Category Archives: Hinduism in Southeast Asia

The Kingdom of Champa

The Kingdom of Champa at its peak ruled much of modern day Viet Nam. The Kingdom stretched from Quang Binh province to the southern border of Binh Thuan, also large portions of eastern Cambodia and Laos (Adam 2). Champa endured for nearly a millennium, leaving behind some twenty five temple sites (Adam 3). Its ancestors continue to thrive today.

Champa has a blurred beginning of multiple origins involving a combination of three peoples, each with significance and importance. These three are the Sa Huynh people, Funanese, and dynasties of Lin Yi.

The Sa Huynh people are the ancestors of the Cham. They are thought to have migrated to Vietnam by sea from Borneo. This would explain the Malayo-Polynesian language origins of the Cham language compared to its contemporaries in the same region like the Funan, Dai Viet and Khmer speaking Vietnamese or Mon-Khmer languages (Higham 297). Another cultural variation was the burial of Sa Huynh dead in large ceramic urns (Tingely 82). This was an unusual burial practice in mainland Southeast Asia. They adorned their dead with agate, carnelian, and glass beads from India, as well as gold and glass beads from the Mediterranean; suggestive of Champa’s vast seafaring competency (Higham 297). As Hinduism became increasingly popular, cremation became a prominent practice. Ashes would be collected in jars and then spread across the rivers (SarDesai 23: 1989).

The Kingdom of Funan was one of the first Southeast Asian kingdoms to adopt Hinduism, which they attribute to a legend of an Indian Brahmin, Kaundinya, who married the Naga princess Soma. Together they began the Funan royal lineage. This melded Orthodox Hindu tradition with local beliefs and mythology. Champa adopted it later through cultural diffusion and annexation of the Funanese territory of Panduranga (SarDesai 1988: 23).

The Lin Yi state has two likely relations to the Champa. Lin Yi is either the proto-nation of Champa, while it was severing from China, or it is merely the Chinese designation of that region (which was changed many times throughout its history), thus making Li Yin synonymous with Champa. Lin Yi should not be thought of as a unified state, but as many small kingdoms whose language and shared animosity of the Han Dynasty united them to separate from it in 192 CE. China still uses this ancient ownership to support their claim to some of the archipelagos in the South China Sea, specifically the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos (Adam 1).

Champa’s heyday was between the 6th and 15th centuries. Much of the knowledge on Champa comes from through physical evidence such as stone murals and temples. Champa’s contemporaries, such as the Dai Viet, contain bias accounts of Champa as warmongering pirates. The Chinese Dynasties only have an account of Champa when it was an interest to China (Tingely 189). Coastal Viet Nam is a fragmented geography with fifteen major rivers and mountains, which denied it the ability of a unified kingdom (Tingley 179). This geography is attributed to Champa’s seafaring lifestyle: a powerhouse on the sea but lacking on land. Modern interpretations of Champa consider it less of a unified kingdom, but a contingent of provinces that were united by a common culture, language and adversaries (Tingely 193). Champa is usually divided into five main regions. Some of these regions are directly correlated to modern day settlements. These regions were concentrated areas of settlement and ritual activity. From south to north they are: Panduranga/Thuan Hai, Kauthara/Nha Trang, Vijaya/Quy Nhon, Amaravati/Quang Nam, and Indrapura/Dong Duong (Tingley 180).

Vietnamese records portray the people of Champa as being malicious pirates. Champa did gain some wealth with piracy, but not exclusively. Piracy was a direct consequence of Cham ports not gaining profit due to Ming Emperor, Yongle 1403-1424 CE. Emperor Yongle cut out the Cham middlemen and set up direct trade routes from China to Southeast Asia (Tingely 189). During times of prosperity Champa’s trade influence stretched all the way to North Africa in the west and Japan in the East. A Muslim geographer wrote, Champa “produced ivory, camphor, nutmeg, mace, cloves, agarwood, cardamom, cubeb, and other substances” (Adam 4). Shipwrecks in the Philippines show green-glazed ceramics from Vijaya (Adam 4). Champa not only distributed wealth across their trade networks but also culture, especially Cham music, which influenced early Vietnamese court music (Adam 8). Traditional Cham music is still practiced in Viet Nam, especially in resorts and restaurants (Adam 8).

Champa had long lineage of kings. A king would be the leader of the most powerful Cham province at the time (Tingely 197). However, Champa was not unified and there were few who could stand out as “great”. The lineage may be long but it is also fragmented with diverging cultural influences, foreign occupations and a lack of records. Chinese records provide us with the early insight (Higham 301). Zhu Lian was of Lin Yi. He was the man who led to the separation of what would be Champa from Han China. For reference, Champa was not referred to as “Champa” until 629 CE by the Chams themselves, 657 CE by the Khmers and not until 877 CE by the Chinese (Higham 299). This is most likely due to increasing Sanskrit influences, as the name Champa is of Sanskrit origins. The newly separated state annexed the border fortress of Qusu, which defended the early kingdom (Higham 300). The Chinese sacked and recaptured Qusu in 446 CE, where it is said they put all inhabitants aged fifteen and over to the sword (Higham 301). Afterward, both states held an uneasy peace where they were able to share knowledge such as Chinese city defense and Chinese military architecture (Higham 300). This knowledge allowed a tactical edge in combat. During this time more ports began to open allowing Indian merchants’ access to Champa. With this new access came an introduction to Hinduism.

During the reign of Fan Hua 380-413 CE, through Indic influence, the Sanskritization of names in the South Indian Pallava style of naming, ending names with “varman,” and adoption of Hinduism flourished. Thus the king took the name Bhadravarman. Bhadravarman began inviting Brahmins to Champa (Higham 300-302). The Brahmins brought with them the sacred Vedas. Hindu Chams are given the title Balamon (Minority Rights Group 10).  Bhadravarman erected the most holy site in all of Champa, the temple complex of My Son. My Son grew to consist of seventy different temples. My Son is also an important centre for the understanding of Cham culture and the lineage of kings. In the temples, subsequent kings added stone murals and inscribed stelae over the ages (Higham 302). Bhadravarman temple was dedicated to a linga that combined Siva’s name [Isvara] with that of Bhadravarman himself, the Temple of Srisanabhadresvara. Most Balamon Cham temples were dedicated to Siva (Tingely 181). Subsequent kings worshipped the linga to seek legitimacy by making divine connection to Bhadravarman. This temple no longer stands today as it was burned to the ground in the sixth century. A later king, Sambhuvarman, built his own temple to Siva called Sambhu-Bhadresvara (Kumar 30). There is an inscription at My Son, which explains “Sambhuvarman’s glory rose like the autumn moon”. Sambhuvarman heightened his prestige by making divine connection to Siva and Bhadravarman (Higham 302).

Saivism’s popularity probably came about due to Siva’s relationship to mountains (Tingely 210). The Chams revered mountains and often placed many of their temples there. My Son was in a valley shadowed by Mount Mahaparvata and is considered particularly holy, as evidence by the seventy temples placed in My Son between the fifth and thirteenth centuries (Tingely 210). The linga is the most popular representation of Siva in Champa. However, images of Siva’s human like form have been found including one of Nataraja [King of the Dance] (Tingely 222).  Statues of Siva’s sons, Ganesa and Skanda have also been found, yet it is unsure if they were worshiped separately or as attendants to Siva (Kumar 23).

Images of Visnu and Brahman were present in Cham art but, there is no evidence of any major dedication to their worship (Tingely 224). An image of Krsna holding up Mount Govardhana has been found, which highlights Cham reverence of mountains and perhaps to Krsna (Kumar 37). The mythic episode of Ravana holding up the Kailash Mountain [Siva’s abode] has also been found, again a mountain theme (Kumar 46). While Visnu worship had little prominence some reliefs of the Ramayana have been found indicating it may have had popularity (Kumar 46).

The goddess Yang Po Nagara, of Cham Hinduism had renown nearly equally to that of Siva (Tingley 226). The temple of Po Nagar was dedicated to her worship. She is not found to have a relatable character in either Hinduism or Buddhism. Cham rituals today venerate her as “the goddess of the country, who created trees, forests, and rice paddies, and who taught the Cham to cultivate” (Tingely 226).

Cham temples were structures with one chamber, usually built with red bricks, a staple of Cham architecture. There was only one entrance, much like early Hindu temples. The base of the temple is usually square with a pyramidal roof called a kalan (Kumar 30) which parallels the sikhara of India. The kalan represents the sacred Mount Meru, the home of the gods (Kumar 30). The Cham temples design is similar to the Nagara temples of northern India.  A precise iconography system was important in Hindu temples in India. Deities inhabited certain precise points on the outside walls of temples. Specific iconography adherence was not evident in Cham architecture, but icons are present in some cases. The interiors were rather small and usually dimly lit with a candle or slivers of sunlight. Sanskrit texts call it a womb chamber [garbha grha], which held a single image. The usual image in Cham temples would be a linga mounted on a yoni (Tingely 181). The most profound difference between Indic and Cham temples is the presence of an elaborate pedestal on which the central image rests. In India it would only be placed on the stone foundation (Tingely 182). These pedestals would be square with one or two increasingly smaller squares on top of it with beautiful carved Cham and Hindu motifs around their perimeters. This pedestal may be due to the understanding of a text called the Silpa Sastras “The science of Silpa [arts and crafts].” The Silpa Sastras offered guidelines for temple design. A reference in the Sastra indicates “the importance of the seat of the god, endowing the base, or support of the god, with almost as much importance as the god itself” (Tingely 182). However, its prominence may be more likely related to indigenous beliefs reworked by Hindu tradition (Tingely 182). These pedestals have been found at major Cham religious centres, Hindu and Buddhist, such as My Son, Tra Kieu, Nha Trang, Po Nagar and Dong Duong (Tingley 182).

In 875 CE King Indravarman II erected a new dynasty in the Northern portion of Champa at Indrapura – Dong Duong. After repulsing an invasion by the Khmers, Indravarman was the first Cham to adopt Mahayana Buddhism. He constructed a monastery dedicated to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara [Lokeshvara], which now lies in ruins. Buddhism gained prominence in Champa for a time much like it did in India. It must also be mentioned there was a blending of Saivism with Buddhist. Indravarman still honoured the linga Bhadresvara in an inscription at Dong Duong (Tingely 216). Dong Duong was the centre of Cham Buddhism. The bodhisattva Ajaya Avalokitesvara or Guanyin “Lord who looks down” was particularly revered in as he offers protection from danger (Tingely 172). Cham Buddhism is still trying to be understood as the excavations at Dong Duong continue (Tingely 187). The Dong Duong temple consisted of three court yards (Tingely 186). In the first is a monastery, the second a long pillared hallway and the third contained the main sanctuary surrounded by nine smaller buildings representing the navagraha (Tingely 186). Pairs of guardians were placed at the entrances of the courtyards. These images emphasize the intense physiognomy. These sentinels are identified as: dharmapala “Protectors of the Law” (Tingely 187).

From 1100-1200 CE there was a period of war with the Khmer of Angkor where the balance of power was constantly fluctuating (Tingley 188). Based on documented accounts of King Jaya Indravarman IV’s 1177 CE sack of Angkor, Chams weaponry included crossbows. Crossbows were a technology adopted from the Chinese and were used on horseback. The usurper king of the time was Tribhuvanadityavaraman. Khmer Jayavarman VII assumed leadership and led the resistance, but was reluctant to take the throne. In 1178 CE, on Lake Tong Sap, the Chams were defeated decisively by the Khmer. By 1203 CE they occupied parts of Champa Vijaya. In the 13th century Champa rose up again, as the Thais in the west pressured Angkor. Reliefs such as the one on the Bayon in Cambodia provide us an image of Angkorian, and in turn, the Champa army composition. The army consisted of war elephants, limited cavalry archers and infantry levies usually dressed in a loincloth with a single spear (Higham 306).

The last strong king of Champa was Po Binasuor [Che Bong Nga], who ruled from 1360-1390 CE (SarDesai 1988:33).  In Vietnamese stories he is called the Red King. Po Binasuor was able to, for one last time, unite the whole of Champa. He was nearly able to conquer Champa’s northern enemies – the Dai Viet. The Cham navy was able to sack the capital at Thang Long in 1372 CE (modern day Hanoi). These attacks continued until Dai Viet general Ho Quy Ly in 1390 CE finally halted the offensive, and Po Binasuor was shot and died in the battle (SarDesai 1988:33). Dai Viet was a puppet state of the Ming Dynasty until 1426 CE when Le Loi led the Lam Song uprising and gained Dai Viet independence. (SarDesai 1988:34) The Dai Viet looked to enlarge their territory and they turned south to Champa. This was the beginning of the slow collapse of Cham territory southward. In 1471 CE the Dai Viet captured Vijaya. (SarDesai 1988:23). With this annexation the Cham people began to immigrate to places such as Cambodia. Even though once old enemies, their cultural practices were familiar to those of the Vietnamese descendants. The Champ people preferred the Hindu Khmer to the Sino-or Confucian cultured Vietnamese (Minority Rights Group 10). By the mid-1600 CE the Dai Viet reduced the Champa Empire to the southern province of Panduranga. Here the last vestiges of Champa remained and in a sense, found new prosperity; a prosperity similar to the 16th and 17th centuries. Temples were still being erected, especially by the King Po Rome. Rome, the last king of the brick towers, created one of Champa’s largest towers, and its last (Tingely 192). Unfortunately, in 1832 CE Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang campaigned to stamp out the remnants of Cham identity. Minh Mang ordered the destruction of the temples and villages. This is the main reason Champa is a largely unknown kingdom. There was destruction of ancient Cham physical culture. Many more Chams then fled to Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries. The Vietnamese continue to build rice paddies, dragon fruit plantations and shrimp farms over old Cham sites in addition to using the bricks for modern construction projects (Adam 7). In 2001 and 2004 human’s rights protests in Vietnam, from multiple minorities including Cham, saw mass imprisonment and even deaths (Adam 9).

However, the Cham people still survive in Southeast Asia today. The Chams are renowned for their textiles, which are hand-woven on looms (Adam 7). The exact number of Cham descendants is contested, but estimates come in around 400,000-700,000 strong (Minority Rights Group 10). The Chams are an officially recognized minority in Vietnam and Cambodia. Very few Chams can read and write in their native tongue due to government policies requiring them to use only the state language. The Cham language can only be transferred orally from generation to generation by family (Adam 8).

Cultural changes occurred as Malay Muslims migrated to Cambodia over the centuries. The interaction with Malay Muslims led to many Chams following the Islamic faith.  They are referred to as Bani Chams. Islam was present as early as 986, but its following was insignificant (Adam 6). Islam toady is the faith of the majority of Cham diaspora (Minority Rights Group 10).  However, in Vietnam Hinduism still has the majority (Minority Rights Group 10). Both Hindu and Muslim Cham worship ancestors and even some Balamon observe a Bani variation of Ramadan, Ramawan (Adam 6). Caste distinctions among Balamon Chams are not as important in Cham society as they are in India.  They are a matriarchal society. Daughters have the right to inheritance (SarDesai 23: 1989). When Chams marry the husband is chosen and co-opted into the bride’s family, which is opposite to that of Indian practices. Women are called household chiefs, yet the chief of the clan is male (SarDesai 23: 1989).  The Balamon Chams are one of the two longest remaining indigenous non-Indic Hindu People along with the people of Bali (Minority Rights Group 10).


References and Further Recommended Readings

Higham, Charles (1989) The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia: from 10,000 B.C. to the fall of Angkor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

SarDesai, D.R. (1989) Southeast Asia Past and Present. Boulder: Westview Press.

SarDesai. D.R. (1988) Vietnam Trails and Tribulations of a Nation. New Delhi: Promilla and Co.

Groslier, Bernard-Philippe (1966) Indochina. Geneva: Nagel Publishers

Tingely, Nancy (2009) Arts of Vietnam: from river plains to open sea. New York: Asia Society.

Minority Rights Group (1995) Minorities in Cambodia. Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

Phan, Hao N. (2015) “Cham Manuscripts, the Endangered Cultural Heritage from a Lost Kingdom.” Restaurator. 36:101-120. Accessed February 7, 2016. DOI: 10.1515/res-2014-0019

Bray, Adam. (2014) “The Cham: Descendants of Ancient Rulers of South China Sea Watch Maritime Dispute from Sidelines.” National Geographic. Accessed February 9, 2016.

Kumar, Bachchan. (2011) Arts and Archaeology of South-East Asia. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Ngo, Van Doah. (2005) My Son Relics. Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers.

Ngo, Van Doah. (2012) Champa Ancient Towers: Reality & Legend. Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers.

Maspero, Georges. (2002) The Champa Kingdom: The History of an Extinct Vietnamese Culture. Banglamung: White Lotus Press.

Phuong, Tran Ky. (2011) The Cham of Vietnam: History, Society and Art. Singapore: NUS Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

My Son

Trau Kieu

Po Rome

Po Nagar

Dong Duong

Nha Trang



Minh Mang

Sa Huynh


Khmer Empire

Dai Viet




Lin Yi


Silpa Sastras



Po Binsuor







Yang Po Nagara



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Jon Kasperski (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kingdom of Champa (Historical Development)

This article will be focusing on the early historical development of the Kingdom of Champa up to the peak of its power which ended in 1000 CE and the Hindu traditions that they inherited through Indianization. The article will start at the beginning of the kingdoms history and what started the initial spread of Hinduism in Champa. This is followed by a brief section on some of the practices that the Cham people adopted from India. It will then turn to a brief history of the earliest Hindu dynasties in Champa and the position of Siva in their society. A history of the Gangaraja dynasty is given along with the place of the caste system in Champa society. Finally, there is a brief history of the Bhrgu Dynasty noting only a handful of members from each dynasty leading up to the point where Champa’s power declined.

The region of modern day Vietnam in 214 BCE was conquered by the Chinese Tsin Dynasty (Majumdar 13). It was not until 192 CE that the local Cham named Kiu-Lien killed the local Chinese official and named himself king of Lin-yi, which laid the foundations for the future Kingdom of Champa (Majumdar 18). It was also by the end of the second century that the Kingdom of Champa had become a highly Indianized state in the region. Before the emergence of Champa, traders from India had travelled through Southeast Asia and Europe. Most Indian trade went to the Roman Empire exchanging exotic products for gold. However, by 79 CE Indian trade to Europe declined dramatically due to the ever growing amount of conflict in the Roman Empire. For this reason Indian trade had been slowly going towards Southeast Asia (Cady 25-28). It is due to this ever growing amount of trade to the region that Indianization occurred in Champa. Unlike the previous period a new development occurred in Indian trade patterns, as traders were then being accompanied by “educated elements capable of spreading the religions and arts of India, and the Sanskrit language” (Coedes 15) for the first time (Coedes 15). The traders brought with them Indian colonists which changed the structure of the society through the intermarriage of Indian and Cham peoples. The Cham adopted the new culture, religion and language that the colonists brought, which resulted in a cultural fusion of the Indians and the Chams (Majumdar 21). It should be noted that it was mostly the societal elite of the Chams that took in the new teaching and used the Hindu ceremonies to legitimize their rule (Mabbett 144).

It is clear from this point onward that certain Hindu traditions and cultural practices were used in Champa throughout its history. As in India the cow is considered a sacred animal and beef was not eaten in the Kingdom of Champa (Cady 107). It also appears that the Indian epic called the Ramayana was well known in Champa and in other Indianized states in the region (Marrison 46). Marriage to the Chams is considered a sacred ceremony as it was the foundation of the family. People were also only supposed to marry within their own clan, however, there were no restrictions on marrying into another caste. There is also evidence that when the husband of a high family died the wife joined him in the funeral pyre; this practice is known as sati (Majumdar 226-227). They studied all branches of Sanskrit literature and used the Hindu calendar to determine the dates of special feasts and celebration (Cady 107-108).

The first Hindu dynasty of the Kingdom of the Cham’s was the royal family of Sri Mara which was discovered by translating the Sanskrit Vo-Chanh Rock inscription. The Sri Mara royal family ruled over the Kauthara region located in modern south Vietnam in the second or third century CE. Very little information exists on the early Hindu kings of Champa, save the information provided by Chinese historians (Majumdar 21).  In the late second century, a king of the Sri Mara royal family, and those after him, raided and conquered territory belonging to the Chinese Han Dynasty. Kings of Champa moved further into modern Central Vietnam taking control of Quang-nam (Cady 59). In 380 CE, King Dharma-maharaja Sri Bhadravarman ascended to the throne of Champa and is regarded as the important king of early Champa. He ruled over the provinces of Amaravati, Vijaya and Panduranga provinces, which comprise central and south Vietnam (Majumdar 26-28). It is through King Bhadravarman’s efforts that Champa was fully indianized by the early fourth century (Cady 59-60). Bhadravarman constructed the first sanctuary of Siva called Bhadresvara in Myson, which is named to commemorate the founder. Sanskrit inscriptions of Bhadravarman are the first documentation of the religious origins of the Champa. The inscriptions showed that the cult of Siva-Uma along with the other two gods associated with the Trimurti were dominant in Champa (Coedes 47-49). Siva for a vast majority of Champa’s history has been regarded as the supreme god to which all others submit. This was emphasized by the Puranic literature brought from India. However, there were still several temples and shrines that were erected to worship Brahma, Visnu and other deities associated with Siva (Majumdar 168-172). In the period between 380 and 520 CE the “Cham alphabet” (Hartmann 11), based off Sanskrit, became its own distinctive writing style called akhar patau hayap script (Phan 106).

In 529 CE, after the rise and fall of several Hindu dynasties, the Dynasty of Gangaraja emerged with Sri Rudravarman as its head. This is the first recorded distinction of the Hindu caste system, as an inscription at Myson declares Rudravarman a son of a Brahmin and his “mother’s mother was a daughter of Manorathavarman” (Majumdar 35). This meant his father was of the Brahmin class and his mother was of the Ksatriya class. This started a Brahmin- Ksatriya caste in Champa society, however, in Champa it was considered a subdivision of the Ksatriya class. It is also determined that society was theoretically divided into the four classes, but in practice the Brahmin and Ksatriya were the only classes to existed in society only rarely mentioning the Vaisya or Sudra classes (Majumdar 214-216). It is also clear that the Brahmin in Cham society were not regarded as being of higher status then the king and the state as they were in India (Majumdar 216). During Rudravarman’s reign that the temple of Bhadresvara was destroyed in a great fire (Majumdar 36). It is also in the reign of Rudravarman that the Theravada Buddhism that was known for using Sanskrit language began to spread in Champa (Coedes 59-60). Rudravarman’s successor Sambhuvarman once again continued to raid Chinese territory in the north and the Chinese army retaliated and sacked the northern part of the Kingdom of Champa. In his reign he rebuilt the temple of Bhadresvara and gave it the new name Sambhubhadresvara. (Coedes 70-71). In 653 CE, several kings after Sambhuvarman, King Vikrantavarman took the throne of Champa and began to erect multiple religious buildings in Myson, Tra-kieu, and in areas of Quang-nam. Many of the buildings constructed in southern Champa during his reign were connect to the cult of Visnu, which was popular in the region at the time (Coedes 71 – 72).

In 757 CE the Dynasty of Gangaraja is replaced by the Panduranga Dynasty which was plagued by war and raids from the Javanese (Majumdar 49-55). In 875 CE, Indravarman II who was highly praised, was the founder of the new Bhrgu Dynasty. The dynasty was based in the city of Champapura, which was renamed to Indrapura by Indravarman II (Coedes 122-123). Indravarman constructed the Buddhist temple and monastery to the “Mahayana Buddha” (Coedes 123) called Laksmindralokesvara, which has been identified as the ruins of Dong Duong (Coedes 122-123). At this point the Kingdom of Champa is considered to have been a regional power due to its trade routes that run the length of its shores (Lawler 28). The next notable king of the dynasty was Indravarman III who in 918 CE had a golden statue of the goddess Bhagavati at Po Nagar in the Southern region of Champa (Coedes 124). Indravarman III in several Inscriptions found in Po Nagar is described as being a great scholar, knowing Brahmanical philosophy, Panini’s grammar along with the commentary of Kasika, and the Uttarakalpa of the Saivites (Majumdar 65). After the death of Indravarman III, the history of Champa is very limited as it enters a state of anarchy and war due to external threats. This was mainly due to the rise of the Dai Co Viet directly north of Champa, and the Cambodian kingdoms to the west. The history of Champa is one of decline from 1000 CE to 1471 CE as their territory is conquered by foreign powers (Coedes 124-125).



Cady, John F. (1964) Southeast Asia: Its Historical Development. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book  Company.

Coedès, George (1968) The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Translated by Susan Brown Cowing. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

Hartmann, John F. (1986) “The Spread of the South Indic Scripts in Southeast Asia.” Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 3:6 – 20. Accessed February 7, 2016.

Lawler, Andrew (2013) “Inside Hanoi’s Forbidden City.” Archaeology 66:24 – 30. Accessed February 6, 2016. doi:

Mabbett, I.W. (1977) “The ‘Indianization’ of Southeast Asia: Reflections on the Historical Sources.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 8:143-161. Accessed February 28, 2016.

Majumdar, R.C. (2008) Champa: History and Culture of an Indian Colonial Kingdom in the Far  East 2nd – 16th Century A.D.. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Marrison, G. E. (1985) “The Chams and the Literature.” Journal of Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 58:45-70. Accessed February 27, 2016.

Phan, Hao N. (2015) “Cham Manuscripts, the Endangered Cultural Heritage from a Lost Kingdom.” Restaurator 36:101 – 120. Accessed February 7, 2016. doi: 10.1515/res-2014-0019.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

A Broader look at the Indianization of Southeast Asia






The Caste System




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Griffin Brown (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.


Thaipusam is a religious festival celebrated by Tamils that originated in South India, but is now particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It is one of the largest festivals in Malaysia, even though Indians make up less than 10% of the population (Ward 317). It begins on the first day with a full moon during the month of Thai in the Tamil calendar (January to February) and lasts for three days. This time of the year is a powerful occasion due to the austerity associated with the astrological signs of the full moon.

There are several versions of how the celebration originated, but the most widely accepted one includes the defeat of the evil demon Surapadma by the god Murugan, son of Parvati and Siva. It was believed that Surapadma victimized and hurt people, so the people asked Parvati to send her son to help them. However, she was unable to grant their request because Murugan was practicing asceticism in isolation. Not deterred by this, the people proceeded to where Murugan was living, who was touched by their journey and decided to help the people. On the day worshippers now celebrate Thaipusam, Parvati had given him a sacred lance to use as a weapon that aided in his defeat of Surapadma (Collins 63). Another, less popular, origin story claims that Murugan was taken away from his place of asceticism to be married in a temple. By accident, the priest polluted the auspicious ceremony by sneezing, so the marriage had to be postponed until the following year (Collins 77). Even though Hindus have differing opinions on how Thaipusam originated, they collectively celebrate it in the same way.

The celebration comprises of a three-day festival and has a particularly busy schedule for followers. Before the sun rises on the first day of Thaipusam, a Pandaram, a non-Brahmin priest, meets other festival committee members at a shop-house, which holds a chariot and a murti (image) of Murugan. The festival usually begins at 4:00AM when the Pandaram performs puja (worship) on the image, anointing and dressing it, and passing flaming lights before the image (arati). At 8:00AM, a chariot procession begins. Behind the chariot, about twenty men and a couple of boys carry wooden arches called kavadis on their shoulders with a pot of milk suspended at either end. They walk without shoes because of the sacred journey they are beginning. Large throngs of worshippers gather around the chariot to make offerings to Murugan and to touch sacred ash to their bodies.

While the chariot, murti, and the garments worn by celebrants are physically and elaborately decorated, the festival is also embellished artistically through dance and music. Along the journey, kavadi dances (kavadi attam) take place, where dancers form in circles and seem to enter a trance as the music intensifies and their dancing becomes more complicated. Sometimes, individuals are seen dropping to the ground in a faint, overcome with the spiritual presence of the god. Fan-bearers follow, along with musicians playing drums and other instruments (Collins 62-68).

The procession is usually finished by 10:00PM and the murti is brought into the innermost chambers of a temple, where it is kept for two days. Immediately after the murti is placed there that night, devotees make a pilgrimage up a large hill or temple steps. In Malaysia, a full night of walking takes Hindus up almost three hundred steps to the Batu Caves, an essential component of Thaipusam.  The caves serve as shrines and relate to the story of how Murugan conquered Surapadma. The second day of the festival is spent at this sacred place, where Murugan is worshipped and vows are received (Ward 319). That night, they make their way back down and the Pandaram, temple committee, musicians, and other worshippers take Murugan’s image out of the temple. They proceed back to the shop-house that holds the chariot, murti, and kavadis where the festival started. There, one last puja is performed before the festival is over and everyone heads home (Collins 88).

Prior to their time in the Batu Caves, Hindus will make vows in anticipation that they will be fulfilled symbolically through the act of the rituals performed throughout the length of the festival. Rituals encourage festival celebrants to leave material pursuits in preference for spiritual devotion and thanksgiving, representative of Murugan’s asceticism. Most Hindus are motivated by these vows, where they make an offering for a specific period of time and in turn, their vows are fulfilled. Thaipusam devotees often ask for requests that involve marriage, health and financial concerns, and educational wishes (Ward 318-319). Asceticism has many expressions, ranging from generic rituals to the more radical rituals. One simple ritual often associated with Thaipusam is head-shaving (pirarttanai mudi), which allows the devotee to become free of sin by removing hair, which acts as a pollutant.  More complex rituals usually include body piercing. Worshippers will sleep on the ground in the temple courtyard the night before the festival, then take a ritual bath and have incense passed before their faces, ensuring that the presence of Murugan is strong. They will go into a trance and have hooks and skewers inserted into their bodies. The power of Murugan is believed to be the reason why blood is rarely shed and celebrants report that they feel little to no pain during mortification of the flesh. The most extreme part of this ritual an individual may perform includes pulling a chariot by the hooks pierced into one’s back, while carrying milk pots from the chest and from a six foot long lance, pierced through the cheeks (Collins 80-82).

The trances can affect humans biologically, psychologically, and physiologically. Similar impacts from trances are seen wherever they are practiced, even across different cultures (Simpson 21). This altered state of consciousness is defined as a change in the typical pattern of how an individual mentally operates (Ward 308). It can occur in many different ways, with forms including religious ecstasy and spirit possession more difficult to study empirically compared to forms like sleep and hypnosis. However, trances are typically demonstrated by changes in facial expressions and posture of the individuals, and there is still a conscious awareness of their surroundings, posing little harm to themselves or others (Kiev 134).

During Thaipusam, trances are strongly induced by sensory stimuli. Sanskrit prayers are heard chanted by religious followers and a pujari (temple priest), while burning incense is in the air. Trances are also aided physiologically by the feeling of light-headedness from fasting before the festival (Ward 320). Field observations suggest that the chanting, music, and dancing stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain and disrupt the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic system will dominate, causing muscle tension and decreases in breathing rates. This is responsible for inducing and maintaining the altered state of consciousness (Ward 312, 323). Individuals often report that after coming out of their altered state of consciousness, which is also associated with feelings of floating and extreme emotions, they experience a sense of exhilaration and rejuvenation (Ward 322). This lack of pain that they feel is suggested to be from the release of endorphins, blockage in the sympathetic nervous system, or modification of the physiological process from previous experience (Prince 310-311).

Positive psychological benefits of trances include prestige and respect paid to the individual by others, in addition to the ability to release emotions that may have been previously held in due to shame.  Interpersonal relationships across different classes that would otherwise be frowned upon can also be formed. On a more encompassing level, these trances can encourage cohesion within a subculture by tightening social structure and interaction between the community and individuals (Ward 316-317). Despite possible pain and bleeding, both individuals and groups of people can benefit from the piercings as a release of emotions and a way for a community to fulfill status needs (Ward 331).

Individuals have had to find different ways to personally worship Murugan because of the politics in Malaysia throughout history. During the colonial period, the British administration banned all Malaysians from celebrating Thaipusam, worried that it could be used as a cover for violent acts. In the 1960s, the ban was retracted because the authorities viewed religion as a way to bring peace (Collins 89). While these celebrations are still banned in India, over the years there has been a significant increase in the number of people celebrating Thaipusam in Malaysia (Ward 324). In a matter of only 20 years, beginning in 1980, the number of people participating at the Batu Caves increased from 500 to over 3 000 (Collins 89). There are several reasons for the increase in number, one being that it provided a more egalitarian aspect. A festival to an Amman (village goddess) was meant for vow fulfillment and celebrated in various Malaysian cities. Everyone had an important role, including the Untouchables, to ensure that the community did not bring disgrace to their goddess. Gradually, as more estate owners discouraged participation in the festival, labourers headed to the Thaipusam festivals for a sense of equality with others (Collins 91-92). In addition, temples eventually became accessible to “Untouchables” and transportation was more widely available, resulting in the resurgence of people worshipping Murugan (Clothey 115-116).

Furthermore, an increase in crowds due to tourism has been observed at Thaipusam festivals. While it can be an attractive tourism activity for foreigners, it is meant to be a sacred religious time for devotees, and the challenge is to balance both of these aspects (Weidenfeld and Ron 358). The possibility of a large amount of profit should not affect the spiritual acts of worship and celebration; however, domestic travel in Malaysia alone has increased just from Hindus travelling to the Batu Caves for a few days every year. While some practitioners report that they do not mind tourists, others think that their presence can be disrespectful, especially when tour operators and foreigners are said to not have the consideration to dress appropriately or to abstain from smoking on temple grounds. Tourists often come to the celebration to witness the remarkable event, and worshippers may feel pressured to meet those requirements, which could lead them to stray away from the authenticity of the festival. Another negative force on the worship from the increase in the festival’s popularity is the large number of crowds in the limited space at the caves. The Batu Caves are particularly popular; followers explain that the environment of being surrounded by people at a splendorous temple, elevated high on a hill, makes them feel closer to their god. In order to alleviate congestion in these temple centres, better management on transport could be implemented, or people could be encouraged to visit the other various temples spread throughout the country (Kasim 444-452).

The festival has generated controversy among different groups of people in today’s society. In recent years, the authorities in Singapore banned music from the festival altogether. Celebrants argue that both music and dance are essential in religious expression (Kong 241-242), and it is noted that the loud beating of drums in the lion dance performed on the streets on Chinese New Year is still allowed. However, people may argue that the Thaipusam ceremonies focus on the ostentatious aspect of body piercing. Some devotees spend up to $300 for kavadis, and there have been regulations put into place in Malaysia, specifically Penang, prohibiting the use of cheek skewers longer than eight feet (Ward 325). Piercing bodies with hooks and skewers also raises questions about the safety of participants. During the 1970s and 1980s, the methods of body mortification became more dangerous, like wearing shoes made out of nails (Jegindo et al. 174). To what extent should the authorities control the acts of religious worshippers for the safety of everyone? Even with these differing opinions, the festival becomes an increasingly popular time of year when over a million Hindus take part in both the joyous and sacred aspects of the festival dedicated to Murugan.



Clothey, Fred (2005) The many faces of Murukan: the history and meaning of a South Indian God. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Collins, Elizabeth (1997) Pierced by Murugan’s Lance: Ritual, Power, and Moral Redemption among Malaysian Hindus. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Jegindo, Else-Marie, Lene Vase, Jens Jegindo, and Armin Geertz (2013) “Pain and Sacrifice: Experience and Modulation of Pain in a Religious Piercing Ritual.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol. 23, No. 3: 171-187.

Kasim, Azilah (2011) “Balancing Tourism and Religious Experience: Understanding Devotees’ Perspectives on Thaipusam in Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.” Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management, Vol. 20, No. 3-4: 441-456.

Kiev, Ari (1961) “Spirit Possession in Haiti.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 118, No. 2: 133-138.

Kong, Lily (2005) “Religious Processions: Urban Politics and Poetics.” Temenos, Vol. 31, No. 2: 225-249.

Prince, Raymond (1982) “The Endorphins: A Review for Psychological Anthropologists.” Ethos, Vol. 10, No. 4: 303-316.

Simpson, George (1964) “The Acculturative Process in Trinidadian Shango.” Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1: 16-27.

Ward, Colleen (1984) “Thaipusam in Malaysia: a psycho-anthropological analysis of ritual trance, ceremonial possession and self-mortification practices.” Ethos, Vol. 12, No. 4: 307-344.

Weidenfeld, Adi and Amos Ron (2008) “Religious Needs in the Tourism Industry.” Anatolia, Vol. 19, No. 2: 357-361.


Related topics for Further Investigation


Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves








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Article written by: Michelle Kwan (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.


Some Hindus believe that Harihara is the Supreme God. In the Hindu tradition the supreme gods are Visnu and Siva.  Visnu is known as Hari and Siva is known as Hara. In Sanskrit Hari means a yellowish or khaki color, which represents the sun and the Soma plant. Put together Hari and Hara are Harihara, which is a combination of the two gods. Harihara is also commonly known as Shankaranarayana; “Shankara” is Siva while “Narayana” is Visnu. Devotees believe that Siva and Visnu are different aspects of the same reality. Sometimes they are thought to have been brought together because they were ‘rivals’ but there is no evidence to show that this is the case. Harihara is occasionally used in philosophical terms to indicate Visnu and Sivas unification of different aspects of the Supreme God (Olson). The most famous philosophical analogy is the yogurt and milk analogy, which says that yogurt is a groundwork of milk but yogurt cannot be used as milk. Siva is an expansion of Krishna but Siva cannot act as Krishna. Also Siva has a connection with the material world while Visnu and Krishna do not. It is thought that Visnu is a part of Krishna as the whole.

Harihara image (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

Harihara was very popular in Cambodia in the beginning of the seventh century. It is thought to be popular in Cambodia because previous Cambodian rulers had worshiped Siva in the seventh and eighth century. The rulers tried to maintain and control southern Cambodia, which had a strong connection to Visnu. The northern rulers wanted an icon that would represent the unification of the south and north, which lead to Harihara. Evidence of Harihara worship was most commonly found deity during the seventh century in the Preangkorian Khmer empire (see Lavy 22-31). Archaeological evidence relates to clay Harihara figurines, which suggest that Harihara was the main deity being worshiped in seventh century Cambodia.  The worship of Harihara did not spread to India or Southeast Asia until many centuries later. The worship of Harihara began to die out of the Khmer culture in the thirteenth century.

Temple for worship of Harihara are very rare. One of the main temples for worship is in Shankaranarayana village. Shankaranarayana is located east of Kundapura in Karnataka, India. The village gets its name from the temple. The temple is thought to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World that was created by Maharshi Parashurama (Meister 167-170).

The main festival for Shankaranarayana is the Shankaranaraya Jaatre. The festival begins four days before Makar Sankranti, and celebrates the sun passing from one zodiac sign to another, and runs for a week. The first six days of the event consist of a variety of rituals devoted to Harihara. The last day of the festival is the main event, when Rathotsava is celebrated. This occasion frequently falls on January 16. At the Rathotsava festival, more then ten thousand people from different parts of India come to worship (Meister 170-173).

When Harihara is depicted with four arms, the right side is shown as Siva while the left side is Visnu. Siva is portrayed as being the destroyer and in his right upper hand holds a trident; the points on the tridents are believed to represent trinities for example, past, present, and future or creation, maintenance and destruction. Some people also believe that it represents the three channels of energy or nadis. The right side of the head of Harihara consists of Siva’s matted locks with a headdress. Siva’s third eye is visible on the right side of the forehead as well. On the left side of Harihara Visnu is shown calm and holding in his upper left hand the wheel emblem; his head is also portrayed with a crown; the crown represents Visnus’ supreme authority while the wheel represents the circle of life, unity, the sun, and reincarnation (Lavy 21).

Although not widely known, Harihara is a significant and interesting deity within the Hindu tradition.


Lavy, Paul A. (2003) Journal of Southeast Asia Studies: “As in heaven, so on earth: the politics of Visnu, Siva and Harihara images in Preangkorian Khmer civilization.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meister, Michael A. (1976), Artibus Asiae. Vol. 38, Artibus Asiae Publishers.

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Cambodian History





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Article written by: Rose Naigus (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.