Expansion of Śrivijaya Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Śrivijaya was for many years the most important seagoing power in Southeast Asia, and it may have played a part in the spread of Buddhism.

Summary of Event

During the late seventh century, Śrivijaya rose to become one of the most important states in Southeast Asia. It was a center of Buddhism Buddhism;Southeast Asia Southeast Asia;Buddhism , with close ties to the Buddhist schools of India. A seagoing power, Śrivijaya had ships that traveled throughout the region, and it maintained ties with China and the major powers in the Middle East and South Asia. [kw]Expansion of Śrivijaya (682-1377) [kw]Śrivijaya, Expansion of (682-1377) Śrivijaya[Srivijaya] Southeast Asia;682-1377: Expansion of Śrivijaya[0420] Expansion and land acquisition;682-1377: Expansion of Śrivijaya[0420] Government and politics;682-1377: Expansion of Śrivijaya[0420] Yijing Jayanasa Sanjaya Chulamanivarmadeva Rājendracōla Deva I Airlangga

The rapid rise of the kingdom of Śrivijaya began at the end of the seventh century and was largely the product of two developments in Southeast Asia. First, this historical period showed a marked expansion in seagoing traffic. Merchants, many of them Arabs, used improved methods of navigation to trade around the islands and the mainland coasts. Taking advantage of advances in navigation, the Chinese empire began communicating with countries to its south, sending and receiving embassies. The island of Sumatra, lying just southwest of the Malay Peninsula and just northwest of the island of Java between the straits of Malacca and Sunda, was a natural stopping point for ships traveling from China with the monsoon winds. Travel by sea Second, the kingdom of Funan broke apart. Funan Funan had dominated the waters of Southeast Asia from its base in present-day Cambodia, and the decline of this kingdom left a political vacuum to be filled by a new power.





The pilgrimage of the Chinese Buddhist Yijing (also I-Ching) Yijing (Buddhist pilgrim) to India at the end of the seventh century left some of the earliest written records of the political organization of Sumatra. On his way to India in 671, Yijing stopped for about six months in a city that he called Fo-shih, located at Palembang on the Musi River. He described this city as a center of the Buddhist religion, with more than a thousand monks. Yijing also mentioned a city just to the north of Fo-shih that he called Mo-lo-yu, which is believed to have been Malayu, alongside the Batang River near the eastern coast of Sumatra. At the end of the seventh century, Yijing went back to China and he wrote that Mo-lo-yu had become part of what he called Shih-li-fo-shih.

Inscriptions in stone written in the Old Malay language have provided some details of the early growth of Śrivijaya during Yijing’s time. In 682, the Śrivijayan King Jayanasa Jayanasa began a series of military campaigns against his neighbors. Scholars have debated whether Jayanasa’s kingdom grew from native people at Palembang or whether it was created by the conquest of Palembang by invaders from elsewhere. However, Jayanasa apparently brought Malayu and the island of Bangka, just off the coast of Sumatra, under his rule. Other lands also fell quickly under Śrivijayan power. By 686, the kingdom had sent expeditions against kingdoms in Java, brought all of Sumatra under its control, and extended its power up the Malay Peninsula.

Both Yijing’s writings and the inscriptions emphasize the importance of the Buddhist religion for Śrivijayan society. The inscriptions indicate that the king was seen as a religious teacher and perhaps even a bodhisattva (an enlightened being remaining on Earth to lead ordinary humans toward salvation). These writings in stone also provide clear evidence that the Tantric school of Buddhism was already influential in Śrivijaya during the seventh century. Tantric Buddhism Tantric Buddhism involved a heavy reliance on magical practices and symbols. It is generally thought to have developed in India after about 600 as a result of the blending of Hindu chants and incantations with Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy. Its early appearance in Śrivijaya is a testimony to the close ties between the island kingdom and India.

Scholars believe that Śrivijayan influences on religion and art spread up the Malay Peninsula and into what is now Thailand. Some scholars also point to Yijing’s own Buddhist studies in Śrivijaya as evidence that the kingdom played a valuable part in the development of Chinese Buddhism.

Two major challengers to Śrivijayan power emerged in the region. The first of these was the kingdom of Mataram Mataram in central Java. Mataram’s king Sanjaya Sanjaya undertook attacks against Sumatra, Bali, Cambodia, and southern China. Also in Java Java , the dynasty of the Sailendras Sailendra family emerged. The Sailendras, or “kings of the mountain,” erected some of the most impressive works of sculpture and architecture in the Indonesian lands, including the Javanese monuments of Borobuḍur. A branch of the Sailendras also became the rulers of Śrivijaya. Architecture;Southeast Asia Southeast Asia;architecture

How the Sailendras reached the Śrivijayan throne is not clear; possibly, the Śrivijayans and the Sailendras initially became allies against Sanjaya because the former two were Buddhists and Sanjaya was a worshiper of the Hindu god Śiva. The Sailendras may well have received aid from Śrivijaya in establishing themselves in Mataram at the end of the eighth century. It may have been as a result of marriages between the two royal families that a Sailendra became king of Śrivijaya by 860.

Despite these ties between Śrivijaya and Java, enmity developed between the two. The Sailendras at Mataram apparently converted to the Shaivite faith, the worship of Śiva. Śrivijaya remained resolutely Buddhist. About 992, King Chulamanivarmadeva Chulamanivarmadeva of Śrivijaya sent a mission to China to request the Chinese emperor’s help in resisting attacks from Java. A few years later, in 1006, Chulamanivarmadeva attacked Mataram, burned its palace, and killed its king. Religion;Southeast Asia Southeast Asia;religion

During the tenth and eleventh centuries, Śrivijaya went into a period of steady decline. This was probably at least partially a result of problems with the seagoing trade that had earlier brought it to power. Serious political difficulties in China and in the Middle East meant a decrease in economic activity for the region of Southeast Asia. In addition, the continual warfare brought disorder to Java and Sumatra.

Śrivijaya came into conflict with the Cōla Cōlas[Colas];Śrivijaya and[Srivijaya and] kingdom in South India as a result of competition to control the seas. In 1025, King Rājendracōla Deva I Rājendracōla Deva I attacked Śrivijaya; eventually he took some of the lands of the Malay peninsula and invaded Sumatra. Śrivijaya survived these assaults, but it was forced to pay tribute to the Cōlas for a number of years.

While Śrivijaya was struggling with the Cōlas, it came under the sway of a new power in Java. King Airlangga Airlangga founded the Kahuripan kingdom Kahuripan kingdom in eastern Java in 1019. Through marriage, Airlangga brought Śrivijaya into his lands. Airlangga’s kingdom broke up when he divided it among his sons, but Śrivijaya continued to play a much less influential part in the region than it had in earlier years. The Sumatran kingdom of Malayu Malayu , previously absorbed into Śrivijaya, rose to prominence again and dominated Śrivijaya. The kingdom remained under Malayu for the next two centuries, and it never again established a powerful presence in the waters of the region. When the famous Italian traveler Marco Polo Polo, Marco reached Sumatra Sumatra in 1292, the island was no longer under a single ruler. Travel by land;Marco Polo It had broken into eight different states, with none laying claim to the name of Śrivijaya.

A year after Marco Polo’s visit, Mongol invaders reached Java. A new regional power, Majapahit Majapahit , emerged in the fight against the Mongols. Over the course of the following century, Majapahit spread its control over the region. In 1377, Majapahit conquered Palembang in Sumatra, the apparent original capital of the Śrivijayan empire. By modern times, the powerful state of Śrivijaya had disappeared so completely that scholars could only reconstruct its history from archeological remains and references in ancient documents.


Śrivijaya’s central geographic location enabled it to link cultural areas throughout Asia. Scholars theorize that Śrivijayan culture, particularly its religion and art, spread up the Malay Peninsula and into what is now Thailand. In addition, Śrivijaya may have helped Buddhism and Indian culture spread through the region. Some scholars also point to Yijing’s Buddhist studies in Śrivijaya as evidence that the kingdom played a valuable part in the development of Chinese Buddhism.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coedès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Translated by Susan Brown Cowing. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968. The classic work on Southeast Asian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coedès, George, and Louis-Charles Damais. Sriwijaya: History, Religion, and Language of an Early Malay Polity. Monograph of the Malaysian Branch, Royal Asiatic Society 20. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: MBRAS, 1992. A collection of studies on the history of Śrivijaya.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hall, Kenneth R. “An Economic History of Early Southeast Asia.” In Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. Vol. 1, edited by Nicholas Tarling. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Traces the economic origins of early kingdoms, including Śrivijaya.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spencer, George W. The Politics of Expansion: The Chola Conquest of Sri Lanka and Sri Vijaya. Madras, India: New Era, 1983. This examination of the Cōlas’s conquests looks at Rājendracōla Deva I’s attack on Śrivijaya.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolters, Oliver William. Early Indonesian Commerce: A Study of the Origins of Śrivijaya. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970. Looks at the role of maritime trade in the rise of Śrivijaya.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolters, Oliver William. The Fall of Śrivijaya in Malay History. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970. A key work on the end of Śrivijaya.

Categories: History