Pre-13th Century: Hindu Rulers Controlled South Asia
Hindu monarchs ruled most of the states across South Asia.
From the 6th Century to the Islamic invasion of South Asia in the 13th Century, India was politically fragmented. No sizable centralized government ruled over the whole of the Indian subcontinent. Hindu princes governed most states, while Buddhist kingdoms were most common on the island of Sri Lanka.
Governance in North India: Various Hindu kingdoms known as the Rajput states controlled North India. Between c. 1000 and c. 1250, these states competed for regional dominance. The region lacked one significant dominant power.
Governance in South India: The Hindu Chola kingdom dominated South India between the 9th and 12th centuries. Chola merchants and ships traveled throughout the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, trading goods along the Indian Ocean trade routes at the height of Chola power. Their merchants traveled as far as China, 3000 miles to the east. The Chola spread Hindu and Buddhist culture into Southeast Asia.
Post-13th century: Islam Invaded North India
Islamic conquest placed North India under Islamic control, while central and Southern India remained under the control of Hindu rulers.
Beginning in 1206, Turkish Mamluk Muslims invaded North India and established the Delhi Sultanate.
- For the next 600 years, Islam expanded across India–first across the north and later across the south.
- The Rajput Hindu kingdoms that previously ruled North India were conquered and replaced with the Delhi Sultanate’s Islamic government.
- During the invasion, Islamic armies plundered and stole the wealth of many Buddhist and Hindu holy sites.
- New Islamic rulers also had Hindu and Buddhist sites deconstructed, and the architectural components like columns reused to build new Islamic structures.
Changing governance in North India: The Delhi Sultanate became politically dominant across North India.
- The majority Hindu population of North India was now under minority Muslim rule.
- Tolerance toward Hindus by their new Islamic rulers differed across time, with some periods being more tolerant than others. Some Islamic rulers labeled their Hindu subjects as dhimmis (protected people).
- Some rulers required Hindus to pay the non-Muslim jizya tax.
Hindu rule continued in South India: Hindu kings remained in power in South India. The Hindu state of Vijayanagar rose to power in the 14th century following the weakening of the Chola dynasty. Two Hindu brothers who had converted to Islam while living in the Delhi Sultanate started Vijayanagar. Once in South India, these brothers converted back to Hinduism. Vijayanagar managed to stop Islamic expansion across South India until its collapse in the 17th century.
Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic Governance All Shaped Southeast Asia
Before the 14th century, most Southeast Asian rulers were Hindu or Buddhist. As the power and wealth of Islamic merchants increased, increasing numbers of monarchs in Southeast Asia’s coastal areas and islands converted to Islam. Buddhism remained the state religion on the Southeast Asian mainland.
Governments in Southeast Asia before the 15th century were a mix of Hindu and Buddhist rule. A few of the influential included:
Srivijaya: The Buddhist monarchy of Srivijaya was at the peak of its power between the 9th and 11th centuries. At the height of its power, the empire controlled large portions of the Indonesian archipelago and Malay peninsula. It was a maritime empire that derived its wealth from Indian Ocean Trade. Srivijaya weakened in the 11th century following a naval invasion and sacking by the Hindu Chola kingdom from South India.
Khmer: The Khmer Empire was a powerful monarchy centered in modern Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand between the 9th and 15th centuries. Khmer leaders were responsible for building the beautiful temple complexes of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. In the 13th century, Khmer rulers switched from state support of Hinduism to Buddhism. Khmer’s new Buddhist rulers repurposed their Hindu temples into Buddhist temples.
Majapahit: With the weakening of Srivijaya, the Majapahit empire rose to power on the Indonesian islands and the Malay peninsula from 1293-1527. The Majapahit monarchy was the last significant Hindu power in Southeast Asia. While closely aligned with Hinduism, Buddhist practice was common. The Majapahit collapsed as leadership succession became contested, and new Islamic sultanates began to rise to power within the region.
Sukhothai: The Sukhothai kingdom was a feudal monarchy centered around what is today Thailand from 1238-1438. The Sukhothai kings practiced and supported Buddhism. The Sukhothai gradually weakened during the late 14th and early 15th centuries as portions of the kingdom broke away and became independent.
Islamic influence slowly spread into the islands of Southeast Asia through trade
As early as the 12th century, rulers on the islands of Southeast Asia began experimenting with Islam—most leaders in mainland Southeast Asia remained Buddhist.
The Sultanate of Malacca: The first Islamic power in the region was the Sultanate of Malacca (1400 – 1511). The Portuguese destroyed the Sultanate when they conquered it in 1511. While the islands of Southeast Asia remained under European control for over 500 years, the Islamic faith continued to spread across the region.