In Indonesia, the construction of the house symbolizes the division of the macrocosm into three regions: the upper world, the seat of deities and ancestors. The typical way of buildings in Southeast Asia is to build on stilts, an architectural form usually combined with a saddle roof. Another characteristic of Southeast Asian houses is the forked horn on the roof, which is considered to be a symbol of the buffalo, regarded throughout the region as a link between Heaven and this world. The most famous stilt houses of Indonesia are those of the Dayak in Borneo, the Minangkabau and Batak on Sumatra, and the Toraja on Sulawesi.


The Houses of the Batak:

The Batak, who live in north Sumatra, are divided into six ethnic groups. Two Bataks races, the Mandailing and the Angkola Batak, became Muslim in the middle of the 19th century, and Toba Batak were converted to Christianity in 1864 by the German Rheinisch Missionary Society. The others kept their native religion, though there have been converts to Islam and Christianity more recently.

“The houses of the Toba and Karo are recognizable by their massive style of building construction, which is suited to the way the inhabitants settled more and less permanently. The stilt house is an eminently pratical form of architecture for life in the tropics. Unfortunately, the Toba Batak houses are no longer being built. Earlier, rice stores (sopo) were a part of the traditional house, the rumah adat. The sopo were very important as status symbols. The ornaments put onto the external walls of the house are meant to drive away evil influences. These ornaments consist of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations, carved decorative ornaments, and wall paintings. The colors used are natural colors, the most iportant being red (from red clay), white (from chalk), and black (from charcoal), which respectively represent the three spheres of the cosmos: the human world, the world of good spirits above, and the underworld.


What is Sumatra hiding?
Deep within this Indonesian island lies the secret of the orang pendek
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I only got a brief glimpse,” Debs said, referring to the orang pendek, a humanoid creature best described as the Sumatran Sasquatch. “Three or four seconds at most. But I thought I’d hit the jackpot — that I was going to get my picture on the cover of Time.” You never know what to expect after 20 years, whether a person you knew will be the same, whether you’ll even recognize her. But Debbie Martyr had passed through the decades and through her lengthy adventure in Sumatra’s jungle essentially unchanged. Here was the same Debs I had shared a house with in London in the late ’80s — eccentric, resourceful and refreshingly unjaded. She met us in front of her house, a wooden bungalow on the outskirts of a town called Sungai Penuh, a drowsy little hive of humanity in the middle of Kerinci-Seblat National Park, Sumatra’s largest nature reserve, located in a long earthquake-carved basin surrounded by a crown of seven volcanoes.

We arrived looking like the thousand miles of bad road we’d just crossed, but within minutes photographer Ian Lloyd and I had our feet up and cold Bintang beers in hand. Rain lashed the bungalow’s metal roof as our host told us how she’d ended up so far from the English countryside of her childhood and why she’d stayed for decades. Bleached white tapir skulls perched on the bookshelf behind my chair. A plastic bag of animal bones sat on the desk next to Debbie’s laptop.

She had first heard about the orang pendek (Bahasa for “little man”) while climbing the Mount Kerinci volcano in 1989 and had come back a few months later with an assignment to write about the mythical beast. But then she saw the thing with her own eyes — a hairy bipedal animal about three and a half feet tall with broad shoulders and powerful arms. That ephemeral encounter was enough to convince Debbie that the orang pendek was more than legend. Scores of people have reported spotting it over the past 200 years, and Debbie has seen it several more times. She and British wildlife photographer Jeremy Holden have collected the creature’s scat and clumps of its hair, and they’ve found nests. Until they get a photograph, capture a live specimen or find remains, however, there’s no proving what the creature really is.

“You know,” Debbie mused as the evening wore on, “the orang pendek got me to Sumatra, but it’s not why I stayed.”

“So why did you stay?” I asked, falling into her trap.

“Tigers,” she said.

Ian and I had met up in Singapore, and we flew into the city of Medan in northeastern Sumatra, where Ade Badan, a local translator and guide, waited. He had secured a vehicle for our journey across the vast island. On the way out of town we ducked into one of the roadside stalls that sell mobile phones and purchased a SIM card. Soon we had Debbie on the line. Her voice was faint, given that she was talking to us on a satellite link from the middle of nowhere, but it was essentially the same earthy timbre I remembered from our London days. “Do you realize how far you have to drive?” she crooned in her English accent.

Actually, I didn’t. Looking at a map of Sumatra and tracing out a tentative route is one thing; driving those roads is quite another. Landslides, fallen trees and construction frequently make portions of the narrow, meandering Trans-Sumatran Highway impassable. Crossing the island between Medan and Debbie’s digs would take four solid days of driving.

As we left town, a small tremor shook Medan. Ade laughed it off. “We have earthquakes every day,” he joked. “They’re like entertainment now for Sumatran people. They’re like chili — we cannot live without them.” The highway soared into the Batak highlands, home to the first of several indigenous tribes we encountered on our journey. Isolated in their mountain homes, the Batak were never converted to Islam and remained avidly animist until the arrival of German missionaries in the mid-19th century. Even then, they clung to ancient ways, including human sacrifice and cannibalism, which didn’t peter out until right before World War I.

Punctuating the highlands is Danau Toba, a massive crater lake born of a volcanic eruption about 75,000 years ago, so enormous it may have triggered an ice age. The explosion also separated Sumatra into two distinct flora and fauna zones: North of Toba there are orangutans but no tigers; south of Toba is the opposite — tigers but no great apes. Unless you count the orang pendek.

A one-hour ferry took us to Samosir Island in the middle of the lake, a longtime stop on the hippie trail across Asia, allegedly because of its magic mushrooms. (An older, long-haired American on the ferry confessed he was a “secret agent” on a mission for the U.S. government.) The island feels like a miniature Bali, the lakeshore strewn with tourist lodges, funky cafes and open-air workshops where Batak artisans make textiles and wooden sculptures.

Samosir is also the heartland of Batak culture, as personified by the megalithic monuments of Ambarita, among them an outdoor law court with 300-year-old stone tables. The rajah and elders settled tribal disputes and meted out justice from this site, the prisoners confi ned to a bamboo cage while awaiting their fate. “The most serious criminals — those who murdered or raped or who were caught sleeping with the rajah’s wife — were executed and eaten,” Ade told me. It was apparently a long and torturous process, during which lime juice was squeezed into the victim’s wounds. “The people believed back then that the more you screamed, the faster the evil spirit would leave your body.”

Nowadays Toba couldn’t be mellower. Ian and I lingered for two days, walking through the rice paddies in the rain, riding rented motorbikes into the rice terraces and pine forests that dominate the island’s interior, and simply staring at the big, puffy clouds that formed over the lake each afternoon. It may have been the prospect of tripping out that lured hippie backpackers to Toba, but it was the big sky and endless water that kept them here for weeks, months and sometimes years. It wasn’t easy to tear ourselves away.

South from Toba, the Trans-Sumatran Highway cuts a diagonal swath across the middle of the island for nearly a thousand miles. Although the rugged volcanic backdrop remains the same, the cultural landmarks gradually change: The small Christian churches that populate the Batak countryside give way to the golden- or green-domed mosques that dominate the Muslim villages of the Mandailing region.

Debbie certainly isn’t the only outsider doing strange and wondrous things in Sumatra. Albert Taylor, a gregarious Australian, gave up a career as a surfboat captain to pursue the not-too-glamorous life of a modern-day coffee baron.

At his estate in the mountains north of Bukittinggi, Albert explained his transition. “I was living down in Padang with my wife, who’s Sumatran, and one day her father came down from the hills with a bag of the most amazing coffee I had ever tasted. We spent years trying to fi nd the original Mandailing bushes — the ones the Dutch had planted so long ago.”

For anyone who knows coffee, Mandailing is a special name. Nearly 200 years ago, the Dutch came to these highlands seeking the perfect altitude, soil, temperature and moisture for growing coffee. Mandailing was allegedly the first high-quality Arabica exported from Indonesia. The coffee plantations were largely abandoned during World War II.

On his search for the old plants, Albert kept coming across tan clumps of coffee beans stuck together like peanut brittle on the forest fl oor. Locals later explained the clumps were the dung of nocturnal civet cats (or luwaks) that had eaten the fleshy coffee pulp and then excreted the beans. And this luwak scat made a pretty darn fi ne cup of coffee once thoroughly cleaned and roasted.

Albert now exports both his regular Arabica and the exotic kopi luwak. The latter sells for $50 a cup in the swank coffee shops of New York and Sydney. “This hill is full of raging, caffeine-addicted cats,” said Albert, half joking. “Their scat comes out almost pure coffee. The moon cycle affects what they eat, and that affects the taste of the coffee. There’s one part of the lunar month when they eat more fruit, which gives the coffee a fruity flavor.”

Late at night in the clapboard house that serves as estate office and sleeping quarters, the conversation turned to the other wildlife that Albert shares his mountain with. “We’re due for some rogue tiger to wander through. It happens all the time in Sumatra,” he said. He whipped out an e-mail from “some tiger lady” down south. It related how a big cat had killed three people in recent weeks. The gruesome dispatch was simply signed “Debs.”

Tigers. The first morning after our arrival, Debbie piled us into her Ranger pickup to visit the national park mess hall, where we’d meet the people she worked with. The wet weather continued, but a little rain wouldn’t keep Debbie from her daily rounds.

She drove us into the jungle along an ever-narrower road flanked by razor-sharp elephant grass trees hung with wild orchids. Crossing over to the other side of the mountains, we were confronted by a wall of rainforest. Virtually untouched and uninhabited, this side of Kerinci, larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined, is the essence of what the park is all about.

“When I was researching the orang pendek,” Debbie explained as we went, “I came across this tiger thing — the fact that Sumatran tigers were quickly disappearing from the wild. I kept sending messages to environmental groups back in Europe but didn’t get much response. By default I ended up doing it myself. It was the only way to get it done.”

She did persuade one environmental group, Britain’s Fauna & Flora International, to fund her work. Over the years, that bootstrap save-the-tiger effort has evolved into a 24-person conservation unit that works on various projects: the elephant-human conflict on the park’s southern fringe; encroachment by coffee plantations; illicit marijuana cultivation; and incidents with individual animals, including the orphaned sun bear Debbie had moved out of her house a few days before our arrival.

But her primary concern is saving the Sumatran tiger from extinction in the wild. Dutch colonial authorities
estimated that around 10,000 roamed the island at the turn of the 20th century. By the time Debbie arrived 15 years ago, that number had dropped to 400. Thanks to the conservation unit, the tiger population inside the park has started to rise since 2005.

“We’ve pretty much shut down the trade in tiger skins because poachers find them nearly impossible to sell,” says Nandang Gumilar, the tiger unit’s field operations manager. “But there is still the problem of tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine and villagers killing tigers when they feel their livestock or families are being threatened.”

Kerinci lies on the fringe of the Minang highlands, homeland of the Minangkabau tribe, renowned for their traditional adat houses featuring richly painted facades and soaring gabled roofs. A deep matrilineal tradition also sets them apart. Being married to a Minangkabau woman, our guide Ade Badan was well-versed in local customs. “Children take the name of their mother’s clan, not their father’s,” he told me. “Property is also passed down through daughters only. The sons get nothing. When a man divorces his wife, he must leave the house with only the clothes on his back!”

Women also control the purse strings, an unmistakable fact during our sojourn in the highland town of Bukittinggi. All the stores appeared to be run by females. Anita Syofyan, who owns a cyber cafe on the main street, told me, “Minangkabau women have a mind for business.” Then she launched into a passionate homily on why Hillary Clinton should be the next U.S. president.

This long matrilineal heritage had provided a framework for Debbie’s existence, allowing an infidel female to thrive in a Muslim society. Debbie might have been doing something radical for a convent-schooled lass from Gloucestershire, but in Sumatran terms it was par for the course. The local people understood strong women, and the fact that she was foreign and Christian didn’t seem to matter much.

A mother tiger with two cubs had been wandering the edge of the rice fields on the southern side of the Kerinci valley. A young female tiger had been caught accidentally — and strangled to death — in a farmer’s pig trap. And a rogue male tiger had killed three villagers in the mountains between Kerinci and Sumatra’s west coast. To highlight the challenges her team faces, Debbie drove us into the heavily wooded mountains above the valley.

The conservation team uses firecrackers to drive tigers away from populated areas around the park. If that fails, they trap and move the animal to a remote area. Another large part of the job is thwarting poachers. The team patrols the rainforest to sniff out traps and poacher camps, and runs sting operations to catch the culprits. On the office computer, ranger Rachmat Aripin showed me photos of poachers they had caught recently. “After we catch them,” said Aripin, “we help the police collect evidence and convict them.”

Leaving the pickup behind we set off on foot along a ridge, huge trees providing a bit of relief from the rain, the air suffused with a mulchy rainforest aroma. We soon reached the end of the ridge and an opening in the jungle wall where we could easily see a hundred miles up and down the fault line that cuts through the middle of the park. To the north was the cloud-shrouded cone of Mount Kerinci, one of the world’s highest volcanoes.

“There used to be a lot of deer poaching up here,” Debbie explained. “When we cut down on that, the deer population exploded, so more tigers came around because deer are an easy meal for them.” The deer came out of the forest to eat the veggies, and the tigers followed. Sooner or later cats were going to come into contact with villagers. And that’s exactly what happened — a tiger killed a local woman.

“And then you get all these ne’erdo-wells who want to kill the tiger,” she said. “You can’t blame the villagers. They’re merely responding to a threat. That’s where we come in — trying to defuse the conflict before villagers get hostile and a tiger gets killed.”

And the orang pendek? The little man still lurked at the edge of Debbie’s mind. “They’ve recently found several new species in Vietnam,” she mused. “Also in Borneo. We know that rhinos live inside the park, but in the whole time I’ve been here, they’ve only been photographed once. So it’s certainly feasible that a little- known and rarely seen primate is out there, too.” She sighed. “Who knows if we’ll ever get the proof.” But Debbie left no doubt that s


I am happy to be allowed the 
few words to this excellent study of 
Culture & Civilization of Sumatra, (said to have 
derived its name from the word 'Samudra' Sumudra 
Sumutra Sumatra). The author of this volume 
Swami Sadananda Giri is an enthusiastic student of 
the culture of Greater India and has visited and 
studied its monuments with love and admiration and 
is anxious to infuse his enthusiasm and interest in 
this fascinating field of Indianistic culture into 
the hearts of his brother Indians. He has written a 
scries of articles in the newspapers and journals giving 
very interesting descriptions of the religious and artis- 
tic culture of Siam, Java, and Cambodia. 

In this little volume he has made an excursion 
into a little known, and for that account, a very 
fascinating field of Indonesian Culture. It is believed 
by some scholars that Sumatra rather than Java was 
the original focus and centre of expansion of Indian 
civilization in Indonesia, while others believe that the 
centre of Indonesian culture was at Caiya (Jaya = 
Sri-vijaya) in the Malaya State. 

In fact upto about the ninth century Indian 
Culture was spread over an unified Java-Sumatra- 

[ ii I 

Malay complex having its cultural and political 
centre of gravity in the famous Sailendra Empire of 
Sri-vijaya, located either in Sumatra or in Lower 

The records of the Song dynasty and Liang 
dynasty of China afford very interesting though 
tantalizing glimpses of the state of things in Sumatra 
before the rise of the Sailendra Kings, who were 
devoted patrons of Buddhism. The kings ruling in 
Sumatra before the sixth century were Hindu- 
Brahminical in names and beliefs as appear to be 
suggested by the records of embassies sent from 
Sumatra to China "In the reign of the Emperor 
Hiao-Wou of the Song dynasty (454-464) the king 
of the country Che-p'o-lo-na-lien-t'o (Srivara- naren- 
dra) sent a high official of the name of Tchou Lieu-t'o 
(Rudra, the Indian) to present valuable articles 
of gold and silver," After the death of this king his 
son P'i-ye-po-mo (Vijayavarman) sent to China his 
ambassador named Pi-yuan-po-mo (Vijana-Varman?). 
About this time Sumatra, or some part of it was 
known as Kandari or Kandali (in Chinese transcrip- 
tion Kan-t'o-li). 

It is a well known fact that the earlier waves of 
Indian Colonization in further India were Hinduistic 
in colour and texture and the later currents were pre- 
dominantly Buddhistic in all parts of Indonesia. 

[ Si ] 

When Fa-hien visited Java (in 413 A.D.) he 
found so few Buddhists "that it is not worth while 
to mention them". It was the visit of Gunavarman 
the exiled prince of Kashmir (c. 424 A.D.) which 
gave the impetus of the growth of Buddhist Culture 
in Java, Sumatra, and other places. So that when 
Yi-tsing visited Sn-vijaya (671-672 A.D.) he was 
amazed at the learning of the Buddhist priests of the 
place. In fact within a few years, Sumatra became 
the most famous centre of Buddhist learning and no 
Buddhist priest could be said to have completed his 
education unless he had studied at this important 
centre of Buddhist theology. The famous Indian 
monk, Atisa otherwise called Dipankara-Srijnana of 
the Vikramsila monastery of Bihar spent ten years in 
Sumatra in order to complete his studies in the pure 
doctrine of the Sarvastivadins under Acarya Candra- 
kirti, the High Priest of Suvarnadvipa. 

In fact for several centuries India and Sumatra 
were in close and intimate contact. And it is allur- 
ing to study this cultural unity in the ancient 
remnants of the monuments of Sumatra and in the 
written records of Chinese history. It is a long for- 
gotten and lost page of Indian history that Swami 
Sadananda recovers for us in this interesting booklet. 

He was inspired to study Indonesian culture in 
all its phases by Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and it 

is a matter of great gratification that his studies are 
based on direct contact and experience derived from 
visits to that great island. It is to be hoped that this 
book will help to revive interest in a resumption of 
social and spiritual relation with the inhabitants of 
Sumatra who can justly claim to be near kinsmen of 
Indians through a common heritage of Culture 
which has been the glory of India and of Indonesia. 

Grateful acknowledgements arc due to the 
Dutch Resident and Soetan Mangaradja Pintar of 
Goenoengtoca (Padang Lawas) for courteous facilities 
given to Swami Sadananda to visit and study 
the Biara Temple. The Indian Merchants' Associa- 
tion at Medan have earned cordial thanks by their 
kind help and hospitality without which the Swami's 
sojourn to Sumatra would not have been possible. 

Mr. K. C. De, has taken considerable pains in 
carefully revising the manuscript of the author and 
in giving it a literary form which testifies to his abi- 
lity as a scholar of singular distinction. 

In reading through the proofs Mr. Salil Kumar 
Bancrjcc M.A., B.L., has rendered valuable help of 
which it is a pleasure to record our acknowledgment. 


2, Ashutosh Mukhcrjcc Road, 
Calcutta 6th May, 1938. 


Among the world's islands, Sumatra, claims to 
be one of the big five. She has an area of 180,000 sq. 
miles. The mountain cord, which precipitates 
sharply towards the West Coast, traverses the island 
axially and temporizes the rigours of a tropical cli- 
mate. There are some active craters and the Mt. 
Ophir, one of the volcanic peaks (which perhaps lent 
its name to a coastal town from where King 
Solomon's traders used to collect bullion) reaches a 
height of 10,000 feet. The northern half of the 
island which lies above the Equator stretches almost 
parallel to the south-eastern-most projection of the 
mainland on the other side of the Straits of Malacca, 
so that Selensing (Shailendrasingha?), the peninsular 
settlement of the Hindus lay, via Singapore (Tuma- 
sik), within an easy compass of Jambi and Palem- 
bang (Srivijaya), the Aryan colonies on Sumatra. The 
plains slope gently towards the east and are watered by 
a number of rivers navigable enough for largish boats 


to penetrate into inland areas, where areca-nuts, 
cocoanuts, coffee, indigo, maize, palm-trees, rice, 
rubber, spices, sugarcane, tea and tobacco are pro- 
duced in plenty. Gold and copper mines there 
might have been, but were long exhausted. 

Of the aborigines the Achines in the north, de- 
serve a mention for their sturdy opposition to the 
Dutch; courageous, obdurate and of a nomadic in- 
clination, they love to roam about unrestrained, their 
means of livelihood being chiefly hunting wild 
animals. They were conversant with fire-arms before 
the Dutch came, but are still primitive in agricul- 
tural pursuits. Their features suggest a strong negroid 
element, but their height is against their being 
classed with the pygmy races of the Andamans and 

The Bataks attract, however, the notice of many 
travellers for several reasons. Their land, which lies 
in the centre, around the shores of the Lake Toba 
and its island of Samosir, was inaccessible from the 
north for centuries. There is a reference of a Chinese 
trader exploring into their wild haunts in the iyth 
Century and the next representative of a civilised race 
to reach them was Dr. Van der Tuuk in 1863 A.D. 
These Bataks had an evil reputation of being canni- 

Page two 


Batak girl 


balistic and the Dutch had to exert authority to make 
them give up this horrible propensity which persisted 
upto the first decade of the present century. More- 
over where there were no roads but foot-tracks, which 
were often lost in the dense tropical jungle there are 
today fine motor-highways leading from Medan right 
down to Padang via Sibloga. But we are perhaps 
some of the very few Indians who have so far ven- 
tured into the Batakland in the modern era. The trip 
is a lovely one for its everchanging panorama of gor- 
geous mountains, canyons and thickly-wooded passes 
where some of the hair-pin bends almost take the 
breath away and can be only negotiated by a driver 
accustomed to them. The beautiful lake Toba with 
its large island of Samosir entrenched all round by 
sky-reaching trees that grow on high hills is really a 
firte recompense for the trouble we take to reach the 
Batak haunts 

These people who are divided into four groups 
owing to their dialectal differences are of a Proto- 
Malayan stock, which originally migrated from 
Cambodia through Malay and on its arrival at 
Sumatra, it fused a good deal with negroid early- 
settlers. That they came later into at least indirect 
contact with the Aryans can be guessed from the 

Page three 


presence of a number of Sanskrit words like Guru, 
Devata etc., as well as from certain images of Hindu 
worship. Whether on the decline of the Aryan in- 
fluence they reverted or not to the man-eating trait 
of their negrito forbears on one hand and to animism 
with their curiously blended devotion to spirits and 
ancestors derived from their Indonesian parents on 
the other, we leave to the researches of ethnogra- 
phers, but the revival of this awful characteristic 
might have been indirectly fomented by a degene- 
rated cult of the Mahayana Tantrists. 

Yet, save and except this savage trait, the Bataks 
preserves many indications of a highly-evolved cul- 
ture. Their agricultural methods, cattle-breeding 
(Batak horses are famous in the island), house- 
building, iron weapons, copper ornaments, brass 
lamps, silver trinkets, decorated bamboo utensils, 
baked and glazed pottery and intricate wood- 
carvings, all prove that they attained a remarkable 
standard of living unnoticed among other savages. 
Perhaps the Arab traders were responsible for the 
introduction of rifles and gun-powder and some of 
the Bataks are so intimately conversant with the fire- 
arm mechanism that they often undertake and 
execute creditable repair works. 

Page four 


Rice is their staple food, which they cultivate in 
abundance on the upland with implements mostly 
made of bamboo. Sharpened bamboo sticks are used 
in digging up the ground into clods, which are 
crushed into fine dust by heavy flails. A cleft bam- 
boo pocket is utilised tor spreading seeds into the 
rectangular plots furrowed with the help of a hand- 
plough. The only iron tool used in agriculture is 
the sharp scythe needed for reaping the crop. 
Though bullocks or buffaloes are seldom employed 
on the farmland yet methods used in stamping paddy 
are the same as in Bengal After the whole process is 
completed, the grain is gathered into picturesque 
barns built close to one's house. 

Residential quarters are often large enough to 
hold as many as eight families. Houses (which serv- 
ed as forts in old days) are raised three to six feet 
above the ground by means of poles driven into brick 
piles; heavy cross-bars wedged into these poles sup- 
port the wooden frame-work of the plastered wall, 
which is tastefully decorated with exquisite carvings 
and coloured wicker-weave. The entrance to the 
house is often marked by gable fronts holding up 
artistically thatched roofs where camel-hump tops end 
in crescents of shaded animal-horns. The access to 

Page five 


the house is gained by a staircase (built underneath) 
leading through a trap-door in the flooring o the 
stranger's or the bachelor's room. There is sometimes 
a verandah-like projection of bamboo, which serves 
as a platform to musicians on festive occasions. A 
sewer runs through the house, on either side of which 
are kitchens with stone slabs for ovens fitted with 
racks for holding bamboo utensils., These are differ- 
ently sized cylinders which serve the Bataks as recep- 
tacles for cooking, storing and eating food as well as 
tumblers for drinking. Other furnitures of house- 
hold utility are rare. 

The fabric for wear is made by the people with 
cotton grown in their own country. Here the art of 
weaving and the mechanism employed in producing 
cloth vary little from what are in vogue in other 
eastern countries. Gut-string bows twang monoto- 
nously as ginned cotton fly about into fleece and 
spinning wheels groan unceasingly as they transform 
the staple into yarns amidst the gossips of women. 
Looms can be handled deftly by both sexes and dyes 
that are utilised in staining the fabric are obtained 
from vegetable origin like indigo; only some of the 
printed dress-materials are perhaps obtained from 
foreign countries. 

Page six 


Women affect large head-gears of coloured cloth in 
a peculiar style; these are either pinned to their hair 
with silver clasps and are adorned with large beads or 
are worn in a curious knot. Their ear-rings are enor- 
mous; these are generally made of copper but now 
and again silver pendants are seen too. The more 
affluent have gold necklets galled 'Brahmanis', from 
which it is not difficult to guess the source of their 
inspiration. The fair sex may adorn their waist with 
silver girdles but children who seldom cover their 
body generally have a thin precious metal girdle 
round their stomach. The 'Punjabi 1 looking long 
shirts which men put on in addition to their sarongs 
are sometimes bedecked with pieces of looking-glasses 
and their head-covers have the appearance of a 
'pugrie' without a tail. Some of the men-folk put on 
wickered hats to protect themselves against the hot 
sun while working in the field. It is the turban of the 
priest or the witch doctor, which has a sanctified 
bearing, because of its being a gift from their com- 
mon legendary ancestor Singamangraja. 

The Bataks were a fighting race before they 
settled under the Dutch to the more peaceful life. 
Slings, lances with sharp copper tips, bows, arrows, 
guns, powder-pouches, and caribou hide small shields 

Page seven 


were their usual paraphernalia of war. Chiefs 
carried ivory-handled swords and knives while the un- 
derlords displayed copper-hiked daggers. Generals 
held batons blessed by clan-gurus for the extermina- 
tion of enemies whereas common soldiers carried 
charmed amulets for protection against the foe's 
poisoned darts. Sometimes heavy wooden maces 
were used in hand-to-hand engagements and the 
village approach was 'mined' with fine bamboo spikes 
hidden in the grass to arrest the progress of the in- 
vading army who generally were bare-footed. As 
an ordinary protective measure high mud-walls were 
built as ramparts round the village. 

Fishing, both as a sport and as a living, is indulg- 
ed in by the Bataks, who live close to such expanses 
of water as the Lake Toba. Light canoes, made out 
of hollowed palm trunks, are manned by fishermen, 
and these look like some saurians with a raised hood. 
Hooks and lines are sometimes resorted to, but mostly 
nets are cast to land a big haul. Women have light 
landing nets and some of the tribes use long sharp 
knives to finish the capture, while in water. 

Deer-hunting and pig-sticking (with the help 
of a pointed bamboo lance) often prove so interesting 
to Batak adults that they spend most of the day in 

Page eight 





jungles. They often lay traps both for aquatic 
and land games which, however, are not very 

The Bataks certainly love music, for, their 
orchestra consists of gongs, drums, flutes, anklongs, 
violins and queer looking mandolins which are 
mostly attuned to strange forms of snake-dances 
which include writhing motions of the entire body 
while hands and legs twist into curious figures. 
Mouth organs are left to lovers who serenade their 
lady-loves in their off-hours while billets-doux are 
composed on decorated bamboo cylinders. Children 
play with pop-guns, tops and balls woven with 
rattan-strips whereas the adults amuse themselves 
with games of dice and chess; card-playing probably 
appears unknown to them. Their common beverage 
is palm-toddy, which they drink out of bamboo 
cups. Deli tobacco is available to them but opium- 
smoking (with Chinese-looking pipes and lighters) 
has had a check under the Dutch. 

Drugs are generally made of crude vegetable 
syrups and love potions are not unknown either. 
Gurus probably had a thriving income from magic 
or charmed drinks, which were supposed to do 
almost impossible things, but these have diminished 

Page nine 


owing to missionary work, who have done great ser- 
vices to the community by erecting a leper asylum. 

The Bataks are now being converted to 
Christianity but they still display their liking for 
animism and ancestor-worship imbibed frcm their 
forefathers. The Hindu Gods are revered but spirits 
that are supposed to live in desolate places are feared 
and protection against their evil-doing is sought 
through priestcraft. How far they are under the 
moral persuasion of their witch doctors and gurus it 
would be hard to gauge, but among superstitious 
people there is always a tendency to revert to their old 
ideas at the slightest contretemps, and the Batak 
Christians are no exception. 

They used to bury their dead, exhume the 
bodies after a while, burn the same with a show of 
pomp and collect the ashes in an iron vessel which 
they would send floating down the mid-stream. 
This alone did not constitute their respect for the 
dead and it is our belief that they copied a good deal 
the festivities of a Buddhist funeral and there must 
have been some elaborate ceremonies connected with 
the worship of the dead which are now lost to us. 

On the shore of the Lake Toba there is a place 
called Prapat, which, if of Sanskrit origin, would 

Page ten 


mean water fall The trip to Sibloga is indeed very 
pleasant from scenic point of view but to us the 
Padang high lands, where the Minangkabau race has 
its abode was naturally more attractive. We were 
shown courteously by Mr. G. Hoetagaloeng a resi- 
dent of this beautiful coast town Sibloga. As 
we were in a hurry we had to refuse with thanks 
his hospitality. Fort-de-Kock is one of the Dutch 
built clean towns which has a military base 
and the air-route from Pakan Baroe may be reached 
from here by road. This Pakan Baroe has some 
Hindu relics which would be of great interest 
to the historian but at present they require proper 

To judge precisely how far the physiographical 
conditions of Sumatra have affected ethnic distribution 
and localisation, or to celebrate how far racial com- 
plexities have been somatically temporized and intellec- 
tually altered would be extremely difficult and there is 
always a possibility of a grave error in the final ver- 
dict, unless corroboration trom an independent source 
is available. We know, when in a pre-historic era 
Sumatra formed a connected mass with the mainland 
of Asia, migration was easy and a number of races 
might have settled and some of these early settlers 

Page eleven 


might have, for reasons unknown, altogether dis- 
appeared from the face of the globe. Lower Siam 
and Malay have traces of lithic evolution in almost 
all phases; yet so far we have not been put into pos- 
session of any stone-age evidences, which are likely to 
indicate any particular period of the prc-historic 
human occupation of this island. What we have at 
our disposal, however, are so unique that we hardly 
know which race to connect them with. We refer to 
the stone effigies of the Batoe Sankar caves. Could 
cave-man possibly execute such fine details on stone 
as these display? What tribe of men do they re- 
present? Large heads are covered with closely 
clipped curled hair, which remains clear off the wide 
foreheads; eyes bulge on either side of pug-noses, 
under which thick lips part in an expression of won- 
der or horror; flat but largish ears from which enor- 
mous pendants (or flowers?) hang against flabby 
cheeks; necks are short while backs are bent forward 
under a heavy burden, so much so that shoulders are 
propped up against it; yet hands are held akimbo 
with both palms folded together; a posture which 
would remind a moderner of the cringing hawker, 
who would be just pleased to get rid of his heavy 
stock at the first opportunity. 

Page twelve 


Minangkabau girl 


The same puzzle, but to a less degree, presents 
itself to us, when we attempt to trace the evolutionary 
history of all aborigines, specially of the Bataks and 
the Minangkabaus. The former according to some 
ethnographers, represents an earlier mixture of the 
Proto-Negroids and the Proto-Australoids, yet their 
reverence for the dead and their worship of spirits 
and ancestors would link them culturally with the 
Mongoloids. The Minangkabaus, who certainly 
migrated from the maritime regions of Chekiang and 
Fukien, passed through Malay where a number of 
them settled down and fused with the Polynesian 
Mon-khmers, while the rest gained access to Central 
Sumatra via east-coast rivers Hence arose the 
legend of the Minangkabau's being the parent-tribe 
of the Malayans, to which the fact that the Hindu 
Shailendras hailed first from Palembang to dominate 
over the Srivijaya empire of the Peninsula lent an 
impressive colouring. The Minangkabaus have not 
only retained their Mongoloid eyes and flattened 
noses but have preserved much of the animistic and 
the Spirit worshipping traditions of the ancient 
Oceanians in spite of their being converted to Islamism. 
They are tall and the women-folk possess a majestic 
mien which renders them comparable to the women 

Page thirteen 


of modern Turkey and not to their Borkha-covered 
Indian sisters who are lost behind the labyrinth of the 
seraglio. There has been much speculation regarding 
the Minangkabaus; they lived much closer to the 
Aryan settlers yet the Hindu influence on them is less 
felt than on the Bataks; also their queer matriarchal 
structure of society bespeaks of their isolation from the 
outer world at a certain stage of evolution for a con- 
siderable while. Woman rules the hearth and hers 
i> the only voice that is authoritative on any question 
of social affairs. The house which has a similar appear- 
ance to that of the Bataks but less artistic is really a 
barrack of married women, whose husbands may come 
and visit the inmates but must not make a long stay. 
Property devolves on woman while man has just a 
pittance in the form of a small share in his own family 
heirlooms. These latter are, however, kept under the 
surveillance of the oldest male member of the family. 
A man has no opinion to offer on the marriage of his 
own children, but will be listened to when his sister 
asks for his advice on her children's affairs. His 
physical superiority has left agriculture, house-build- 
ing, cattle-tending etc. to him and while he plays on 
flutes or violins a batch of women will dance to the 
tune, gorgeously attired; their festival head-gears have 

Page fourteen 


the look of similar bonnets affected by the i6th 
century European women, while their embroidered 
Sarongs with heavy waist bands are probably an imita- 
tion of the court dress of the Shailendra ladies. 

The Dutch authorities complain that none of the 
tribes of Sumatra, owing to the extreme fertility of 
soil, would work more than it is necessary for raising 
sufficient crop for annual consumption. As they are 
too indolent, the benign Hague government was forced 
to sanction the importation of the Javanese and the 
Chinese coolies for intensive as well as extensive 
agriculture. For large-scale production a certain 
amount of nigger-driving is essential, which, when it 
is based on legal contracts between capital and labour, 
ib supposed to rush the output and the wage-earning 
indexes to a higher level. The ethics or the psycho- 
logical effects of the system are much the same, be it 
instituted in Assam tea-gardens, Korean condensed 
milk factories, New Orleans cotton areas or in 
European mines. There is nothing to grumble at, 
for, is it not natural to expect adequate returns for 
initial outlays and current expenses in any organisa- 
tion?. The Dutch system has all the ameliorative 
features of the present day labour control ideas. 
There are doctors to attend the invalid; clean food and 

Page fifteen 


healthy barracks along with regular wages leave little 
for criticism. The want of philosophic calm on 
the part of the worker is perhaps responsible for their 
non-observance of disciplinary action of the authority. 
The aborigines being dealt with in our rapid 
survey of Sumatra, we may now be allowed to speak 

a few words on the activities of a third race which 

created an unprecedented glamour whether in the 
West or in the East and which like those of the ancient 
Egyptians are now reduced to a few stone inscriptions 
and monuments. How they came to settle down at 
Jambi or Palembang and thence to Selensing we can 
only guess, but spread they did, not only intellectually 
and culturally, but politically as well, in all the is- 
lands of the archipelago and the South-eastern Asia 
which to-day is better described as Further or Greater 
India. They were the Aryans, who came from all 
parts of India but the Dakshinapatha contributed 
perhaps a larger share in colonisation and perforce en- 
joyed a larger return from commerce. In the follow- 
ing lines we shall just give a few dates chronologically 
arranged so that it may develop into a well-linked 
story of the past. There are records of events but 
identification of places and persons is extremely 

Page sixteen 

S/i varnadwipa. 

(By courtesy of Netherlands Indies 


Not to speak of old chroniclers who perhaps never 
stirred out of their home, even traders who actually 
visited distant lands display a deplorable lack of 
knowledge regarding their accurate geographic situa- 
tion. Men in those days loved to indulge in hyper- 
boles and had a picturesque, but extremely vague 
manner of describing places and people, which often 
gives rise to serious confusion as to their identification 
in our age of precision. Dynastic designations and 
often personal styles of the monarch were made to de- 
note the realm he ruled The Empire of the Maha- 
raja in the ancient days stood for the Hindu domina- 
tion in the Further India but the Si-li-ma-ha-la of the 
Chinese records of 1424 A.D. referred to the third 
Sultan of Malacca. Thus the source, the nationality 
of the writer and the period all have to be carefully 
sifted before we are able to piece together the fragments 
of long-forgotten incidents into history. The classical 
instance that of the Srivijaya in the Far-East, which, 
were it not for the indefatigable researches of M. 
Coedes would still be passed over as the name of a 
ruler. Yet San-bo-tsai, Shi-li-fo-She Zabaj, Sarbaza 
etc., all hinted at the great empire which probably 
had its first nucleus in the territory round Palembang 
in Suvarnadwipa. We may cite a host of references 

2 Page seventeen 


to this Srivijaya relating to the activities of her several 
sovereigns and her final exit from the history of the 
World, but we have to maintain silence without fur- 
ther authoritative collation as to what preceded her, 
whether the Shailendras were her actual founders or 
they merely extended for eight hundred years a bril- 
liant programme of some equally glorious ancestors. 
Many are the allusions to her sister island of Java, 
some of which at least could be applicable to her with 
greater truth, specially when she lies closer to the 
Indo-Chinese trade-route round the straits of Malacca. 
Possibly the Buddhist monks hesitated to visit her, 
who still retained her Hindu beliefs and liked still 
Jess to make any mention of her in their memoranda. 
This can be judged from the fact that as soon as 
Sumatra changed her religious ideals to the principles 
of Lord Tathagata we find the Chinese visiting and 
describing her at length. 

It would be therefore a pure speculation, for 
example, to say that Sumatra was definitely mention- 
ed as Suvarnabhumi in the Ramayana. It would be 
contested that the original work of Valmiki con- 
tained no reference to her. At the same time, if 
Ophir, the gold-exporting town, could be identified 
beyond doubt with any port on the east coast of 

Page eighteen 

Statue of a f finale 

Paclang Lawas 
(13 y courtesy of Netherlands 
Arth&ologital Service) 


Sumatra, from where bullion, ivory, apes (kapim) and 
peacocks (tukim) went to the court of the king 
Solomon, we could definitely assert that this island 
came under the cultural sway of the Aryans at least 
in 1000 B.C. That the Hindus often embarked on 
ocean-borne enterprise, whether for the greed of gold 
or from a sheer spirit of adventure, may be substan- 
tiated by the Rigveda which happens to be much 
older composition than the Chapter on the wealthiest 
Hebrew king in the Old Testament. In 414 A.D. 
there is no doubt that Fa-hien was marooned in Ya-va- 
di, for he says so. Yet the Sumatra coast was within 
a shorter reach of his boat than Java. If the tempest 
had abated and allowed a smooth voyage probably he 
would have never missed his visit to Java, where only 
the Brahmans flourished. Just as much as Yuen 
Chwang had little to say except paint Sasamka in the 
deepest black, Fa-hien was too down-hearted at the 
fewness of co-religionists. Within a decade of his 
departure, Gunavarman, an ex-prince of Kashmir, 
renounced his crown for monk's bowl, and came to 
convert the people of Cho-po to Hinayanism. Either 
the older religion of Java was fast losing its grip over 
the people or this Kashmiri was a good theologian, 
for, He soon converted enough people to have left the 

Page nineteen 


place, apparently satisfied with his work, for China, 
where, in Nanking, he died in 429 A.D. It is how- 
ever certain that Hinduism held its own in Sumatra 
during the 5th century, which it continued to do for 
another hundred years at least. 

By 671 A.D. both the Buddhist Schools had 
established themselves in Sumatra; from a Malayan 
inscription of 684 A.D., we are able to gather that 
the Vajrayana Buddhism was already prevalent among 
the Srivijaya rulers of Sumatra, and the Mahayanists 
from the start seemed to have captured Melayu under 
the guidance of one Dharmapala, but their Tantrism 
did not effloresce until the advent of Wajrabodhi in 
711 A.D. Of him, we only know that he was 
a Dakshini Vikshu and came to Sumatra on a Persian 
boat. The Mulasaraswatiwadanikaya School, to which 
our diarist I-tsing belonged, must have won the heart 
of the mass, while the Mahayana creed remained a 
court cult. Sumatra possessed good Sanskrit scholars 
or I-tsing could not have gained enough proficiency 
in grammar in six months and proceeded to take up 
a ten-years course at the University of Nalanda, where 
the 1 08 Dwarapanditas must have severely tested his 
knowledge, before he could reach the innermost 
circle. On his way to Tamralipti he visited all the 

Page twenty 


Malayan ports of the Srivijaya and it was not until 
685 A.D. that he could regain Sumatra. He spent 
another four years in copying probably all the available 
sacred treatises, but the task was too great for one 
man. He went to China and returned to Sumatra in 
691 A.D. with four compatriots to help him in writ- 
ing up the religious tracts of the island and in 711 
A.D. long after he had found his way back to the 
land of his forefathers, he translated the Hastananda 
Shastra of Sakyakirti, one of the twelve erudite 
scholars of his day who could be classed with 
Jnanabhadra of Java. 

The Mahayana Tantrism was really given a 
strong impetus by one of the Pala kings of Bengal. 
That there was a close spiritual alliance between 
Bengali Buddhists and their Sumatran brothers could 
be first gleaned from the fact that on the 2ist Day of 
Kartika of the 39th year of Devapaladeva, son of 
Paramasaugata Sri Dharmapaladeva, granted five 
villages for the upkeep of a certain monastery near 
Nalanda at the request of Balaputradeva, the ruler 
of the Golden Isle, whose mother, Tara was the 
daughter of Dharmasetu of Java. It is possible to 
infer from Kalasan inscription (778 A.D.) that the 
father of this Balaputradeva was one Panangkran, who 

Page twenty-one 


showed enough military ability to be described as 
Samaragra, in which case, Sanjaya, whose arms all 
his neighbours felt, would be the paternal grand- 
father of Balaputradeva. Tara was certainly the wife 
of Panangkran and Dharmasetu of Keluraka and 
Kalasan petrographs was a Mahayanist Buddhist but 
beyond the fact that Dharmapala and Dharmasetu 
were almost contemporaneous, nothing further should 
be deduced. To make him a Pala monarch of 
Bengal so that Devapaladeva and Balaputradeva 
could be cousins would be stretching imagination a 
little too far. Because Dharmasetu claims his des- 
cent from the lunar race, there is no reason to believe 
that he was a Kshattriya, in whom only the Kuru 
blood flowed. It is an epithet which should be taken 
at its face-value, that is to say, it is an adjunct to 
glorify the race from which the donor Balaputradeva 
had sprung. The name Tara' itself is suggestive of 
the host of gods and goddesses that built up the Maha- 
yanist cosmogony, which on the decline of Buddhism 
carjie to be included in the Dasamahavidya of 
the Saktas. From the date of the Bengal Pala 
ruler, we may deduce that Balaputradeva ruled 
in Sumatra sometimes in the middle of the ninth 
century A.D. 

Page twenty-two 


The year 980 A.D. saw the birth o one of the 
most learned Bengali, whose profound knowledge of 
the esoteric doctrines of Buddhism made him the head 
of the Nalanda University; while the Tibetan autho- 
rities held out invitations to him more than once to 
visit their land, Sumatra expressed her greatest desire 
to see him among the flowers of her Mahayana School. 
He may be a mere name to-day in Bengal, which has 
to secure materials from Nepal, Tibet and Palembang 
to write a biography of this great scholar, but he is 
still revered in countries where the Tantric School of 
the Buddhists continues to draw votaries to its fold. 
Atisha Sri-Jnana Dipamkara was probably born at 
Vajrayogini when the Mahayana cult had its expo- 
nents all over the Gangetic delta. His exceptional 
abilities marked him out from his youth and his fame 
soon spread outside Bengal as one of the greatest ex- 
ponents of the secret teachings of certain Buddhist 
monks, who were more or less responsible for the con- 
ceptions such as Avalokitesvara, Hariti, Tara and a 
crowd of Buddhist gods and goddesses in spite of the 
fact that in the system of Lord Buddha God Himself 
had no place. 

Dharmakirti, who according to a Nepalese 
Punthi, was a Sumatran prince and was initiated into 

Page twenty-three 


the Mahayana Tantrism by Sri Ratna at Bodh-Gaya, 
went back to his country and soon achieved the 
highest position among the Sumatran monks. On 
arrival of Dipamkara, he showed this Bengali monk 
all the courtesy due to his vast knowledge and pro- 
bably it was the latter who taught some of the most 
hidden practices of Tantra to the Sumatran monks. 
If it were otherwise, Dharmakirti's, and not Dipam- 
kara's name would have been engraved on Sangklion 
plate, which probably served as a memorial tablet to 
the figure of Yamari (the enemy of Death) with eight 
hands, twenty-four eyes and vested with a garland 
of human skulls hanging around the neck. It 
would appear perhaps revolting to the present aesthe- 
tic notions of the civilised world, just as much as the 
figure of Amoghapasa at Padang Chandi or the Maha- 
kalamurti of the same place would create unsympathe- 
tic comments from 'nice-minded' people. In the ins- 
cription of Amoghapasa too, the name of Dipamkara 
appears which shows that he still lived in the memory 
of the Sumatrans just a few years before the Sri- 
vijayas were swept off by the continuous attacks of 
the Bilwa Tikta monarch. 

The figure of Amoghapasa deserves our atten- 
tion for a moment. It is really a conception of the 

Page twenty-four 


Vishnu Sri vi jay a 
(By courtesy of Netherlands Inches 


Adyasakti with her attendants or Yoginis who form 
the chakra with her. She represents destruction in 
the sense that creation follows immediately from anni- 
hilation; in early Buddhist idea, birth and rebirth 
move in a cycle and metempsychosis is the direct out- 
come of karma and only ceases with it, when the 
greatest of mental conceptions, Nirvanam, is attain- 
ed. The rites that came to be connected with the 
Tantrism, one of which was necessarily the construc- 
tion of a concrete thought-form like Amoghapasa, 
were all, not single one excepted, primarily and funda- 
mentally related to certain yogic practices necessary 
for setting mind free from the trammels of materia- 
listic thoughts. The gruesome aspect of the whole 
science of the Tan trie worship disappears, when all 
words apparently related to gross and horrid things 
are given their true meanings which only the initiat- 
ed have the right to know when they prove them- 
selves, after severe tests free from all carnal thoughts. 
Hence when we learn from the inscription at the back 
of the statue of Adityavarman, (perhaps one of the 
last Shailendras of Sumatra) that the Lord of Matan- 
gini is removing her loneliness, it is not to sexual 
pleasure which is alluded to. The word Kama has a 
peculiar significance. It may mean lust and it may 

Page twenty-five 


mean an ardent introspective hope for final salvation. 
If Adityavarman had really mastered all the agamas 
and practised the self-control necessary for the puri- 
fication of thoughts, which we do not doubt he did, 
he must have been one of the greatest Yogins of his 
age. When we talk of the Tantras and their prac- 
tices we may well bear in our mind the cautions 
advocated by 'Mr. Avalon'. It is possible that 
Matangini was really a woman of the hill tribe but 
was married to an aryanised monarch of Palembang, 
which only leads to the conclusion that fusion with 
the indigenous element was never at an end in the 
Far East. 

The Mahakalamurti marks the transition 
period, the waning of popular Buddhism, the slow 
installation of Buddhist devas among the Hindu 
Pantheon and the final emergence of the Hinduised 
Buddhism. The latter, too, finally disappears into 
all-embracing Aryan religion of India; but not before 
dual devataship such as the early conceptions of Siva- 
Buddha had their chance. The Lord of destruction is 
one of the members of the Hindu Trinity, but He 
represents the renunciation of material pleasure as well, 
an idea which the Lord Tathagata and Christ so 
eagerly advocated. The same cyclic conception of 

Page twenty-six 


life and death is represented by the skulls at the base 
of the Mahakala image which has the enigmatic smile 
of an ageless wisdom. Both the hands of the figure 
are well-amuleted and folded in yogic mudras, the 
head-gear is Buddhistic in appearance and it is 
very hard to say if the statue has the eyes closed or 
open. The attire is rather peculiar; the pyjama-like 
fold with a dangling end of the cummerband is rather 
suggestive of a non-Hindu inspiration. The face 
betrays Mongoloid features and the figure represents 
a stumpy human specimen, whereas the Matangini 
has the stature of a tall person. It almost tempts 
us to ask the scholars of eastern History, if Aditya- 
varman married a lady of the Minangkabau race. 

There are still some traces of pure Hinduism in 
Sumatra mostly in Padang country. The Rakshasa 
on the wall of the Biara Temple has rather a pleasant 
feature. Probably it really represents a dancing 
Yaksha with a mace (?) in one hand. The head 
shows beautiful curls of hair and the arms as well as 
ankles have ornaments. The cloth which hangs in a 
central pleat is secured to the waist by a jewelled belt. 
The temple itself is in a senile state, even the central 
dome has lost the spire. It stood on a square base 
and the whole architecture is remarkable in one sense 

Page twenty-seven 


only; that is, the entire structure consists of burnt 
bricks cemented together closely while figures were cut 
into the brick with a sharp chisel, as were the figures 
on the walls of the Mi-Son palace in Champa. 
There is a fine murti, well-proportioned and carefully 
executed with minute details, placed outside the ruins 
of another Temple which has a too-suspiciously close 
appearance of a Buddha with upturned palms to be 
identified with a Hindu deity. 

When we speak of political Sumatra of the olden 
times we mean the pre-Srivijaya kingdom and the 
Shilendra monarchy. Of the first, it is mostly guess- 
work. Leaving aside the vague references to Sumatra 
in the pre-Christ literature, we may be allowed to 
begin with Kantoli, which in itself would be specula- 
tive as to its geographical position. This kingdom of 
Kantoli is supposed to have sent beautiful presents to 
the Hsiau-Wu emperor, who in return created him 
an independent ruler with the title 'Sri Iswara 
Narendra\ This happened in 460 A.D. and forty- 
two years later, Gautama Subhadra, a successor to the 
Iswara Narendra, dreamt of the then Celestial 
Emperor on the 8th of April and so vivid was his 
dream that he had a picture of his overlord, drawn 
from the memory in the morning. The wonderful 

Page twenty-eight 


&va Srivijaya 

(liy tourtesy of Netherlands Indies 
Arc haologi cal Scrvic e) 


point in the whole incident was that his court painter 
who was despatched post haste to the Chinese capital 
brought back an exact replica drawn from life. This 
clever adulation was perhaps appreciated by the 
Seigneur of China who probably compensated the 
envoys with the most valuable presents his empire 
could produce. Seventeen years later his son Priya- 
varman sent an epistle to the Chinese court, where 
his extreme piety as a Buddhist must have made a 
deep impression. Yet in less than half a century, 
in 564 A.D. to be precise, Kantoli vanishes into obli- 
vion and for the first time we get to know the name 
of the Srivijaya. 

We have already detailed, what we know regard- 
ing the visit of the Chinese scholar I-tsing, the con- 
version work of Dharmapala and the introduction of 
Tantrism by Wajrabodhi. But before the Javanese, 
conquest of Sumatra, the Shailendras or the Mountain 
kings had already created an empire, which included 
the districts of Lower Siam, Malay, Sumatra and 
Java and if all the small islands are included, her pos- 
sessions would number to fifteen different territories. 
Of course, the Shailendras did not consolidate the 
whole power under one central authority for long but 
upto the rise of the Banka revolt in the yth century, 

Page twenty-nine 


King Jayansa, whose gift of a park was commemorat- 
ed in another inscription, must have held the reins 
of the whole of Srivijaya authority in one hand. But 
within a couple of centuries, probably owing to out- 
side invasions, if not, due to internecine war, there 
appear to be three branches of the Shailendras, at least 
two, one with Java as the centre of his activities, the 
other with Palembang. 

This split is indicated in the Pala Copper grant 
dug up at Nalanda in 1921. Hence we are at a loss 
to determine, unless the Chinese records specifically 
mention the 'country of origin', which branch of the 
Shailendras were responsible for gifts and envoys to 
the Imperial Court, when the common monarchical 
designations the 'Sri-vijayas' are spoken of. These 
friendly missions were never interrupted, except when 
serious troubles prevented their continuance. 
from 671 to 741 A.D. we have proofs of this 
sadorial exchange of presents and it is on record 
that a Shailendra Yuvaraja visited the Imperial Court 
personally in 724 A.D. and was confirmed in the title 
of 'Sri Indravarman' after 17 years by the Emperor's 

The second half of the ninth century is comme- 
morated by Balaputra's request of Devapaladeva to 

Page thirty 


build a monastery in Nalanda. The Chinese mission 
resumed in the rirst decade of the 9th century, when 
according to Ibn-at-Fakih, Malay continued its 
government under the same banner as the island of 
Sumatra. All sorts of people used to flock to the 
Srivijaya ports which traded under royal control, 
camphor, sandal (Agastya himself preferred the Hari- 
chandana of the Indian Archipelago to that of the 
Dakshinapatha), ivory, aloes and sappan wood. Tin, 
ebony and spices perhaps made the bulk of the 
Srivijaya export to Europe, (the Near East), Arabia 
and India. 

An envoy, probably an officer of the army of the 
Srivijaya received in 905 A.D. a high-sounding title 
from the head of the Tung dynasty. There is a 
record of the Si-li-wu-ya king sending in 960 and 
962 A.D., gifts to the Imperial seat. The chamari 
tail (included in the list of Chinese presents), white 
porcelain, silver wares, silk thread, saddles and bridles, 
all display the height of splendour the Sumatran 
Court must have attained. The exchange of gifts 
was repeated in 971, 972 and 974 A.D. The pre- 
sents that Srivijaya sent included ivory, rose water, 
dates, peaches, white sugar, glass phials and coral 
trees and most of these were the luxury articles the 

Page thirty-one 


wealthy Sumatrans used to enjoy. The cargo of per- 
fumes and drugs which had to be taken to Canton 
owing to a storm in 980 A.D. tells us that the Hindu 
colonists must have learned the art of manufacturing 
the same from the mother country where according 
to Vatsayan there were some 74000 'Scent-articles' in 
vogue. These presents which went from Ha-chi 
(which may stand for some king Ajit or Raja Sri) 
were again repeated in 983 A.D. and this time the 
list included cotton cloth, crystal and rhinoceros 

Sanskrit culture seemed to have flourished more 
and more from the nth century A.D. for Buddhist 
literature which was mainly in Pali was probably 
taught along with Sanskrit by scholars such as Pandit 
Wimalaseri to Chinese students like Fah Yu (963 
A.D.). More books came to be composed in popu- 
lar Sanskrit owing to the introduction of the 

The Sumatran Shailendras were the first to break 
away from the wide practice of employing Pallava 
script in books and petrographs. The Pallava types 
were so well known in Champa, Cambodia, Lower 
Siam, Malaya, Sumatra and Java, that the Chinese 
appellation for Further India was 'Kouen Louen'. 

Page thirty-two 


Brahma Srivijaya 
(Ry courtesy of Netherlands Indies 


The Sumatrans substituted Sanskrit as the court 
language for the common Proto-Malayan mixture of 
the Dravidianised Sanskrit (which in Dakshinapatha 
is called Tamil). 

Of course neither they nor their Malayan cousins 
could build half as grand as the Javanese. The 
Stupas at Takocs Moeroes and at Tanjong Medan in 
the Padang highlands are some of the few extant archi- 
tectural evidences they have still to their credit. Artis- 
tically they were far behind the Javanese people, but 
as rulers and conquerors they were perhaps more 
vigorous. By 775 A.D the Lower Siam was in their 
hands and this is proved by the word 'Srivijaya' being 
repeated three times in an inscription found there. 
In another hundred years, Malay was subjugated. 
They controlled all the trade of their territory. One 
of the Princes was in the habit of storing gold bricks 
in a tank near his palace saying each time he threw 
a brick "This is my treasury! Of course this pro- 
bably is a tall story, the teller being a compatriot of 
the composer of the 'Arabian Nights'. But we 
know that the Sriyij'aya in 848 A.D. was one of the 
richest maritime power, whose 'barbarous' Sanskrit 
of the Tantric inscriptions was probably intentional. 
It was an attempt to veil the double entendres which 

3 Page thirty-three 


the Tantric literature profusely used to ward off idle 
curiosity of the unbelievers; similar reasons prompted 
cabalistic writings of the Near East. 

Possibly, the Arab colonists were primarily res- 
ponsible for the introduction of wine and slave women 
among the elite of the Srivijaya and one of these 
traders deplores bitterly the absence of bucolic debau- 
chery in countries like Cambodia. 

The downfall of the Srivijaya was engineered by 
internal luxury and the royal indolence. Conscrip- 
tion at the time of war probably did not work accord- 
ing to the scheme drawn out during peaceful days. 
Petty jealousies, the want of proper control of distant 
possessions, the growth of competitive ports, and the 
reputed accumulation of gold, all were sowers of dis- 
sensions and disrupture. So long the Srivijaya mon- 
archs could command a powerful navy, their thalasso- 
cracy was bound to prosper. There were really three 
different attacks all in different ages against the 
Srivijayas, who grew more and more discredited, while 
they were being shorn of their possessions. From the 
first two assaults which were neither systematic nor 
continuous, the Shailendras had time to recuperate but 
from the third they could hardly have enough resourc- 
es left to revive their power. 

Page thirty-four 


Thus Srivijaya could not only repulse, but 
took offensive against their aggressors Dharmaswanga 
between (992-1007) A.D. and came out victorious. 
The years 1005-90 must have been prosperous to 
them. They could resume their relations with China 
but after 1035 A.D. Rajendra Chola I began to 
destroy the Srivijaya possessions piecemeal. But, 
even then, the Shailendras had a chance to regain at 
least some prestige and create a shadow of the former 
Srivijaya after the passing away of Rajendra Chola I 
and his successor. 

It was Bilwa Tikta ruler with his queen-mother, 
his Prime Minister, Gaja Mada and Admiral Nala 
who did not allow any respite to the Srivijayas. Thus 
passed away a house of magnificient rulers who never 
levied heavy direct taxes, who always looked after 
the welfare of their people by not raising extravagant 
vain glorious monuments, but by solid commercial 
enterprises, the facilities of which were extended to all 
that traded in their ports. 

Page thirty-five 


Quite a number of bronze casts have been collect- 
ed from Palcmbang and its environments from which 
the Hindu trinity appears to be in great evidence in the 
religious life of the ancient Suma trans. Palembang 
was reputed to be the original home of the Shailendras. 
And these casts bear witness to the spirit of tolerance 
to all sects. There arc at present very little materials 
which enable us to assign any particular date, to these 
figures, but it is probable that they are older than 
similar objects found in Java. In spite of the ravages 
of time the Sumatran figures display beautiful work- 
manship and even, if the technique was borrowed 
originally from India the Mongoloid features of three 
of them bespeak of the great adaptability of the 
Hinduised force under the Shailendras. These three 
figures, one of Siva, one of Vishnu and one of Brahma 
display certain peculiarities which are absent from the 
fourth, representing Siva. The last one has pro- 
nounced Aryan physiognomy; it is the figure of a 

Page thirty-six 


healthy Brahmin, whose Yajnopavita has taken the 
shape of an entwined snake one of the special 
emblem of the Lord Siva, which however is not seen 
on its Sumatran counter-part. The head has an 
elaborate coiffure of plaited hair at the base of which 
there is a grand crown; the cords that tie the crown to 
the temple are flung on either shoulders like epau- 
lettes. Broad shoulders add an unspeakable dignity 
to the figure. The nose, its trait and long eyes do not 
slant. From the cars Jiang large round rings, which 
touch the neck. Lips are locked in a benevolent, and 
not, enigmatic Buddhistic smile. Necklet adorns 
the upper chest above the Brahmanic cordon. Save 
for these ornaments there is no cover for the upper 
body, while lower part is draped in pleated cloth 
which reach the ankles. The four arms are all amu- 
leted and have bracelets, while the palms have the 
usual emblems in their grip. 

Like the Sumatran Siva this Aryan Siva has a 
girdle below the navel pit but the latter is much more 
elaborately clothed, while two of its hands fold across 
the chest in Yogic mudra. There is between two 
right arms a tuft of cloth purporting to be the Uttaria. 
Moreover all the three figures of the Sumatran trinity 
have a background, rectangular in shape but rounded 

Page thirty-seven 


at top besides their usual divine carriers, which show 
that the Sumatrans closely conform tx> the Indian 
artistic canons. Except that these Bahanas are 
rather grotesque in appearance, nothing of distinction 
has attached itself to any of these figures. 

That Tantrism was deeply rooted in all parts of 
Sumatra from the north to the south may be gathered 
from the recent findings of Dr. F. M. Schnitger 
during his excavations around the region of the Biara 
Temple. The various idols and statues indicate, the 
fact that this Tantrism of north Sumatra was of 
Buddhistic origin, but gradually merged into a 
degraded form of spirit-worship which bore hardly 
any resemblance to the philosophic preachings of the 
Aryan colonists of old. 

Om Namab Sivaya 

Page thirty-eight 

he would keep searching: “There is something out there.”


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