Trade and commerce between medieval Tamil and Malay rulers were discussed at a recent meet in Malaysia.

The relationship that existed between the Bujang Valley in the present-day Malaysia and the Pallava and the Chola kingdoms in Tamil Nadu from 5th century Common Era (CE) to 12th century CE came under the spotlight at a recent conference on ‘Bujang Valley and Early Civilisations in South-East Asia,' held at Kuala Lumpur.

The conference was jointly organised by the CGAR, Universiti Sains, Malaysia and the Department of National Heritage, with Prof. Mokhtar Saidin, director, Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR), Malaysia, playing a vital role.

The Bujang Valley was originally called Kadaram (Kedah) and formed part of the larger territory of the then Sri Vijaya kingdom. Meaning the Snake Valley, it is located in the north-western part of Malaysia and is its richest archaeological complex.

The Bujang Valley was an important centre of the Buddhist-Hindu polity. It was an entry port for maritime trade with India, China and Persia. Captain James Low first identified the Bujang Valley civilisation in 1840 after discovering many temples there. He found “undoubted relics of a Hindoo colony, with ruins of temples” and “mutilated images” extending “along the talus of the Kedda mountain Jerrei.” According to R. Nagaswamy, former director, Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department, the recent excavations in Sungai Batu sites in the valley not only confirmed that it was a centre of maritime trade in South-East Asia but played a significant role in the spread of Buddhism, the Pallava Grantha script and Hinduism in the region.

A recent discovery in the Sungai Batu site is a stone inscription in Pallava Grantha script that reads, ‘Ye dhamma hetuppabhava tesam hetum tathagato aha… avam vadhi maha samano.' It refers to a Buddhist doctrine. Other discoveries included remnants of a furnace for smelting iron ore, thousands of bricks and more importantly, the remains of a stupa.

Both Dr. Nagaswamy and V. Selvakumar, another invitee to the conference, asserted that the discovery of the inscription in Pallava Grantha script demonstrated that the people of the Bujang Valley had adopted the Pallava script and it established the then Tamil country's contact with the Valley.

Dr. Selvakumar, assistant professor, Department of Epigraphy and Archaeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur, said that not only the Valley but the entire area had contacts with Medieval Tamil country.

The Chola connection

Both Raja Raja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola had established maritime contacts with the Sri Vijaya kingdom. But Rajendra Chola, during an overseas expedition, conquered Kadaram and captured its king, Sri Mara Vijoyatunga Varman.

The next significant find, at a place called Takua Pa, just above the Valley, is an 8th century CE inscription in Tamil of the Pallava king Nandivarman II with his title ‘Avani Naranan.' It refers to a merchants' guild, trading in gems that had left from Manigramam, a village near Poompuhar, to Bujang Valley. The idol and the inscriptions in Tamil are still there at Takua Pa in present-day Thailand. Takua Pa was the first port of call for the South Indian merchants. The Bujang Valley, a little south of Takua Pa, was the next important port of call. Sri Vijaya's king, Sri Mara Vijayotunga Varman, sent an embassy from Kedah to Raja Raja Chola, requesting him permission to build a Buddha Vihara near Nagapattinam in the name of his father Sri Chulamani Varman. Raja Raja Chola permitted him to build a Buddha vihara and gifted wealth and a village called Anaimangalam, near Nagapattinam, in 1006 CE, for the vihara.

"This is recorded in Raja Raja Chola's copper charter called Anaimangalam grant, now preserved in the Leyden Museum in Holland. So it is called the Leyden Grants," said Dr. Nagaswamy.

There were friendly relations between the two kings, and Vimalan Agatheesvaran, an ambassador from Sri Mara Vijayotunga Varman, gifted lamps, silver kalasams and plates to theKayarohana Siva temple, near Nagapattinam. An inscription in Tamil is still available here. Another inscription talks about Kuruthan Kesavan, a chief officer of the king of Kadaram, consecrating an ‘Ardhanarisvara' and gifting Chinese gold (‘Cheena kanagam') to the same Kayarohana temple. “Raja Raja Chola had a wonderful foreign policy. He forged friendly relations with the countries of South-East Asia,” said Dr. Nagaswamy. However, misunderstandings arose between Rajendra Chola and Sri Mara Vijayotunga Varman. Rajendra Chola, in response, sent a naval fleet to Takua Pa. It captured Kadaram and also the king, and brought back as war trophy the ‘vidhyadhara thorana' (the entrance arch). Dr. Nagaswamy said, “Obviously, the battle spread from Takua Pa down south. Future excavations in the Bujang Valley will surely unveil both the friendly contacts and rivalry between the Cholas and the Kadaram kings.”

In his paper, Dr. Singaravelu Sachithanantham, Professor Emeritus (Indian Studies), University of Malaya, said the discovery of iron ore-smelting industry at Sungai Bata would seem to support and confirm certain information found in the Tamil literary works of contemporary and later times. Dr. Sachithanantham said: “For example, the Tamil poem ‘Pattinappalai' (line 191) of the Sangam period refers to the import of ‘kazhakaththu akam' (the produce of kazhakam) at the sea port of Pukar or Kaveripoompattinam.

Point to note

While the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Rajendra Chola, has been declared a World Heritage Monument by UNESCO, the remains of his palace in the nearby Maligai Medu has not been protected. “It should be protected and converted into an indoor exhibition,” said Dr. Selvakumar.