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Asian Encounters - Exploroing Connected Histories

Item Code: NAL257
Author: Upinder Singh, Parul Pandya Dhar
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780198099802
Pages: 261 (41 B/W and 23 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0 inch X 7.5 inch
Weight 690 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This book emphasizes the enormous historical importance of the varied cultural interactions across the Asian regions in the pre-modern and early modern periods. It discusses the long-standing engagement between India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, and the Southeast and Central Asian regions, examining..the historical contexts in which these interaction evolved and the avenues, agents, and manifestations of cultural transmission. It addresses issues ranging from war and diplomacy to trade and shipwrecks; from the making of grand monumental edifices the circulation coveted carpets and small artefacts; and from the religious to the secular domains in the exchange of cultural ideas and forms.

Underlining the intersection of politics, trade, religion, and Intellectual and artistic exchange, these essays by leading scholars show how certain ideas and forms in religion, art, and literature were selected, assimilated, and transformed as they travelled from one region to another. The book points to the urgent need for sustained collaborative and inter- disciplinary research in the field of Asian studies and for the need to arrive at new, more comprehensive understandings of early Asian interactions.


About the Author

Upinder Singh(L) is Professor , Department of History, University of Delhi. her books lnclude Kings, Brahmanas . and Temple In Orissa (1994), Ancient Delhi 1999) The Discovery of Ancient India (2004) History of Ancient and Early Medieval India (2008), and Rethinking Early Medieval India (ed., 2012).

ParuI Pandya Dhar (R) is Associate Professor of Art History, Department of History, University of Delhi. Her books include Torana in Indian and Southeast Asian Architecture' (2010), Indian Art History; Changing Perspectives (ed., 201 ), and Cultural Interface of India with Asia(co-ed., 2004).



I am so pleased that the painstaking efforts of my colleagues in the University of Delhi, Professor Upinder Singh and Dr Parul Pandya Dhar, have come to fruition. The essays in this volume cover l vast geographical area as also many centuries of dialogue and interaction amongst the countries of Asia. They pointedly draw attention to valuable new data which calls for a revision of earlier critical evaluations.

I was particularly happy to read Professor hermann Kulke's lead article which reflects his introspection on positions taken earlier. I have followed Professor Kulke's work over many decades. He represents an earlier generation, but he also represents the present generation which is now looking afresh at the dynamics of political and cultural dialogues within Asia, particularly south and Southeast Asia. Other papers relating to new evidence in regard to relations between different parts of Asia make it clear that today it is necessary to look again at the nature of the dialogue which was mutual, as is evident in Upinder Singh's paper which discusses royal endowments made by Southeast Asian rulers in India. The articles relating to China are at a different level, focusing attention on military intervention and state violence.

Without commenting further on the other essays in the section on 'Political Connectivities and Conflicts', a brief comment is perhaps pertinent in regard to the papers in the section 'Religion, Rituals, and Monuments'. What becomes explicit through these papers is a natural tendency of symbiosis and interpenetration of different streams in the creation of art. Here, no rigid lines can be drawn between what may be called Hindu, Buddhist, and other streams. This is evident in Parul Pandya Dhar's paper and of course in the long history of discourse on Angkor Wat and Borobudur, to mention only a few instances. Altogether, here is rich material, diverse in perceptions, urging us to re-examine and re-visit the ancient encounters. I shall say no more because the editors have identified the issues in greater detail in their Introduction.

The conference entitled 'Asian Encounters: Networks of Cultural Interactions', held from 31 October to 4 November 2011, on which this volume is based, was accompanied by a very educative exhibition held at the University of Delhi, which drew attention to the valuable work done by the Archaeological Survey of India in the conservation of Asian monuments in Cambodia and Laos. This provided an appropriate backdrop to the conference. Now, it remains for me as the conceiver of the conceptual plan of the conference to situate it within the broader framework of the IIC-Asia Project and to give a brief account of the planning of its other components.

First, very briefly, an account about the IIC- Asia Project and its trajectory over the last decade and a half: The IIC-Asia Project first looked at nation-state formation and focused attention on political and social histories. This was followed by adopting a rather unconventional methodology of viewing the Asian dialogue. It identified modes of expression, be it poetry or literature. This included the hard task of putting together an anthology of women's writings in Asia. Film is another potent medium. For a decade, the IIC-Asia Project has been identifying, collecting, and showing films made by Asians at a non- commercial level. Even more unconventional was looking at the role of the humble needle and thread in stitching cultures together or being indicators of an Asian dialogue through embroidery from Afghanistan to Vietnam, China, and Japan. Most intriguing at the outset, but otherwise commonplace, was to trace the journey of the well-known and humble plant, Indigo, the dye that has played an important role in the Asian continent. It has also penetrated and conditioned the political discourse, especially during the colonial period. Surviving the imposition of the chemical indigo, it has today received a new lease of life in the cross-cultural effervescence of the natural dye. The dimensions which surfaced in the dialogue on Indigo were from many points of view-botany, trade, social structures, and of course, artistic manifestations.

Without dwelling on other such unconventional projects, it was now considered necessary to bring together new evidence in the domains of archaeology, political and economic history, and religion and artistic expressions. The conference on Asian encounters, on which this book is based, consisted of four parts. The first section organized by the University of Delhi has already been discussed. The second one related to the discovery of new inscriptions which called for revision of data and much else. The Archaeological Survey of India organized an exhibition on the recent inscriptions discovered in India and neighbouring countries and also organized a seminar on 'epigraphic connections' between India, Inner Asia, and West Asia, and between India and Southeast Asia. In the seminar, many important papers were presented, including on 'Khmer Epigraphy: Issue of Asian Linkages' (Sachchi- danand Sahai), 'Epigraphical Probing in Central Asia' (Maheswari Prasad), and 'Indo-Tokharian Interactions: Epigraphical Evidence' (B.R. Mani). Judging from the discussions at this seminar, it was clear that greater attention has to be given to the discipline of epigraphy and a younger generation must be trained in palaeography.

Another section of the conference, organized by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, considered aesthetic theories and art forms. It had several important presentations. These included: 'From Sida to Madsi: An Ideal Role of Women from Thai Ramayana and Vessantara Jataka' (Suchitra Chongstitvatana from Thailand); 'Javanisation of the Goddess Durga in Java from the 8th-16th Century' (Hariani Santiko, Indonesia); 'Western Aesthetic Theory and Ancient West Asian Aesthetic Experience' (Irene Winter, Harvard); and 'Abhinavagupta's Theory of Arts and Aesthetic Experience' (Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi). A fourth section of the conference was on representations of Asian art in Asian museums.

The above narration is illustrative of the many disciplines through which the trajectories of Asian communication can be traced. The papers presented at the conference drew attention to new evidence as also the implications of this evidence in identifying the mutual give and take between and amongst Asian countries. There is more, much more, which calls for investigating in depth the many contours of networks within this landmass called Asia, Asian civilization, and culture. Recently there have been interrogations on whether there is such a thing called an Asian civilization. The conference papers prove the vibrancy and continuity of this civilization, in the past and the present, and beyond nation- state boundaries and political dialogues, on mountains, rivers, oceans, land routes, sea routes; there is an Asian sensibility, which percolates all these and has a relevance, even, I should add, a message, for the future of a world based on perennial values, on creative dialogues, and not conflicts and wars, while searching for world peace.

I once again congratulate Parul Pandya Dhar and Upinder Singh for their role in organizing the Asian Encounters conference, especially the section held at the University of Delhi, and for their continued commitment in ensuring the publication of this comprehensive volume. It is also heartening for me to note that they are devoting their energies to the development of the subject of pre-modern Asian interactions at the Department of History in the University of Delhi by way of teaching and research. I am particularly pleased about this as a former student and faculty member of the University of Delhi. Our efforts can only bear fruit if the younger generation of students and scholars at the university level take this up seriously.

I would also like to take this occasion to thank all the members of the four collaborating institutions-the IIC-Asia Project; the Department of History, University of Delhi; the Archaeological Survey of India; and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Without their support, the conference would not have fructified. My appreciation also extends to the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, and the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS-Singapore, for their support to our endeavour. Last, but not the least, the scholars who have contributed their valuable papers and also the publishers, Oxford University Press, deserve all praise for maintaining the highest academic standards.



The historical importance of cultural interactions across the Asian regions is finally receiving the recognition it deserves. This is not to say that earlier studies had altogether neglected the subject. While many historians were content to confine their vision to regional, sub continental, or national frames, there were always areas where these frames had to be transcended-trade and empire breached many a boundary and trans-regional exchanges were impossible to ignore in histories of art and religion. Over the past few decades, the older conceptual frameworks have been critiqued and new data has come to the fore. Nevertheless, scholarship in the field of cross-cultural Asian interactions at times still tends to be in a reactive mode, responding to the limitations and biases of old methodologies and conceptual frameworks. Further, there is an urgent need to consolidate the perspectives and results of specific inquiries rooted in different disciplines and sub-disciplines in order to arrive at new, more comprehensive understandings of Asian interactions.

These were the concerns that motivated an international conference on 'Asian Encounters: Networks of Cultural Interaction' held in Delhi during October-November, 2011. The conference was a collaborative effort between four major institutions-the IIC-Asia Project, the Department of History of the University of Delhi, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and the Archaeological Survey of India. It involved the participation of scholars from many parts of the world and saw the coming together of many disciplines including history, art history, archaeology, aesthetics, and epigraphy. The themes addressed ranged over aspects of politics, trade, archaeology, epigraphy, literature, visual arts and aesthetics, music, and museums. The aim was to generate a momentum for sustained, collaborative, and inter-disciplinary investigations of Asian interactions. This book emerged from that conference and is part of that momentum.

Investigating the long-standing history of Asian interactions raises many questions: What were the historical contexts in which these interactions evolved? What were the avenues and agents of cultural transmission? How did trade, religion, politics, intellectual, and artistic exchange intersect with each other? How did certain specific ideas and forms in religion, art, and literature get selected, assimilated, and transformed in different cultural contexts? To what extent does new data force us to re-examine old hypotheses about inter-regional contacts and exchange? Are there new ways of interrogating the evidence from various kinds of historical sources-textual, archaeological, and artistic-to answer these and other questions?

One of the driving concerns behind this book is the conviction that there is an urgent need for Indian scholars to re-engage with Southeast Asia. However, a re-engagement with this region- has to be combined with a broader Asian, even a global, perspective. Therefore, while several essays deal with relations between South and Southeast Asia, others talk about the equally important connections between South and East Asia, and South and Central Asia. The essays focus broadly on political interactions, trade, art, and religion, mostly in the pre-modern context. Although they differ in their specific spatial and temporal span as well as in the particular themes addressed, there are several threads that bind them. Not least among these is a special interest in exploring the connections between historical processes and the representations of these processes in different kinds of sources, each of which raise their own distinct varieties of interpretative issues.

While historiographical issues have been raised in several essays in this book, the first section, 'Changing Perspectives', addresses them directly-first, in the South-Southeast Asian context and next, from the perspective of Chinese interactions with other parts of Asia-reflecting on and responding to the historiographical approaches to these trans- regional interactions. The starting point is an essay by Hermann Kulke, a scholar who has over the decades been an important contributor to the study of political and religious processes in both South and Southeast Asia. One of the hallmarks of Kulke's approach is his ability to connect these two areas, not only in terms of their actual interactions, but also by placing them in the same frame by locating and comparing analogous historical processes. In 'The Concept of Cultural Convergence Revisited: Reflections on India's Early Influence in Southeast Asia', Kulke gives a panoramic overview of the historiography of South-Southeast Asia relations, touching on the ideas of Hindu colonization and Indianization in the writings of R. C. Majumdar (1940) and Georges Coedes (1968), and the thought-provoking critiques and alternative perspectives suggested by scholars such as J. C. van Leur (1967), J. G. de Casparis (1983), Paul Wheatley (1982), and Ian C. Glover (2007). The contribution of O. W Wolters (1982) also forms an important part of the enterprise of rethinking Southeast Asian history.

Against this background, Kulke looks afresh at his own hypothesis of cultural convergence in the specific context of the emergence of early kingdoms in India and Southeast Asia in the midfirst millennium. The chronology of the political and cultural developments in the two areas and the precise geographical contexts of these developments are important for his hypothesis. Kulke comments on the near contemporaneity of the monumental temples of the Pallavas in south India and those on the Dieng Plateau in Java. He notes that both in South and Southeast Asia, the spread of Hindu temples was connected with the emergence of early regional kingdoms. He emphasizes that it was not the Gupta imperium but the post-Gupta regional kingdoms of South Asia that provided the model for the emerging regional kingdoms of Southeast Asia. Further, it was not social distance (that is, difference), but social nearness (similar social and political processes) that was the crucial factor in promoting the selection and adaptation of certain Indian cultural elements in Southeast Asia.

The final part of Kulke's essay responds to Sheldon Pollock's influential hypothesis of the Sanskrit cosmopolis and his critique of legitimation theory (Pollock 2006). Critiquing this critique, Kulke examines certain recent writings (Manguin et al. 2011) which apply Pollock's ideas to South-Southeast Asia connections. This discussion takes us back to the fact that although there is a great deal of evidence of the results of cultural interaction between South and Southeast Asia, direct evidence regarding the agents and actual processes of cultural transmission remains rather meagre. While the critique of the legitimation framework no doubt stems from an exasperation with its overuse by many historians and their indifference towards the world of ideas, perhaps it is time for a truce between the proponents and critics of the legitimation hypothesis, and for the acceptance of the possibility of a political history that respects both the integrity and importance of political ideas as well as the need to anchor political discourse in the actual political processes of its time.

With Geoff Wade's 'Ming China's Violence against Neighbouring Polities and Its Representation in Chinese Historiography', the focus shifts to East Asia and to violence and war. The first part of Wade's essay examines certain episodes of Ming expansion between the late 14th and 15th centuries-the regime's interactions with Yun-nan and Dai Viet: and the maritime voyages of Zheng He and other eunuchs. In the case of Yun-nan and Dai Viet, Wade demonstrates how military aggression was accompanied by various strategies of control including economic exploitation, the creation of new bureaucratic and military structures, and steps to establish cultural hegemony, all of which were backed by the actual or potential use of force. War and diplomacy went hand in hand,punitive measures were accompanied by the lure of honours and rewards, and the troops of one adversary were used against another. As for the voyages of Zheng He, Wade describes them as a part of the attempts of the Ming emperors to extend their control over ports and waterways in order to further political and economic interests. The fact that military action was routinely used against those who did not submit underlines the element of violence in these voyages.

In the second part of his essay, Wade compares representations of these two sets of events in ancient (Ming) and modern Chinese historiography. In Ming texts, the interactions with Yun- nan and Dai Viet are part of a larger political discourse in which the emperor enjoyed the 'Mandate of Heaven' and ruled his people with paternalistic benevolence. Wars are presented as necessary acts, expressions of the emperor's concerns for maintaining order and peace. Wade points out that the modern historiographical representations of these episodes are surprisingly similar in certain respects to those of Ming times. The elements of violence, aggression, and designs of aggrandizement are erased, and these events are presented either as natural reactions to the provocations of others, or, in the case of Zheng He's voyages, as benign missions of peace and friendship. Wade's larger argument is that Ming involvement in these parts of Asia was, in certain important ways, similar to the strategies of the later European colonial regimes and constitutes a sort of proto-colonialism. of course, a great deal hinges on how we define colonialism. But what is not in doubt is the fact that war was an important part of Asian interactions in the pre-modern era, an aspect that is often missed, surprisingly so, because it glares unambiguously at us in the political narrative.

The essays in the second section of the book, 'Political Connectivities and Conflicts', explore interactions between South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia and show how these interactions were mediated in different ways by political expansionism, empire, and religion. Upinder Singh's essay, 'Gifts from Other Lands: Southeast Asian Religious Endowments in India', looks at one specific aspect of South-Southeast Asia interactions-a series of religious endowments made by Southeast Asian kings and recorded in inscriptions at Nalanda, Bodh Gaya, and Nagapattinam. Singh suggests that there is much more to these gifts than viewing them (as is usually done) as instances of 'religious diplomacy' and that their phraseology and idiom demand careful reading both along and between the lines. The Nalanda copper plate inscription, which records a Sailendra grant for the Nalanda monastery, indicates, among other things, the renown that this monastic centre enjoyed in 9th century Southeast Asia. The Burmese endowments at Bodh Gaya demand special attention, extending as they do from the 11 th to the 18th centuries, and clearly indicate the importance of Bodh Gaya in the Burmese political and religious imagination over a very long period of time. The Srivijayan endowments at Nagapattinam, on the other hand, are part of a complex relationship between the Colas and the kingdom of Srivijaya, where interactions through trade and religious endowments were punctuated on at least one occasion by war.




  Acknowledgements vii
  Foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan ix
  Introduction by Upinder Singh and Parul Pandya Dhar xiii
1. The Concept of Cultural Convergence Revisited: Reflections on India's Early Influence in Southeast Asia - by Hermann Kulke  
2. Ming China's Violence Against Neighbouring Polities and Its Representation in Chinese Historiography - by Geoff Wade  
3. Gifts from Other Lands: Southeast Asian Religious Endowments in India - by Upinder Singh  
4. Changing Regimes: Two Episodes of Chinese Military Interventions in Medieval South Asia - by Tansen Sen  
5. An Inconvenient Heritage: The Central Asian Background of the Delhi Sultans - by Sunil Kumar  
6. Buddhism, Art, and Ritual Practice: £)6ng Duong at the Intersection of Asian Cultures - by Parul Pandya Dhar  
7. Durga and Siva at Banteay Srei: Blurring Boundaries between Monument, Image and Practice - by Soumya James  
8. Sri Lanka and Maritime Trade: Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara as the Protector of Mariners - by Osmund Bopearachchi  
9. Viewing our Shared Past through Buddhist Votive Tablets across Eastern India, Bangladesh and Peninsular Thailand - by Suchandra Ghosh  
10. Early Modern Indian Carpets as Media for Cross-cultural Interaction - by Yumiko Kamada  
  About the Editors and Contributors 225
  Index 228
Sample Pages


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