chapter  1
10 Pages

The World of the Indian Ocean

WithDavid Washbrook

In the days when the sea was regarded less as a barrier to communication than the easiest means of it, the ocean surrounding the Indian peninsula guaranteed it a significant place in the histories of its adjacent continents. In the ancient world, contacts were especially strong towards the east, where peoples native to India carried their trade, their technologies and, perhaps most of all, their ideas into new lands. Physical evidence of colonization and settlement is, admittedly, scarce: confined, for the most part, to northern Sri Lanka and to relics of the seaborne empire of the South Indian Chola dynasty (tenth—twelfth centuries ce), found as far away as Java and Sumatra (Hall: 1985). However, ‘softer’ evidence of cultural influence is much stronger and unmistakable. Two of the great religious traditions of east and south-east Asia had their origins in the Indian subcontinent: Sanskritic Hinduism, whose mark stretched from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Candi Perumban in Java; and Buddhism, whose reach and remit proved to be greater still.