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Civilizations in Embrace

Civilizations in Embrace:The Spread of Ideas and the Transformation of Power. India and Southeast Asia in the Classical Age was published in 2013 by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, the premier research institution in the world dedicated to Southeast Asia. (Details Available)

The book revisits one of the most extensive examples of the spread of ideas in the history of civilization: the diffusion of Indian religious and political ideas to Southeast Asia before the advent of Islam and European colonialism.  Hindu and Buddhist concepts and symbols of kingship and statecraft helped to legitimize Southeast Asian rulers, and transform the political institutions and authority of Southeast Asia.  But the process of this diffusion was not accompanied by imperialism, political hegemony, or “colonization” as conventionally understood.  This book investigates different explanations of the spread of Indian ideas offered by scholars, including why and how it occurred and what were its key political and institutional outcomes.  It challenges the view that strategic competition is a recurring phenomenon when civilizations encounter each other.  (From the blurb of the book).

The book continues my investigation into the link between art and geopolitics, as outlined in “Monumental Splendours: Journeys into Hindu-Buddhist Temple Art in Southeast Asia”. ( Monumental Splendours is a series of photo blogs about Hindu-Buddhist temple art in Southeast Asia. These blogs record personal journeys into selected sites in Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Burma. Here is a brief description of the initial project

Monumental Splendoursexamines the three main effects of Indian religious-political ideas and art forms (broadly defined) transmitted to Southeast Asia which helped to define the classical geopolitics of the region. The “diffusion” effect has to be understood in terms of "localisation", a concept proposed by Wolters, and "local genius", proposed by Quaritch Wales. The "legitimation" effect builds on van Leur's "idea of the local initiative" which stresses the functions of Indian religious ideas in legitimizing Southeast Asian kingship and statehood. Champa provides good examples of the legitimation effect involving royal lingas. A more uncertain effect of Indian ideas and art forms is “domination”. That Indian art forms and ideas were brought to Southeast Asia by peaceful means is not doubted, and there is considerable evidence to support the thesis that the internal legitimation of rulers might have been their major effect. But did they also fuel the expansionist ambition of Southeast Asian rulers, as represented in the "chakravartin" concept, through warfare? What role did the transmitted Indian ideas and art forms play in creating the “moral order of the mandalas”, in which the ritualistic, symbolic and transient forms of warfare were supposed to have been more important that “conquest” and colonisation?

A highlight of the book is its elaborate visual part - a photo section with nearly two dozen photographs that illustrate the themes of Localization and Legitimation through the diffusion of art. The photos were mainly about the Hindu-Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia in Borobudur, Champa, Bagan, Angkor, Bali, and Srivijaya (from Chaiya in southern Thailand). These photos were taken by me over a period of ten years. The initial proofs contained several images of ancient Greek temples in Sicily, to illustrate the contrasting process of diffusion of Indian art into Southeast Asia (“Indianization”) and that of Greek art into the Mediterranean (“Hellenization”). But for a variety of reasons, the final manuscript does not contain these Greek temples. But here I present the entire photo section in the proof stage, including the Greek temples of Sicily.