Recent discoveries have proved that Indian civilization and culture had spread to many countries in South-East Asia. Indian merchants, missionaries and many rulers who established colonies abroad helped in spreading Indian culture in East Asia (Java, Sumatra, Bali, Borneo etc.) and in countries of South-East Asia, like Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, etc.
Buddhist bhikshus and bhikshunis preached the gospel of Buddhism in countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia, Tibet, China and Japan. Later, with the revival of Hinduism during the Gupta period, many Hindu preachers went to the islands of South - East Asia to spread the message of Hinduism. Indian language, literature, religion and art made great impact on the people of South-East Asia.
Inscriptions written in Sanskrit have been found in Burma, Java, the Malay peninsula, Combodia, Sumatra and Borneo. The earliest of them go back to the 2nd or the 3rd century A.D. and were in use for more than a thousand years. Pali, a derivative from Sanskrit, is still in daily use in a large part of Indo-China. Authors of Sanskrit inscriptions knew almost all the rules and conventions of grammar, rhetoric and prosody. They also had knowledge of the Indian epics, puranas and other branches of literature. They had a deep insight into Indian philosophical and spiritual ideas.
In all of these countries, religious practices and philosophical ideas of India have a hold over the people. In Burma and Thailand, Buddhism was the dominant religion. In other areas puranic form of Brahamanical religion was established. The Gupta Age saw the revival of Hinduism and many Brahmin priests went to preach Hindu culture abroad. Images of Hindu gods and goddesses have been found in the South-East Asian countries.
The art and monuments found in these countries have religious significance. The earlier part of this art was wholly Indian in character. Many images and temples were supposed to be made by Indian artists and craftsmen who had migrated from India. Gradually, local styles evolved without losing the Indian character.
Borobodur - The most important monument of Indian culture in Java is the Buddhist stupa and temple of Borobodur which was built during the 750 to 850 A.D. under the patronage of the rulers of the Shailendra dynasty. This noble building consists of a series of nine successive terraces, each receding from the one beneath, and the whole structure crowned by a bell-shaped stupa at the center of the topmost terrace. The three uppermost terraces are encircled by a ring of stupas, each having an image of Buddha within a framework. The panels in the railings are sculptured and have relief scenes from Buddhist legend. Borobodur, was a great monastic and pilgrimage site.
The temple complex resembles an architectural mountain and was created to symbolize the Buddhist universe. Its sculptures, carved in volcanic stone, express serenity and harmony in their treatment of the human body. The art of fine modeling , elegance of features, spiritual expression on faces are the chief characteristics of the figures. This art must have been derived from the classical art of the Gupta period in India.
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