III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > C. South and Southeast Asia, 500–1500 > 4. Southeast Asia, c. 900–1557
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
4. Southeast Asia, c. 900–1557
In this period developed distinct civilizations that can be divided into three main patterns: those based on Theravada Buddhism (See c. 78–96+ C.E) (the present-day countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia); those shaped by Sinitic influences (Vietnam); and those influenced by mercantile connections to the Islamicate world (Malaya). Theravada Buddhism probably came not from India but from Ceylon in the 11th century. Buddhist concepts were interpolated into Hindu concepts of kingship. The Hindu concept of devaraja, or the divine connection between the king and god, played a crucial role in forming the notions of power and state during this period. With this delineation came a transition from what scholars have called “early kingdoms” to “imperial kingdoms” and a changing “ritual policy,” important for the functioning and distribution of temples.  1
Srivijaya and other kingdoms of central Java as well as the kingdoms of the mainland relied on alliances, often via marriage, and on relationships that were mutually beneficial. Once again, the flexibility of Southeast Asian conceptualizations of polities meant that the ruler's power did not need to be based on rooted infrastructures such as landholding, bureaucracy, or highly institutionalized state organizations. Local units continued to have separate identities. A ruler's power was based on “ritual sovereignty”: the king was endowed with sacred powers, and he reinforced the aura of divine majesty through his patronage of temple complexes, patronage of monks and priests possessing the sacred Indian learning, and support for sacred monuments, elaborate rituals, and state ceremonies. The ruler's creation of ceremonial centers—centers of religion, art, and learning—was the source of his ability to attract and maintain alliances. They were demonstrations of his connections to higher gods and higher learning, and of his spiritual superiority.  2
Scholarly debate among historians of Southeast Asia recently has centered on the issue of how a “state” is defined. One school of thought has emphasized the standard of a unified, bureaucratized polity that is consistent with traditional Western understanding of an “advanced civilization.” However, in view of the nature of state organization in Southeast Asia, it seems clear that an institutionally weak yet integrated society could still be considered a major civilization. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Indic concept of mandalas, or circles of kings, continued as the dominant model of state organization in the region during this period. Each kingdom—such as Angkor, Ayudhya, Majapahit—formed concentric circles of influence radiating out from a center representing the ruler (whose authority generally became weaker the further from the center an area was located), and moving toward more distant or geographically remote territories. This model was often unstable politically and represented a form of “state” with a vaguely defined geographical area and no fixed boundaries, which could expand and contract depending on interactions with other competitive state centers. Smaller centers would switch allegiances as they looked for security. Negeri, a Malay-Indonesian word for state, was particularly applicable to riverine or coastal principalities in the Malayo-Muslim world; derived from the Sanskrit term for “kingdom” or “capital,” negeri continued to be used to define the state during this period in Southeast Asia.  3
Java (or Mataram) provides one example of the concentric-circles model of power relationships. Kraton was the word used for the sacral palace-city of the Javanese kings that formed the center of their kingdom. Negara agung was used to describe the second administrative circle in the kingdom of Mataram; it consisted of the core area immediately outside the palace-city. Manca negara was the term used for the third administrative circle of Mataram, which consisted of most of Java outside the palace city and the core administrative area. (See Southeast Asia, 1500–1800)  4
a. The Malay Archipelago and Peninsula
The prominence of the kingdom of Srivijaya, crucial to the development of Malay society and the founding of Malacca, continued during this period. Along with developments in wet-rice cultivation in agrarian societies in the Indic mode came the spread of Islam, especially in Java (14th–18th centuries) and initially in trading ports along the north coast. (Trading ports served as part of the great network of shipping in the archipelago, moving spices to the archipelago and rice to Malacca after 1400. This network, in turn, was connected to an international system of commerce reaching from the Moluccas to the Mediterranean, linking Southeast Asia to the expanding world of European trade and conquest. Through this period, however, the general linkage was to the larger Islamicate world.)  5
At the end of the 7th century, Srivijaya became the dominant state of Sumatra and built up a commercial empire. Srivijaya, at its height (c. 1180), controlled the Straits of Malacca and of Sunda, all of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, and the western half of Java; its authority was recognized as far away as Ceylon and Formosa, and in many colonies throughout the East Indies. The Sailendra dynasty, rulers of Srivijaya, were ardent patrons of Buddhism, as is shown in the great Borobudur victory monument in central Java. The consolidation of petty Javanese states, begun after the middle of the 9th century, led to the rise of Singosari in eastern Java, which under Kartanagara (who ruled 1268–92) challenged and finally destroyed the power of Srivijaya.  6
A Mongol expedition, sent to avenge insult offered by Kartanagara, was forced out of Java by a new kingdom, Madjapahit, which during the 14th century built up a commercial empire with authority extending over Borneo, Sumatra, and parts of the Philippines and of the Malay Peninsula, and profited by an extensive trade with China, Indo-China, and India.  7
Death of Hayam Wuruk, after which the power of Madjapahit disintegrated.  8
The first Chinese expedition under Zheng He (See 1405–33) established tributary relations between many Malay states and the Ming Empire; the authority of Madjapahit rapidly gave way to that of the Muslim Arabs. During the 15th century Muslim commercial operations, based chiefly on Malacca, were extended to the whole archipelago, and some 20 states accepted Islam as the state religion. (See The Malay Peninsula and Archipelago)  9
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.