Southeast Asia

The pervasive influence of India can be seen in the art and religious ideas expressed in the temples of Southeast Asia. Indian trading colonies are thought to have been the vehicles for the transmission of Indian culture (Rawson 1967, p. 7), brought to differing forms of fruition in each of the Southeast Asian areas, according to the individual genius of each group.

The astronomy of Burma (today, Myanmar) is derived with few changes from that of India and is particularly close to Cambodia. The fullest summary of Cambodian astronomy is by Faraut (1910). A technical summary of Burmese astronomy is provided by Desilva (1914). From this area, we have a series of depictions of 68 asterisms with their names, collected by Buchanan (1807); unfortunately, the western equivalences are not provided. They include the 27 lunar mansions and 8 northern constellations. The latter have been identified by Zaw (1937). Some of the other asterisms may be identified with fair probability from references in other areas of Indian culture. Nishiyama has found many additional examples of star maps from Myanmar, mostly from the period 1600-1850; they are found on walls and ceilings of buildings (Plate 4, see color insert). The Burmese and Cambodian evidence makes it likely that the animals associated with lunar mansions in India were asterisms, as is also indicated by Jain evidence in India.

Throughout Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, a frequently used era base was that of Saturday/Sunday, Mar. 21/22, 638 a.d., corresponding to Kaliyuga day 1365702. T.E. Morgan (1980) suggested the coincidence of new moon and spring equinox was the basis for this era. He accepts the derivation of this era from India, but nonetheless, dismisses as unimportant the fact that this was the date of an annular solar eclipse extending across central India, because the eclipse did not extend as far as Burma. This date corresponds to Billard's (1971, p. 74) interpretation of a correction to the Suryasiddhanta. Faraut (1910) presents a Cambodian astronomical diagram. An era base that is probably the same is iconographically marked by a deity, centrally placed, riding on a bull or ox, the feet of which are above the 15th and 16th lunar mansion. The animal is that of the 16th mansion. The 16th mansion is included in the 5th region, that of the Bull, of the Chellambaram representation (cf. ยง9.1.2.1). Another diagram from Cambodia shows the 27 lunar mansions mostly animal series (with the following nonanimals: a spindle whorl, a plow handle, a ship, a tree, and two humans) arranged in a circle with 12 divisions.

Billard (1971, pp. 123-124) points out that a Cambodian inscription of 612 a.d., and several other inscriptions of about the same date, show the first use in an inscription of an era base (in this instance, the Saka era), the decan system, the Zodiac, the "ascendant," fully developed personal horoscopes, and the numerical symbols used in Indian astronomy. Among the Zodiacal signs is the name Tavura, a borrowing from the Greek, Tauros. This is the earliest attestation of any of a set of Greek Zodiac names borrowed into Sanskrit and then into Cambodian.

One of the earliest kingdoms in the area to reflect the Indian influences was that known as Fou Nan, a name given to it in Chinese records. The beginning of the kingdom is not known; 3rd-century Chinese records mention the legend of a Brahmin who traveled to Fou Nan, married into royalty, and became the first king. This legend was shared with several other regions, however. Sanskrit inscriptions mention an Indian ruler in a.d. 357 who claimed descent from Scythian kings. Rawson (1967, p. 21) speculates that he may have established the worship of Surya, depicted widely in sculpture. To the north of this region, the Chen La kingdom was created among the Mon-Khmer people, called Kambuja in Sanskrit, from which the name Cambodia is derived (Rawson 1968, p. 22). The two kingdoms were united through marriage around the 6th century a.d. and lasted until around the 8th. Although the ruling families of these kingdoms were Hindu, Buddhism began to assert itself, and the earliest depictions of Buddha are from the 6th century. The Shailendra dynasty, centered in Java, which became important in the 8th century, when the Chen La kingdom disintegrated, was Buddhist.

In 790, a member of a former royal family of Cambodia, who had spent much of his life in Java, returned to become Jayavarman II of a reestablished Hindu kingdom that became the Khmer empire. He built a temple-mountain at

Phnom Kulen and constructed a sacred lingam according to Brahman ritual. Later kings constructed similar structures, at Bakong and at Phnom Bakheng. The latter was built in 893 by Yashovarman. Rawlins (1967, p. 55) describes it as having seven levels, including the base and summit, with 108 towers around a central tower, representing the power of the deity, whose earthly representative is the king. Here, unlike the Buddhist temple at Borobodur (described below), the levels do not represent stages of enlightenment but the seven heavens; the number of towers that can be seen at any side is 33, the number of Hindu gods. Rawlins (1967, pp. 55-56) intimates that the numbers of seasons, lunar mansions, and planets play various roles in deciding the numerology of the structure, which thus encrypts and encapsulates the structure of the universe.

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