Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia

Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia
Date of publication:  2009
Publisher:  Institute of Southeast Asian Studies
Number of pages:  337
Code:  PIC187
Hard Cover
ISBN: 9789812309372
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Soft Cover
ISBN: 9789812309365
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"The naval expedition from the Chola state in South India which attacked Srivijaya in Sumatra in 1025 CE is both an unusual and a mysterious event in South Asian history. It is unusual as it is the only large scale long-distance naval attack launched from South Asia in recorded history. Given this, the present edited volume probably tells us all we can ever expect to know about Rajendra I's expedition. It is the proceedings of a conference held in Singapore in 2007 and -- unusually for a collection from a conference -- it has an excellent index. What the whole collection shows, at least to one like me who works on the Early Modern period, is how scattered and difficult are the sources for the eleventh century. Different authors use archaeology, literary works and inscriptions in several languages (many of these in archaic form) to try to establish chronologies and interpretations. It is an extremely laborious and specialized task, and one must praise the dedication revealed in this collection. The editors have interpreted the subtitle of the collection in the broadest possible way to include a number of interesting chapters which bear only peripherally on the theme of the naval expedition. Kulke provides an excellent short introduction which sketches several of the themes taken up in detail later. He notes that the naval attack ran against the grain of usually amicable relations between the Cholas and southeast Asia states, including Srivijaya. The reason or reasons for the attack are still subject to debate. Srivijaya was unusual in the Indian Ocean in that it was, at least loosely, a thalassocracy, or Ocean State which tried to direct and tax trade in Indonesia. The Cholas resented their interference in the important trade going from Fatimid Egypt to Song China via South India; hence the attack. The diligence and erudition of all the authors is much to be commended. The volume goes far beyond its ostensible topic to cast light on many important aspects of economic and cultural matters in the early centuries of the second millennium" (International Journal of Maritime History).

"The ostensible subject of the book are the naval expeditions of Rajendra Chola against the kingdom of Srivijaya (in Sumatra) in c.1025 and 1070, but its purview actually extends far beyond those specific events. In fact, the most important point that emerges from it is the need for historical narratives that break forth through continental, national and regional boundaries in order to explore the complex cultural transactions that have been criss-crossing such boundaries from times immemorial. The essays in this book focus on other issues as well -- for instance, the evolution of the port of Nagapattinam from the seventh century and the building of a 'Chinese pagoda' there, and the Pallava precursors to the southeastern initiatives of the Cholas. A number of essays highlight the India-China connections. Three especially interesting essays highlight the cultural impact of maritime trade. In the context of Indian Ocean trade, the connection between empire and trade appears especially to have been intense in the early second millennium. At the same time, it should be noted that the decline of the Cholas did not lead to a decline in maritime trade of South India" (China Report).

"This welcome volume on the Chola intervention, already 15 years in advance of its millennial anniversary, does succeed in clarifying the likely motivation and character of the last Indian intervention in the Southeast Asian region before the British-Indian conquest of Java in 1811. It does this not by putting new data on the table -- the same rather few hard facts are returned to repeatedly by different authors. The achievement of this book and the 2007 conference that lay behind it was to bring together discourses that have regrettably engaged little in a much-needed conversation. Still, this is a valuable advance towards bridging the gap that opened up between Indian and Southeast Asian scholarship in the 1950s" (Journal of Southeast Asian Studies).

About the publication

The expansion of the Cholas from their base in the Kaveri Delta saw this growing power subdue the kingdoms of southern India, as well as occupy Sri Lanka and the Maldives, by the early eleventh century. It was also during this period that the Cholas initiated links with Song China.
           Concurrently, the Southeast Asian polity of Sriwijaya had, through its Sumatran and Malayan ports, come to occupy a key position in East-West maritime trade, requiring engagement with both Song China to the north and the Chola kingdom to its west. The apparently friendly relations pursued were, however, to be disrupted in 1025 by Chola naval expeditions against fourteen key port cities in Southeast Asia. This volume examines the background, course and effects of these expeditions, as well as the regional context of the events. It brings to light many aspects of this key period in Asian history.
           Unprecedented in the degree of detail assigned to the story of the Chola expeditions, this volume is also unique in that it includes translations of the contemporary Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions relating to Southeast Asia and of the Song dynasty Chinese texts relating to the Chola Kingdom.
           The ISEAS edition is for distribution in all countries except India.

Co-publication: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies


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