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To the 10th century AD
10th - 15th century
     Angkor and Pagan
     Muslim Malaya and Indonesia

16th - 19th century
To be completed

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Angkor, Pagan and changing fortunes: 10th - 15th c.

In Cambodia the Khmer dynasty makes its capital, from the 9th century, in the city of Angkor. A series of huge Hindu temples culminates in the great 12th-century Angkor Wat. The temples are engulfed by the jungle, after the fall of the city first to Chams from the east (in 1177) and then to Thais from the west (in 1431). Angkor is rediscovered in the 1860s, to become one of the wonders of the world.

To the west, the new Burmese dynasty has its capital from the 11th century at Pagan on the Irrawaddy. Thousands of elaborate shrines survive there - some in the tradition of Buddhist stupas, others in the style of Hindu temples.


Warfare between the dynasties of southeast Asia is an almost continuous process, bringing gradual changes in the size and shape of rival kingdoms. An example is the shrinking of the Khmer territory under pressure from Thais in the 15th century, when Angkor is abandoned in favour of a new capital further south at Phnom Penh.

But by this time there is a new and powerful force in the region. As with the arrival of Hinduism and Buddhism more than 1000 years previously, a religion from elsewhere is involved. Once again its immediate source is India.


Muslim Malaya and Indonesia: from the 13th century

Islam's final push to the east derives from the strength of Muslim India. By the end of the 13th century Indian merchants from Gujarat, trading through the Straits of Malacca, have established Muslim settlements in northern Sumatra; they are noted by Marco Polo.

The wealth and sophistication of these traders brings converts to Islam, and the influence of the religion becomes rapidly stronger after a Muslim sultanate is established in Malacca from 1445. The threat of conquest and the benefits of trade now provide two good reasons for the neighbouring communities to embrace the Muslim faith.


During the 15th and 16th centuries Islam spreads through the Malay peninsula and the islands of Sumatra and Java. By the 17th century the Hindus, with their warrior princes, brahmin priests and caste system, are confined to the eastern tip of Java. Soon they are ousted even from there.

They cross to Bali, where they and their traditions manage to survive. By this time the mainland regions from Burma to Cambodia have resolved centuries of indecision between Hinduism and Buddhism. They have chosen Buddha. The small island of Bali becomes, as it remains to this day, the only Hindu outpost in a southeast Asia otherwise divided between Buddhism and Islam.


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