From the 5th to the 14th century, a series of Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms emerged in Southeast Asia. The cultures of these kingdoms were deeply enriched by the religious movements, texts, kingship, art/architecture, philosophy, science, scripts and gods that were of the Indic origin. However the selections made by the Southeast Asian societies transformed the source material with abundant creativity. The Indic seeds were planted in local earth.
With the spread of Sanskrit in text and liturgy, people crossing the Bay of Bengal in either direction a thousand years ago would have found enough linguistic and cultural connections between the regions of South and Southeast Asia to consider all to be members of a large and varied but coherent community. Even today, when an Indian travels to Southeast Asia he has the impression of being in the known territory. Similarly, a Southeast Asian visiting India would see some familiar figures, cults and practices of worship.
The reason for the adoption of Indic concepts and beliefs by the Southeast Asian societies and the process through which, they were assimilated by the locals, are extremely difficult to pin down. The earliest Vishnu images of Southeast Asia were partly Indian in style fully Indian in their iconography, but this need not mean that the symbolism was understood only in Indic terms. The process of acculturation begins necessarily with a perception of the relevance of the original concept, but embedding in the local culture entails new layers of meaning that are hard to determine. Though Khmers worshipped Vishnu for example, in the vast palatial stone Angkor Wat in the 12th century, today an Indian visitor will find a 3 metre-icon of Vishnu daily venerated as the principal local earth spirit Ta Reac.
Future research has to address questions such as when and why specific Indic cultural elements come to be adopted and adapted by Southeast Asians?
The course is designed to help students familiarise themselves with the Hindu-Buddhist art, and material culture of Southeast Asia from early centuries to the advancement of Islam in the 14th century. A range of approaches based on current international scholarship will enable the students to critically analyse key representative monuments, sculpture and artefacts. Students will be required to write a catalogue entry of 1000 to1200 words on an object, as an important means of getting reinforcing their foundational knowledge of this region.