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Hinduism in Southeast Asia

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Hinduism in Southeast Asia

Hinduism in Southeast Asia gave birth to the former Champa civilization in southern parts of Central Vietnam, Funan in Cambodia, the Khmer Empire in Indochina, Langkasuka Kingdom, Gangga Negara and Old Kedah in the Malay Peninsula, the Sriwijayan kingdom on Sumatra, the Singosari kingdom and the Majapahit Empire based in Java, Bali, and parts of the Philippine archipelago. The civilization of India influenced the languages, scripts, calendars, and artistic aspects of these peoples and nations.

Prominent Hindus (e.g., Swami Sadananda Maharaj)[1] from India have visited South East Asia for the purpose of exploring the Hinduism of these places.


  • History 1
    • Modern era 1.1
  • Regions 2
    • Burma 2.1
    • Cambodia 2.2
    • Indonesia 2.3
    • Laos 2.4
    • Malaysia 2.5
    • The Philippines 2.6
    • Singapore 2.7
    • Thailand 2.8
    • Vietnam 2.9
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Genealogy diagram of Rajasa dynasty, the royal family of Singhasari and Majapahit. Rulers are highlighted with period of reign.

Indian scholars wrote about the Dwipantara or Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra around 200 BC. Southeast Asia was frequented by traders from eastern India, particularly Kalinga, as well as from the kingdoms of South India.

The Taruma kingdom occupied West Java around 400. There was a marked Buddhist influence starting about 425.

These seafaring peoples engaged in extensive trade, which attracted the attention of the Mongols, Chinese and Japanese, as well as Islamic traders, who reached the Aceh area of Sumatra in the 12th century.

Some scholars have pointed out that the legends of Ikshvaku and Sumati may have their origin in the Southeast-Asian myth of the birth of humanity from a bitter gourd. The word Ikshvaku means "bitter gourd". The legend of Sumati, the wife of King Sagar, tells that she produced offspring with the aid of a bitter gourd.[2]

Modern era

The Hindu Balinese temple offering

Today, vibrant Tamil Hindu communities remain in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines mainly due to presence of Indians, such as Tamil people migrated from Indian sub-continent to Southeast Asia in past centuries. One notably Southeast Asian aspect of Tamil Hinduism is the festival of Thaipusam, while other Hindu religious festivals such as Diwali is also well-observed by Hindus in the region. In Thailand and Cambodia, Thai and Khmer people practiced Hindu rituals and traditions along with their Buddhist faith, Hindu gods such as Brahma are still well revered by them.

In Indonesia, it is not only Indian descents that practice Hinduism, Hinduism still survives as the major religion in Bali island, where one of Native Indonesians, the Balinese people adheres Agama Hindu Dharma, a variant of Hinduism derived from ancient Java-Bali Hindu traditions developed in the island for almost two millennia that often incorporates native spiritual elements. Other than Balinese, a small enclave of Javanese Hindu minorities are also can be found in Java, such as around Tengger mountain ranges near Bromo and Semeru volcanoes, Karanganyar Regency in Central Java, and near Prambanan, Yogyakarta. Similar case is also found among Cham minority in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia, just like Javanese, majority of them are Muslims but the minority are Hindus. In other parts of Indonesia, the term Hindu Dharma is often loosely used as umbrella category to identify native spiritual beliefs and indigenous religions such as Hindu Kaharingan professed by Dayak of Kalimantan.

A dance performance by a Balinese Hindu. Many of these dances are rituals reflecting mythical or spiritual stories from Hindu Epics and other literature.[3]

The resurgence of Hinduism in Indonesia is occurring in all parts of the country. In the early 1970s, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to be identified under the umbrella of 'Hinduism', followed by the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in 1980. In an unpublished report in 1999, the National Indonesian Bureau of Statistics admitted that around 100,00 she had officially converted or 'reconverted' from Islam to Hinduism over the previous two decades.[4] The Ministry of Religious Affairs, as of 2007 estimates there to be at least 10 million Hindus in Indonesia[5]

The growth of Hinduism has been driven also by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya.

Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno's PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the 'religion of Majapahit' (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.

The new Hindu communities in Java tend to be concentrated around recently built temples (pura) or around archaeological temple sites (candi) which are being reclaimed as places of Hindu worship. An important new Hindu temple in eastern Java is Pura Mandaragiri Sumeru Agung, located on the slope of Mt. Semeru, Java's highest mountain. Mass conversions have also occurred in the region around Pura Agung Blambangan, another new temple, built on a site with minor archaeological remnants attributed to the kingdom of Blambangan, the last Hindu polity on Java, and Pura Loka Moksa Jayabaya (in the village of Menang near Kediri), where the Hindu king and prophet Jayabaya is said to have achieved spiritual liberation (moksa). Another site is the new Pura Pucak Raung in East Java, which is mentioned in Balinese literature as the place from where Maharishi Markandeya took Hinduism to Bali in the 5th century.

An example of resurgence around major archaeological remains of ancient Hindu temple sites was observed in Trowulan near Mojokerto, the capital of the legendary Hindu empire Majapahit. A local Hindu movement is struggling to gain control of a newly excavated temple building which they wish to see restored as a site of active Hindu worship. The temple is to be dedicated to Gajah Mada, the man attributed with transforming the small Hindu kingdom of Majapahit into an empire. Although there has been a more pronounced history of resistance to Islamization in East Java, Hindu communities are also expanding in Central Java near the ancient Hindu monuments of Prambanan.

The current estimates of Hinduism in Indonesia range from 4 to 8 percent



A Hindu procession in Yangon, Myanmar

Hinduism in Burma is practised by about 840,000 people.[6] Because a reliable census has not been taken in Burma since colonial times, estimates are approximate. Most Hindus in Myanmar are Burmese Indians.

Hinduism, along with Buddhism, arrived in Burma during ancient times. Both names of the country are rooted in Hinduism; Burma is the British colonial officials' phonetic equivalent for the first half of Brahma Desha the ancient name of the region.[7] Brahma is part of Hindu trinity, a deity with four heads. The name Myanmar is regional language[8] transliteration of Brahma, where b and m are interchangeable.[7]

Arakan (Rakhine) Yoma is a significant natural mountainous barrier between Burma and India, and the migration of Hinduism and Buddhism into Burma occurred slowly through Manipur and by South Asian seaborne traders. Hinduism greatly influenced the royal court of Burmese kings in pre-colonial times, as seen in the architecture of cities such as Bagan. Likewise, the Burmese language adopted many words from Sanskrit and Pali, many of which relate to religion. While ancient and medieval arrival of ideas and culture fusion transformed Burma over time, it is in 19th and 20th century that over a million Hindu workers were brought in by British colonial government to serve in plantations and mines. The British also felt that surrounding the European residential center with Indian immigrants provided a buffer and a degree of security from tribal theft and raids. According to 1931 census, 55% of Rangoon's (Yangon) population were Indian migrants, mostly Hindus.[9] After independence from Britain, Burma Socialist Programme Party under Ne Win adopted xenophobic policies and expelled 300,000 Indian ethnic people (Hindus and Buddhists), along with 100,000 Chinese, from Burma between 1963 and 1967. The Indian policy of encouraging democratic protests in Burma increased persecution of Hindus, as well as led to Burmese retaliatory support of left-leaning rebel groups in northeastern states of India.[9] Since the 1990s, the opening of Burma and its greater economic engagement has led to general improvement in the acceptance of Hindus and other minority religions in Myanmar.

Aspects of Hinduism continue in Burma today, even in the majority Buddhist culture. For example, Thagyamin is worshipped whose origins are in the Hindu god Indra. Burmese literature has also been enriched by Hinduism, including the Burmese adaptation of the Ramayana, called Yama Zatdaw. Many Hindu gods are likewise worshipped by many Burmese people, such as Saraswati (known as Thuyathadi in Burmese), the goddess of knowledge, who is often worshipped before examinations; Shiva is called Paramizwa; Vishnu is called Withano, and others. Many of these ideas are part of thirty seven Nat or deities found in Burmese culture.[10]

In modern Myanmar, most Hindus are found in the urban centers of Yangon and Mandalay. Ancient Hindu temples are present in other parts of Burma, such as the 11th century Nathlaung Kyaung Temple dedicated to Vishnu in Bagan.


Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is one of hundreds of ancient Hindu temples in southeast Asia.

Cambodia was first influenced by Hinduism during the beginning of the Kingdom of Funan. Hinduism was one of the Khmer Empire's official religions. Cambodia is the home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma in the world. Angkor Wat of Cambodia is the largest Hindu temple in the world.


Today in Indonesia, Hinduism is practiced by only 3% of the total population, with 92.29% of them resides in Bali and 15.75% in Central Kalimantan as of the 2000 census. However, between 4th-century to 15th-century, Hinduism and Buddhism was adhered by the majority of the population, along with native indigenous animism and dynamism beliefs that venerated natural and ancestral spirits. By 15th to 16th-century Islam has supplanted Hinduism and Buddhism as the majority religion in Indonesian archipelago. The influence of Hinduism has profoundly left its marks in Java, Bali, and Sumatran culture. Bali has become the last remnant of once Hindu dominated region.

Offerings to Hindu deity Ganesha in Ubud, Bali Indonesia.

Hindu influences reached the Indonesian Archipelago as early as first century. In 4th-century, the kingdom of Kutai in East Kalimantan, Tarumanagara in West Java, and Holing (Kalingga) in Central Java, were among the early Hindu states established in the region. Several notable ancient Indonesian Hindu kingdoms are Mdang i Bhumi Mataram, famous for the construction of the majestic 9th-century Trimurti Prambanan temple, followed by Kediri, singosari, and reached the peak of its influence in the 14th-century Majapahit, the last and largest among Hindu-Buddhist Javanese empires.

The Hindu civilizations has left its marks in Indonesian culture. The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, became enduring traditions among Indonesian artforms, expressed in wayang shadow puppet and dance performances. Many Indonesian names are Sanskrit-based and the plane flag carrier are named Garuda Airline.

Today, the Indonesian government has recognized Hinduism as one of the country's six officially sanctioned religions, along with Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Confucianism.[11]


Laos used to be part of Khmer Empire. The Wat Phou is one of the last influences of that period. The Laotian adaptation of the Ramayana is called Phra Lak Phra Lam.


Hindu deity Hanuman showing a scene from Ramayana, at Malai Sri Subramaniar Temple in Malaysia.

Hinduism is the fourth largest religion in Malaysia. About 1.78 million Malaysian residents (6.3% of the total population) are Hindus, according to 2010 Census of Malaysia.[12]

Most Malaysian Hindus are settled in western parts of Peninsular Malaysia. Indian Hindus and Buddhists began arriving in Malaysia during ancient and medieval era. A large number of Hindus from South India were brought to Malaysia by British colonial empire during the 19th and 20th century, as indentured laborers to work on coffee and sugarcane plantations and tin mining; later they were deployed in large numbers, along with Chinese Buddhists, on rubber plantations. The British kangani system of recruitment, designed to reduce labor turnover and enhance labor stability, encouraged Hindu workers to recruit friends and family from India to work in British operations in Malaysia. The kangani system brought numerous Tamil Hindus into Malaysia by early 1900s.[13] By 1950s, about 12.8% of Malaysian population professed to be a Hindu.

After Malaysia gained its independence from British colonial empire in 1957, it declared its official state religion as Islam, and adopted a discriminatory constitution as well as the Sedition Act of 1971 which limited public debate on Malaysia's treatment of religion, language and citizenship policies.[14][15][16] In recent decades, there have been increasing reports of religious persecution of Hindus, along with other minority religions, by various state governments of Malaysia and its Sharia courts.[17][14] Hindu temples built on private property, and built long before Malaysian independence, have been demolished by Malaysian government officials in recent years.[18] Since the 1970s, there has been large scale emigration of Hindus (along with Buddhists and Christians) from Malaysia.[19][20][21]

Malaysian Hindus celebrate Deepavali (festival of lights), Thaipusam (Lord Murugan festival), Pongal (harvest festival) and Navaratri (Durga festival).

The Philippines

The first document found in the Philippines, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (c. 900), shows direct Hindu influences present in Filipino culture prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century

Before the arrival of an Arab trader to Sulu Island in 1450 and Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed in behalf of Spain in 1521, the chiefs of many Philippine islands were called Rajas, and the script was derived from Brahmi. Karma, a Hindu concept is understood as part of the traditional view of the universe by many Philippine peoples, and have counterparts such as kalma in the Pampangan language, and Gabâ in Visayan languages. The vocabulary in all Philippine languages reflect strong Hindu influences.

In the archipelago that was to become the Philippines, the statues of the Hindu gods were hidden to prevent their destruction by a religion which destroyed all cult images. One statue, a "Golden Tara", a 4-pound gold statue of a Hindu-Malayan goddess, was found in Mindanao in 1917. The statue, denoted the Agusan Image, is now in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. The image is that of a Hindu-Malayan female deity, seated cross-legged. It is made of "twenty-one carat gold and weighs nearly four pounds." It has a richly ornamented headdress and many ornaments in the arms and other parts of the body. Scholars date it to the late 13th or early 14th century. It was made by local artists, perhaps copying from an imported Javanese model. The gold that was used was from this area, since Javanese miners were known to have been engaged in gold mining in Butuan at this time.

The existence of these gold mines, this artifact and the presence of "foreigners" proves the existence of some foreign trade, gold as element in the barter economy, and of cultural and social contact between the natives and "foreigners." As previously stated, this statue is not in The Philippines. Louise Adriana Wood (whose husband, Leonard Wood, was military-governor of the Moro Province in 1903-1906 and governor general in 1921-1927) raised funds for its purchase by the Chicago Museum of Natural History. It is now on display in that museum's Gold Room.

According to Prof. Beyer, considered the "Father of Philippine Anthropology and Archaeology", a woman in 1917 found it on the left bank of the Wawa River near Esperanza, Agusan, projecting from the silt in a ravine after a storm and flood. From her hands it passed into those of Bias Baklagon, a local government official. Shortly after, ownership passed to the Agusan Coconut Company, to whom Baklagon owed a considerable debt. Mrs. Wood bought it from the coconut company.

Another gold artifact of Garuda, the phoenix who is the mount of Vishnu, was found in Palawan.

Today, there is a "Hindu Temple" (attended mostly by Sindhīs) on Mahatma Gandhi Street and a "Khalsa Diwan Indian Sikh Temple" (attended mostly by Pañjābīs) on United Nations Avenue. Both are in Manila city's Paco-Pandacan area, the traditional Indian enclave, and are about 15 minutes walk away from each other.[22] As per estimate there are 22 gurudwāras all over the Philippines today, although most of the adherents are Indians, Sri Lankans and Nepalese. There are various Hare Krishna groups in the country that are gaining in popularity.

The spread of Hinduism was deterred by the spread of Christianity by the Spaniards and the spread of Islām by Malay and Javanese missionaries before the Spaniards.


Diwali in Little India, Singapore.

The introduction of Hinduism into Singapore dates back to the early 10th century, during the Chola period. Immigrants from southern India, mostly Tamils, arrived as labourers for the British East India Company, bringing with them their religion and culture. Their arrival saw the building of Dravidian temples throughout the island, and the beginnings of a vibrant Hindu culture. The first temple, Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore's Chinatown. There are currently about thirty main temples in Singapore, dedicated to various gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. Today, two government bodies deal with all Hindu affairs: The Hindu Endowments Board and The Hindu Advisory Board.

Hindus are a minority in Singapore, comprising about 5.1% of its citizens and permanent residents in 2010. Among 15 years or older population, there were about 158,000 Hindus; 37% of all Hindus in Singapore speak Tamil at home, another 42% speak English.[23] Deepavali is a major Hindu festival and a public holiday observed in Singapore.[24]


Gopuram of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Bangkok

A number of Hindus remain in Thailand. They are mostly located in the cities. In the past, the nation came under the influence of the Khmer Empire, which had strong Hindu roots. The epic, Ramakien, is based on the Ramayana. The city, Ayutthaya, is named after Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama. Numerous rituals derived from Brahminism are preserved in rituals, such as use of holy strings and pouring of water from conch shells. Furthermore, Hindu deities are worshipped by many Thais alongside Buddhism, such as the famous Erawan Shrine, and statues of Ganesh, Indra, and Shiva, as well as numerous symbols relating to Hindu deities are found, e.g., Garuda, a symbol of the monarchy. The famous Hindu rituals of the Giant Swing and the Triyampavai-Tripavai ceremony depict a legend about how the god created the world.

The élite, and the royal household, often employ Brahmans to mark funerals and state ceremonies such as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony to ensure a good harvest. The importance of Hinduism cannot be denied, even though much of the rituals has been combined with Buddhism.[25]

According to the Thai Census of 2005, there are 52,631 Hindus living in Thailand, making up just 0.09% of the total population.[26]


Hinduism in Vietnam
Apsara with Saraswati (right)
Siva, Tháp Bánh Ít
Hindu temples and statues have been found in many parts of Vietnam. Some of these statues are in Musée Guimet, Paris.

The Champa civilization was located in the more southern part of what is today Central Vietnam, and was a highly Indianized Tamil Hindu Kingdom, practicing a form of Tamil Shaivite Hinduism brought by sea from India. Mỹ Sơn, a Hindu temple complex built by the Cham people is still standing albeit in ruins in Quảng Nam Province, in Vietnam. Since the 15th century under the growing Vietnamese kingdom from the north, Champa was conquered and reduced as a polity. The Chams were subsequently absorbed the Vietnamese and today are recognized one of the many ethnic minorities of Vietnam.

The Balamon Hindu Cham form a majority of the Cham population in Vietnam while most of the remainder are followers of Islam. The term Balamon is considered to have been derived from Brahmin,[27] however another study suggests that 70% are considered to descend from the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste[28] (pronounced in Vietnamese as "Satrias"), and claim to be the descendants of the Champa Empire.[29] In any case a sizable proportion of the Balamon Hindu Cham are considered Brahmins.

Hindu temples known as Bimong in the Cham language and the priests Halau Tamunay Ahier.

The exact number of Tamil Hindus in Vietnam are not published in Government census, but there are estimated to be at least 50,000 Balamon Hindus, with another 4,000 Hindus living in Ho Chi Minh City; most of whom are of Indian (Tamil) or of mixed Indian-Vietnamese descent. The Mariamman Temple is one of the most notable Tamil Hindu temples in Ho Chi Minh City. Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan Provinces are where most of the Cham ethnic group (~65%) in Vietnam reside according to the last population census. Cham Balamon (Hindu Cham) in Ninh Thuan numbered 32,000 in 2002 inhabiting 15 of 22 Cham villages.[30] If this population composition is typical for the Cham population of Vietnam as a whole then approximately 60% of Chams in Vietnam are Hindu.

See also


  1. ^ P. 333 The Modern Review By Ramananda Chatterjee
  2. ^  ; Sergent, Bernard: Genèse de l'Inde, 1997.
  3. ^ Beryl De Zoete, Dance and Drama in Bali, ISBN 978-9625938806
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Table: Religious Composition by Country, in Numbers Pew Research Center (December 2012)
  7. ^ a b Toʻ Cinʻ Khu, Elementary Hand-book of the Burmese Language, p. 4, at Google Books, pp. iv-v
  8. ^ in both Talaing and Burmese languages; Prome is similarly derived from Brohm or Brahma.
  9. ^ a b Donald M. Seekins (2006), Historical Dictionary of Burma, ISBN 978-0810854765, pp. 216-220
  10. ^ Thant Myint-U (2001), The Making of Modern Burma, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521799140, pp. 27-47
  11. ^ Hosen, N (2005-09-08). "Religion and the Indonesian Constitution: A Recent Debate" (PDF). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press) 36 (03): 419.  
  12. ^ 2010 Population and Housing Census of Malaysia (Census 2010) Department of Statistics Malaysia, Official Portal (2012)
  13. ^ Sandhu (2010), Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (1786-1957), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521148139, pp. 89-102
  14. ^ a b 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom - Malaysia U.S. State Department (2012)
  15. ^ Gill & Gopal, Understanding Indian Religious Practice in Malaysia, J Soc Sci, 25(1-2-3): 135-146 (2010)
  16. ^ Raymond Lee, Patterns of Religious Tension in Malaysia, Asian Survey, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Apr., 1988), pp. 400-418
  17. ^ Religious Freedom Report 2013 - Malaysia U.S. State Department (2014)
  18. ^ Religious Freedom Report 2012 - Malaysia U.S. State Department (2013)
  19. ^ Malaysian Indian Community: Victim of ‘Bumiputera’ Policy ORF Issue Report (2008)
  20. ^ Amarjit Kaur, Indian migrant workers in Malaysia – part 1 Australian National University
  21. ^ Amarjit Kaur, Indian migrant workers in Malaysia – part 2 Australian National University
  22. ^ In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the ISKCON temple was right beside the Hindu Temple.
  23. ^ Census of population 2010 Singapore Department of Statistics (2011)
  24. ^ Public Holidays Ministry of Manpower, Singapore
  25. ^ Hinduism Today | Thailand | July/August/September, 2003
  26. ^
  27. ^ Champa and the archaeology of Mỹ Sơn (Vietnam) By Andrew Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi, Patrizia Zolese p.105
  28. ^ India's interaction with Southeast Asia, Volume 1, Part 3 By Govind Chandra Pande, Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture, Centre for Studies in Civilizations (Delhi, India) p.231,252
  29. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2004, U.S. Department of State.
  30. ^ Champa and the archaeology of Mỹ Sơn (Vietnam) By Andrew Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi, Patrizia Zolese p.105

External links

  • Map of Khmer Empire art reveals ancient urban sprawl
  • Thailand Hinduism - A report on Hinduism in Thailand
  • Hindu-Buddhist Java and Southeast Asia
  • Hindu-Kaharingan Tiwah ceremony in Borneo
  • Hindu revival in Java
  • A tribute to hinduism
  • Hindu influence in Southeast Asia
  • Siddha Yoga Tradition in Malaysia
  • Heritage bid unites border rivals
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