Editor’s Note: This is our 3rd article on what used to be Winner India:
- The first one described the ancient relationship between India & Greece and led to a discussion of the defeat of Alexander of Macedon and the establishment of the Mauryan Empire.
- The second one described the progression of India, mainly North India from the Vedic Age up to the Gupta Empire, the period known as the Golden Age of India.
The above two were mainly land empires based in North India. This article, the 3rd in our series, discusses the great achievements of South India and its great naval expansion into Indo-Pacific.
Did you ever wonder why Secretary Hillary Clinton gave her July 2011 “Go East, Indians” speech in Chennai? She knew more about India’s successes in the Far East than most Indians know today. Hear from her directly:
- “And let me start with the Asia* Pacific. There is no better place to
discuss India’s leadership in the region to its east than here in
Chennai. In this port city, looking out at the Bay of Bengal and beyond
to the nations of East and Southeast Asia, we are easily reminded of
India’s historic role in the wider region. For thousands of years,
Indian traders have sailed those waters of Southeast Asia and beyond.
Indian culture has left its mark. The temples of Angkor Wat bear the
influence of Tamil architecture. … God Ganesh still stands guard
against homes in Indonesia. And today, the stretch of sea from the
Indian Ocean through to the Pacific contain the world’s most vibrant
trade and energy routes linking economies and driving growth”
* Four months later, Secretary Clinton moved further by using the more appropriate Indo-Pacific term instead of the above Asia Pacific.
This week, India took a step towards justifying the Indo-Pacific name with the launch of INS Vikraant, the first India-built aircraft carrier. As an article in The Diplomat argued, with two aircraft carrier groups, nuclear submarines & fighter aircraft at Nicobar, the Indian nay would be able to blockade the Malacca Straits if necessary and carry the Indian flag to the South China Sea and Pacific.
Most people think that this action by India is merely getting back to British run India which controlled the Bay of Bengal as a British-Indian lake and established Singapore as a naval base. That is the truth but not the whole truth. Because what India is trying hard to do is simply to get back to about half of what it controlled in 1030CE.
(Chola Empire – 1030 CE)
The wikipedia map below shows the reach and power of the Indian navy established by one of the greatest dynasties of South India, a Tamil dynasty named Chola.
Raja Raja Chola (985-1014) was one of the great sovereigns of South India, a famous conqueror and empire builder. He extended the small kingdom of his father to control all of south India and to north India up to Kalinga (today’s Odisha). He took his navy south and conquered today’s northern Sri Lanka and the islands that now form the Maldives. He was also an administrator of ability, a pious and tolerant man, a
patron of art and letters. He started a great land survey in CE 1000,
strengthened the imperial administration, and encouraged local self-government through out his domains.
(Thanjavur temple – src wikipedia) (Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple – src wikipedia)
Devoted to Bhagvaan Siva (Shiva), Raja Raja Chola assumed the title “Siva-Pada-Sekhara”.
His great Rajarajeshvar temple at Thanjavur, was completed in CE 1010. A
man tolerant of all religions, Raja Raja cooperated, in the construction
of Chudamani Vihara, a Buddhist monstery in Negapatam, with the Sailendra
Emperor of the Malay Peninsula, Java and Sumatra.
Raja Raja Chola brought in his son Rajendra Chola, a successful general in his own right, as YuvRaj or crown prince. The great work of Raja Raja Chola was the foundation upon which Rajendra expanded. The work of the son is the most authentic testimony of the work of the father.
Rajendra Chola (1012-1044) expanded the Chola Empire across the sea to areas now known as Indonesia, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. His conquests were over a period of 32 years and established Indian primacy all over the Indo-Pacific eclipsing the great Sailendra Empire that had ruled the Malay Peninsula for the prior 2-3 centuries.
What distinguishes the Chola Empire from its predecessors is its naval strength. Not only the Coromandel and Malabar coasts were controlled by them, but the Bay of Bengal became a Chola lake, a feat only rivaled by British run India 800 years later.
The Chola Empire continued under his descendants until 1258 when Rajendra III became a suzerain of the new conqueror of the South, Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I of the Pandya dynasty.
Editor’s PS: It sounds incredible today but Indian influence in the Far East continued until 19th century kingdoms of Champa in today’s Vietnam and Angkor in today’s Cambodia. This was 800 years after North India had been conquered by Turko-Afghns; 500 years after Ala-ud-din Khilji defeated South India and 80 years after the British won Bengal at the battle of Plassey in 1757.
(Vietnam & Cambodia in 1832 – src wikipedia)
The rich Indian heritage in Vietnam was described by the New York Times in a February 2010 article titled Ancient Sphere where Cultures Mingled. The photos below are from that terrific article.
(Gaja-Simha 8-9th century) (Buddha – 6th century; Dvarapaal or doorman – 9th century)
The Angkor kingdom of Cambodia is the one that built the glorious Angkor Wat complex.
(Angkor Wat – src wikipedia)
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