this may seem a daunting proposition, it is nonetheless supremely worth attempting, for the process by which the peoples of western Southeast Asia came to think of themselves as part of Bharatavarsa (even though they had no conception of "India" as we know it) represents one of the most impressive instances of large-scale acculturation in the history of the world. Sylvain Levi was perhaps overenthusiastic when he claimed that India produced her definitive masterpieces—he was thinking of Angkor and the Borobudur—through the efforts of foreigners or on foreign soil. Those masterpieces were not strictly Indian achievements: rather were they the outcome of a Eutychian fusion of natures so melded together as to constitute a single cultural process in which Southeast Asia was the matrix and South Asia the mediatrix."
  97. (Guha-Thakurta 1992, pp. 159–167)
  98. 98.0 98.1 98.2 (Bayley 2004, p. 713)
  99. (Handy 1930, p. 364) Quote: "An equally significant movement is one that brought about among the Indian intelligentsia of Calcutta a few years ago the formation of what is known as the "Greater India Society," whose membership is open "to all serious students of the Indian cultural expansion and to all sympathizers of such studies and activities." Though still in its infancy, this organisation has already a large membership, due perhaps as much as anything else to the enthusiasm of its Secretary and Convener, Dr. Kalidas Nag, whose scholarly affiliations with the Orientalists in the University of Paris and studies in Indochina, Insulindia and beyond, have equipped him in an unusual way for the work he has chosen-namely, stimulating interest in and spreading knowledge of Greater Indian culture of the past, present and future. The Society's President is Professor Jadunath Sarkar, Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, and its Council is made up largely of professors on the faculty of the University and members of the staff of the Calcutta Museum, as well as of Indian authors, journalists, and so on. Its activities, besides meetings, have included illustrated lecture series at the various universities throughout India by Dr. Nag, the assembling of a research library and the publication of monographs, of which four very excellent examples have already been printed: 1)Greater India, by Kalidas Nag, M.A., D.Litt(Paris), 2) India and China, by Prabodh Chandra Bagchi, M.A., D.Litt., 3) Indian Culture in Java and Sumatra, by Bijan Raj Chatterjee, D.Litt. (Punjab), Ph.D (London), and 4) India and Central Asia, by Niranjan Prasad Chakravarti, M.A., Ph.D.(cantab.)."
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Further reading[edit]

  • Language variation: Papers on variation and change in the Sinosphere and in the Indosphere in honour of James A. Matisoff, David Bradley, Randy J. LaPolla and Boyd Michailovsky eds., pp. 113–144. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Bijan Raj Chatterjee (1964). Indian Cultural Influence in Cambodia [archive]. University of Calcutta.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ankerl, Guy (2000). Global communication without universal civilisation. INU societal research. Vol.1: Coexisting contemporary civilisations : Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Geneva: INU Press. ISBN 2-88155-004-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cœdès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella (ed.). The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lokesh, Chandra, & International Academy of Indian Culture. (2000). Society and culture of Southeast Asia: Continuities and changes. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan.
  • R. C. Majumdar, Study of Sanskrit in South-East Asia
  • R. C. Majumdar, India and South-East Asia, I.S.P.Q.S. History and Archaeology Series Vol. 6, 1979, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 81-7018-046-5.
  • R. C. Majumdar, Champa, Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, Vol.I, Lahore, 1927. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 0-8364-2802-1
  • R. C. Majumdar, Suvarnadvipa, Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, Vol.II, Calcutta,
  • R. C. Majumdar, Kambuja Desa Or An Ancient Hindu Colony In Cambodia, Madras, 1944
  • Daigorō Chihara (1996). Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia [archive]. BRILL. ISBN 90-04-10512-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hoadley, M. C. (1991). Sanskritic continuity in Southeast Asia: The ṣaḍātatāyī and aṣṭacora in Javanese law. Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

External links[edit]