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Srivijaya or Sriwijaya was an ancient Malay kingdom on the island of Sumatramarker, Southeast Asia which influenced much of the Maritime Southeast Asia. The earliest solid proof of its existence dates from the 7th century; a Chinese monk, I-Tsing, wrote that he visited Srivijaya in 671 for 6 months. The first inscription in which the name Srivijaya appears also dates from the 7th century, namely the Kedukan Bukit Inscription around Palembang in Sumatra, dated 683. The kingdom ceased to exist between 1200 and 1300 due to various factors, including the expansion of Majapahit. In Sanskrit, sri means "shining" or "radiant" and vijaya means "victory" or "excellence".

After Srivijaya fell, it was largely forgotten and so historians had never considered that a large united kingdom could have been present in Southeast Asia. The existence of Srivijaya was only formally suspected in 1918 when French historian George Coedès of the École française d'Extrême-Orient postulated the existence of the empire. Around 1992 and 1993, Pierre-Yves Manguin proved that the centre of Srivijaya was along the Musi River between Bukit Seguntang and Sabokingking (situated in what is now the province of South Sumatramarker, Indonesia).

Historiography and legacy

There is no continuous knowledge of Srivijaya in Indonesian histories; its forgotten past has been recreated by foreign scholars. No modern Indonesians, not even those of the Palembang area around which the kingdom was based, had heard of Srivijaya until the 1920s, when French scholar George Coedès published his discoveries and interpretations in Dutch and Indonesian-language newspapers. Coedès noted that the Chinese references to "Sanfoqi", previously read as "Sribhoja", and the inscriptions in Old Malay refer to the same empire.

Srivijaya became a symbol of early Sumatran greatness, and a great empire to balance Java's Majapahit in the east. In the twentieth century, both empires were referred to by nationalist intellectuals to argue for an Indonesian identity within an Indonesian state prior to the Dutch colonial statemarker.

Srivijaya and by extension Sumatra had been known by different names to different peoples. The Chinese called it Sanfotsi or San Fo Qi, and at one time there was an even older kingdom of Kantoli that could be considered as the predecessor of Srivijaya. In Sanskrit and Pali, it was referred to as Yavadesh and Javadeh respectively. The Arabs called it Zabag and the Khmer called it Melayu. This is another reason why the discovery of Srivijaya was so difficult. While some of these names are strongly reminiscent of the name of Java, there is a distinct possibility that they may have referred to Sumatra instead.

Formation and growth

Little physical evidence of Srivijaya remains. According to the Kedukan Bukit Inscription, dated 605 Saka (683 AD), the empire of Srivijaya was founded by Dapunta Hyang Çri Yacanaca (Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa). He led 20,000 troops (mainly land troopers and a few hundred ships) from Minanga Tamwan to Jambimarker and Palembangmarker.

The empire was a coastal trading centre and was a thalassocracy. As such, it did not extend its influence far beyond the coastal areas of the islands of Southeast Asia, with the exception of contributing to the population of Madagascarmarker 3,300 miles to the west. Around the year 500, Srivijayan roots began to develop around present-day Palembangmarker, Sumatramarker, in modern Indonesiamarker. The empire was organised in three main zones—the estuarine capital region centred on Palembang, the Musi River basin which served as hinterland, and rival estuarine areas capable of forming rival power centres. The areas upstream of the Musi river were rich in various commodities valuable to Chinese traders. The capital was administered directly by the ruler while the hinterland remained under its own local datus or chief, who were organized into a network of allegiance to the Srivijaya maharaja or king. Force was the dominant element in the empire's relations with rival river systems such as the Batang Hari, which centred in Jambi. The ruling lineage intermarried with the Sailendras of Central Javamarker.

Under the leadership of Jayanasa, the kingdom of Malayu became the first kingdom to be integrated into the Srivijayan Empire. This possibly occurred in the 680s. Malayu, also known as Jambimarker, was rich in gold and was held in high esteem. Srivijaya recognized that the submission of Malayu to them would increase their own prestige.

Chinese records dated in the late 7th century mention two Sumatran kingdoms as well as three other kingdoms on Java being part of Srivijaya. By the end of the 8th century, many Javanese kingdoms, such as Tarumanagara and Holing, were within the Srivijayan sphere of influence. It has also been recorded that a Buddhist family related to Srivijaya dominated central Java at that time. The family was probably the Sailendras. According to the Kota Kapur Inscription, the empire conquered Southern Sumatra as far as Lampungmarker. The empire thus grew to control the trade on the Strait of Malaccamarker, the South China Seamarker, the Java Seamarker, and Karimata Straitmarker.

During the same century, Langkasuka on the Malay Peninsula became part of Srivijaya. Soon after this, Pan Pan and Trambralinga, which were located north of Langkasuka, came under Srivijayan influence. These kingdoms on the peninsula were major trading nations that transported goods across the peninsula's isthmus.

With the expansion to Java as well as the Malay Peninsula, Srivijaya controlled two major trade choke points in Southeast Asia. Some Srivijayan temple ruins are observable in Thailandmarker and Cambodiamarker.

Ruins of the Wat Kaew in Chaiya, dating from Srivijayan times
The area of Chaiyamarker Surat Thanimarker Thailandmarker was already inhabited in prehistoric times by Semang and Malayan tribes. Founded in the 3rd century, until the 13th century the Srivijaya kingdom dominated the Malay Peninsula and much of the island of Javamarker from there. The city Chaiyamarker the name might be derived from its original Malay name "Cahaya" (means 'light', 'gleam', or 'glow'). However some scholars identify Chai-ya came from Sri-vi-ja-ya. It was a regional capital in the Srivijaya kingdom of the 5th to 13th century .Some Thai historians even claim that it was the capital of the kingdom itself for some time, but this is generally disputed. Wiang Samarker and Phunphinmarker were another main settlement of that time.

At some point in the 7th century, Cham ports in eastern Indochina started to attract traders. This diverted the flow of trade from Srivijaya. In an effort to divert the flow, the Srivijayan king or maharaja, Dharmasetu, launched various raids against the coastal cities of Indochina. The city of Indrapura by the Mekong River was temporarily controlled from Palembang in the early 8th century. The Srivijayans continued to dominate areas around present-day Cambodia until the Khmer King Jayavarman II, the founder of the Khmer Empire dynasty, severed the Srivijayan link later in the same century.

After Dharmasetu, Samaratungga became the next Maharaja of Srivijaya. He reigned as ruler from 792 to 835. Unlike the expansionist Dharmasetu, Samaratungga did not indulge in military expansion but preferred to strengthen the Srivijayan hold of Java. He personally oversaw the construction of Borobudurmarker; the temple was completed in 825, during his reign.

The influence of the empire had reached Manilamarker by the 10th century. A kingdom under its sphere of influence had already been established there.

By the twelfth century, the kingdom included parts of Sumatramarker, Ceylonmarker, the Malay Peninsula, Western Javamarker, Sulawesimarker, the Moluccasmarker, Borneomarker and the Philippinesmarker, most notably the Sulumarker Archipelago and the Visayasmarker islands (and indeed the latter island group, as well as its population, is named after the empire).

Srivijaya remained a formidable sea power until the thirteenth century.

Vajrayana Buddhism

A stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism, Srivijaya attracted pilgrims and scholars from other parts of Asia. These included the Chinese monk Yijing, who made several lengthy visits to Sumatra on his way to study at Nalanda Universitymarker in India in 671 and 695, and the 11th century Bengalimarker Buddhist scholar Atisha, who played a major role in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet. Yijing reports that the kingdom was home to more than a thousand Buddhist scholars; it was in Srivijaya that he wrote his memoir of Buddhism during his own lifetime. Travellers to these islands mentioned that gold coinage was in use on the coasts, but not inland.

Relationship with regional powers

Pagoda in Srivijaya style in Chaiya, Thailand
Although historical records and archaeological evidence are scarce, it appears that by the seventh century, Srivijaya had established suzerainty over large areas of Sumatra, western Java and much of the Malay Peninsula. Dominating the Malaccamarker and Sundamarker straits, Srivijaya controlled both the spice route traffic and local trade, charging a toll on passing ships. Serving as an entrepôt for Chinese, Malay, and Indian markets, the port of Palembang, accessible from the coast by way of a river, accumulated great wealth. Envoys travelled to and from China frequently.

The Jambi kingdom was the first rival power centre absorbed into the empire, and thus began the domination of the region through trade and conquest in the 7th and 9th centuries. Jambi's gold mines were a crucial economic resource and may be the origin of the word Suvarnadvipa (island of gold), the Sanskrit name for Sumatra. Srivijaya helped spread the Malay culture throughout Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and western Borneomarker. Srivijaya's influence waned in the 11th century. It was in frequent conflict with, and ultimately subjugated by, Javanesemarker kingdoms, first Singhasari and then Majapahit. The seat of the empire moved to Jambi in the last centuries of Srivijaya's existence.

The Khmer Empire may also have been a tributary in its early stages.

Some historians claim that Chaiyamarker in the Surat Thani provincemarker in Southern Thailand was at least temporarily the capital of Srivijaya, but this claim is widely disputed. However, Chaiya was probably a regional centre of the kingdom. The temple of Borom That in Chaiya contains a reconstructed pagoda in Srivijaya style.

Phra Boromathat Chaiya is highlighted by the chedi in Srivijaya style, dating back from the 7th century but elaborately restored. Buddha relics are enshrined in the chedi, in the surrounding chapels are several Buddha statues in Srivijaya style as it was labeled by Prince Damrong in his Collected Inscriptions of Siam, is now attributed to Wat Hua Wiang in Chaiya. Dated to the year 697 of the Mahasakkarat era (i.e. 775 CE), the inscription on a Bai Sema shaped stone tells about the King of Srivijaya having erected three stupas at that site that possibly the one at Wat Phra Borom That. But also be assumed as three stupas at Wat Hua Wiang (Hua Wiang temple), Wat Lhong (Lhong temple) and Wat Kaew (Kaew temple) found in the area of Chaiya ancient city, stand in the direction from north to south on the old sand dune.

After the fall of the Srivijaya in Chaiya, the area was divided into the cities (Mueang) Chaiya, Thatong (now Kanchanadit) and Khirirat Nikhom.

Srivijaya also maintained close relations with the Pala Empire in Bengalmarker, and an 860 inscription records that maharaja Balaputra dedicated a monastery at the Nalanda universitymarker in Pala territory. Relations with the Chola dynasty of southern India were initially friendly but deteriorated into actual warfare in the eleventh century.

Golden age

After trade disruption at Canton between 820 and 850, the ruler of Jambi was able to assert enough independence to send missions to Chinamarker in 853 and 871. Jambi's independence coincided with the troubled time when the Sailendran Balaputradewa, expelled from Java, seized the throne of Srivijaya. The new maharaja was able to dispatch a tributary mission to China by 902. Only two years later, the expiring Tang Dynasty conferred a title on a Srivijayan envoy.

In the first half of the tenth century, between the fall of Tang and the rise of Song, there was brisk trade between the overseas world and the Fujianmarker kingdom of Min and the rich Guangdongmarker kingdom of Nan Han. Srivijaya undoubtedly benefited from this, in anticipation of the prosperity it was to enjoy under the early Song. Circa 903, the Muslim writer Ibn Rustah was so impressed with the wealth of Srivijaya's ruler that he declared one would not hear of a king who was richer, stronger or with more revenue. The main urban centres were at Palembang (especially the Bukit Seguntang area), Muara Jambi and Kedahmarker.


In 1025, Rajendra Chola, the Chola king from Coromandel in South India, conquered Kedahmarker from Srivijaya and occupied it for some time. The Cholas continued a series of raids and conquests throughout what is now Indonesia and Malaysia for the next 20 years. Although the Chola invasion was ultimately unsuccessful, it gravely weakened the Srivijayan hegemony and enabled the formation of regional kingdoms based, like Kediri, on intensive agriculture rather than coastal and long-distance trade.
Srivijaya's Empire and its neighbors in 900 AD.
Between 1079 and 1088, Chinese records show that Srivijaya sent ambassadors from Jambi and Palembang. In 1079 in particular, an ambassador from Jambi and Palembang each visited China. Jambi sent two more ambassadors to China in 1082 and 1088. This suggests that the centre of Srivijaya frequently shifted between the two major cities during that period. The Chola expedition as well as changing trade routes weakened Palembang, allowing Jambi to take the leadership of Srivijaya from the 11th century on.

According to a Chinese source in the book of Chu-fan-chi written around 1178, Chou-Ju-Kua describe that in Southeast Asia archipelago there was two most powerful and richest kingdoms; Srivijaya and Javamarker (Kediri). In Java he founds that the people adhere two kinds of religions: Buddhism and the religions of Brahmins (Hinduism), while the people of Srivijaya adhere Buddhism. The people of Java are brave and short tempered, dare to put a fight. Their favourite pastimes was cockfighting and pig fighting. The currency was made from the mixture of copper, silver, and tin.

The book of Chu-fan-chi mentioned that Java was ruled by a maharaja, that rules several colonies: Pai-hua-yuan (Pacitanmarker), Ma-tung (Medang), Ta-pen (Tumapel, now Malangmarker), Hi-ning (Diengmarker), Jung-ya-lu (Hujung Galuh, now Surabayamarker), Tung-ki (Jenggi, West Papuamarker), Ta-kang (Sumbamarker), Huang-ma-chu (Southwest Papuamarker), Ma-li (Balimarker), Kulun (Gurun, identified as Gorong or Sorong in West Papuamarker or an island in Nusa Tenggaramarker), Tan-jung-wu-lo (Tanjungpuramarker in Borneo), Ti-wu (Timormarker), Pingya-i (Banggaimarker in Sulawesi), and Wu-nu-ku (Malukumarker).

About Srivijaya, Chou-Ju-Kua reported that Kien-pi (Kampe, in northern Sumatramarker) with armed forced rebellion has liberated themselves from Srivijaya, thus has coronated their own king. The same fate goes to some Srivijaya's colonies at Malay Peninsula that liberated themselves from Srivijaya domination. However Srivijaya still the mightiest and wealthiest state in western part of archipelago. Srivijaya's colony are: Pong-fong (Pahangmarker), Tong-ya-nong (Trengganumarker), Ling-ya-ssi-kia (Langkasuka), Kilan-tan (Kelantanmarker), Fo-lo-an (?), Ji-lo-t'ing (Jelutong), Ts'ien-mai (?), Pa-t'a (Batakmarker), Tan-ma-ling (Tambralinga, Ligor or Nakhon Si Thammaratmarker), Kia-lo-hi (Grahi, northern part of Malay peninsula), Pa-lin-fong (Palembangmarker), Sin-t'o (Sunda), Lan-wu-li (Lamuri at Acehmarker), and Si-lan (Sailan?) . According to this source in early 13th century Srivijaya still ruled Sumatra, Malay peninsula, and western Java (Sunda). About Sunda, the book describe it further that the port of Sunda (Sunda Kelapa) is really good and strategic, pepper from Sunda is among the best quality. People work on agriculture and their house are build on wooden piles (rumah panggung). However the country was invested by robbers and thieves. In sum, this Chinese source from early 13th century suggested that the Indonesian archipelagomarker was ruled by two great kingdoms, western part was under Srivijaya's rule, while eastern part was under Kediri domination.

In 1288, Singhasari, the successor of Kediri in Java, conquered Palembang, Jambi as well as much of Srivijaya during the Pamalayu expedition.

In the year 1293, Majapahit ruled much of Sumatra as the successor of Singhasari. Prince Adityawarman was given responsibilities over Sumatramarker in 1347 by Hayam Wuruk, the fourth king of Majapahit. The rebellion in 1377 was squashed by Majapahit but it left the area of southern Sumatramarker in chaos and desolation.

In the following years, sedimentation on the Musi river estuary cut the kingdom's capital off from direct sea access. The strategic disadvantage crippled the trade in the Kingdom's capital. As the decline continued, Islam made its way to the Acehmarker region of Sumatra, spreading through contacts with Arab and Indianmarker traders. By the late 13th century, the kingdom of Pasai in northern Sumatra converted to Islam. At the same time, Srivijaya was briefly a tributary state of the Khmer empire and later the Sukhothai kingdom. The last inscription, on which a crown prince, Ananggavarman, son of Adityawarman, is mentioned, dates from 1374.

Several attempts to revive Srivijaya were made by the fleeing princes of Srivijaya. In 1324, a prince of Srivijaya origin, Sri Maharaja Sang Utama Parameswara Batara Sri Tribuwana (Sang Nila Utama) founded the ancient Singapore (Temasek). He maintained control over Temasek for 48 years. Confirmed as ruler over Temasek by an envoy of the Chinese Emperor ca 1366. He was succeeded by his son Paduka Sri Pekerma Wira Diraja (1372 – 1386) and grandson, Paduka Seri Rana Wira Kerma (1386 – 1399). In 1401, his great grandson, Paduka Sri Maharaja Parameswara was expelled from Temasek by a Majapahit invasion. He later headed north and founded Sultanate of Malacca in 1402. The Sultanate of Malacca succeeded Srivijaya Empire as a Malay political entity of the archipelago.


In the world of commerce, Srivijaya rapidly rose to be a far-flung empire controlling the two passages between India and China, namely the Sunda Straitmarker from Palembang and the Malacca straits from Kedah. Arab accounts state that the empire of the maharaja was so vast that in two years the swiftest vessel could not travel round all its islands, which produced camphor, aloes, cloves, sandal-wood, nutmegs, cardamom and crubebs, ivory, gold and tin, making the maharaja as rich as any king in the Indies.

List of Rulers

The Maharajas of Srivijaya
Date King's name Capital Stone inscription or embassies to China and events
683 Jayanasa Palembangmarker Kedukan Bukit (683), Talang Tuo (684), and Kota Kapur inscriptionsMalayu conquest, Central Java conquest
702 Indravarman Embassies 702-716, 724
728 Rudra vikraman or Lieou-t'eng-wei-kong Embassy 728-748
No information for the period 728-775
790 Dharmasetu Nakhon Si Thammaratmarker (Ligormarker) Vat Sema Muang
775 Sangramadhananjaya or Vishnu JavamarkerLigormarker Arabian text (790)Starts to build Borobudurmarker in 770,conquer South Cambodia
792 Samaratungga Javamarker 802 lost Cambodia825 completion of Borobudur
835 BalaputraSri Kaluhunan Java-Palembang Lost central Java,Nalanda Inscription (860)
No information for the period 835-960
960 Sri Uda Haridana or Çri Udayadityavarman Palembang Embassy 960
961 Sri Wuja or Çri Udayaditya Palembang Embassies 961-962
No information for the period 961-980
980 Hia-Tche Palembang Embassies 980-983
988 Sri Culamanivarmadeva Palembang Embassy 988-992-1003Javanese attack of Palembang, building of temple for Chinese Emperor, Tanjore Inscription or Leiden Inscription (1044), gift of village by Raja-raja I
1008 Sri Maravijayottungga Palembang Embassy 1008
1017 Sumatrabhumi Palembang Embassy 1017
1025 Sangramavijayottungga Palembang Captured by Rajendra CholaChola Inscription on the temple of Rajaraja, Tanjore
1028 Sri Deva Palembang Embassy 1028
No information for the period 1028-1064
1064 Dharmavira Solok, Jambimarker
No information for the period 1064-1156
1156 Sri Maharaja Palembang Embassy 1156
No information for the period 1156-1178
1178 Trailokaraja Maulibhusana Varmadeva Jambi Embassy 1178Bronze Buddha Chaiyamarker 1183
No information for the period 1183-1251


  1. Laguna Copperplate Inscription - Article in English
  2. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  3. Friedrich Hirth and W.W.Rockhill Chao Ju-kua, His Work on the Chinese and Arab Trade in the Twelfth and Thirteen centuries, entitled Chu-fan-chi St Petersburg,1911.

Further references

  • D. G. E. Hall, A History of South-east Asia. London: Macmillan, 1955.
  • D. R. SarDesai. Southeast Asia: Past and Present. Boulder: Westview Press, 1997.
  • Lynda Norene Shaffer. Maritime Southeast Asia to 1500. London: ME Sharpe Armonk, 1996.
  • Stuart-Fox, Martin. A Short History of China and Southeast Asia: Tribute, Trade, and Influence. London: Allen and Unwin, 2003.


Image:Borobudur Northwest View.jpg|The construction of the Borobudurmarker begun by Sangramadhananjaya and completed under the reign of Samaratunga.

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