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HISTORY | Indianisation of early Malay kingdoms and society

HISTORY: TOLD AS IT IS | As a multi-ethnic nation, Malaysia must take pride in its multi-cultural and multi-religious heritage as reflected in Tourism Malaysia’s slogan, “Malaysia, Truly Asia”.

In this regard, we must not deny the significant impact of Indian civilisation since the early centuries of the Common Era (CE) on the development of early Malay kingdoms and society, particularly on the ruling and upper class.

Indeed, till today, as reiterated by Ismail Hamid in his book ‘Masyarakat dan Budaya Melayu’, the Indian civilisation “has left behind some traces in every aspect of Malay life”, particularly pertaining to language, literature, customs, and the coronation ceremony of Malay rulers.

According to John F Cady, available evidence seems to suggest that “the massive cultural impact of India” on the Malays in the Malay Peninsula prior to the 14th century was “virtually overwhelming”. Similarly, Nik Hassan Shuhaimi states that “up to the 14th century, Hindu-Buddhist influences had a major impact on Malaysian culture.”

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Malay society did not blindly embrace the Hindu-Buddhist culture in its entirety, but rather adapted it to suit local cultural patterns and religious beliefs. For example, the Malays did not adopt the Hindu caste system and that the scripts of Indian origin were modified for local language writing.

Sadly, our current school history textbooks have downplayed the influence of Indian civilisation on Malay kingdoms and society before the...

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