Buddhism had developed in Srivijaya since the 7th century. In a fragment of the Bukit Siguntang inscription, there is a word “Siksa Prajna” which is made up of two words ‘siksa’ and ‘prajna’ that relate to the basic principle of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinayana Buddhism.
The Buddhism professed in Srivijaya was Hinayana Buddhism. Because of that, there are no remains of Srivijaya in the form of temples and statues like in Java where Mahayana Buddhism was professed. Hinayana Buddhism did not use statues and temples in the ceremonies of worship, they stressed meditation instead.
Until the 11th century, Srivijaya acted as the center of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Buddhist monks from Asian countries in the east who wanted to go to the center of Buddhism in India (Nalanda) were stipped by Srivijaya on their way to learn Buddhism as a preparation for their visit to India.
Dharmapala was a well-known teacher of Buddhism who taught at the Buddhism Institute of Higher Education in Srivijaya, assisted by a well-known teacher from Indonesia, Sakyakirti.
A Buddhist monk from China named I-tsing stayed in Srivijaya for quite a long time and he translated several books of Buddhism from Sanskrit and Kwun-lun into Chinese. Kwun-lun was an old Malay language. It was stated that Kwun-Lun was used as the language of trade in the Southeast.
King Balaputra built a dormitory in Nalanda for Buddhist monks from Srivijaya. Facilities were given by the king of Pala. Devapaladeva for the construction of the dormitory in 860 AD. In his inscription, King Devalapdeva instructed five villages to supply the daily needs of the occupants of the dormitory built by King Balaputra.
Expansion and diplomacy of Srivijaya Kingdom
Srivijaya was a maritime kingdom that prioritized income from maritime trade. What made Srivijaya a maritime kingdom was because the region of Palembang was not good for agriculture.
Trade would be less profitable to Srivijaya if there were competitors which could decrease the importance of Srivijaya in trade. The competitors were Melayu (Malay) and Tarumanegara. So, in 688 Srivijaya conguered Melayu and Tarumanegara.
Based on the information contained in some inscriptions, it was concluded that Srivijaya had expanded its territory as far as Melayu near Jambi until Bangka island and South Lampung. Then it tried to conquer Java (Tarumanegara).
By taking control of Bangka, Srivijaya also controlled Bangka Strait. When the trade of Tarumanegara had been paralyzed, Sunda Strait was put under its control. Therefore, the waters of west Indonesia were controlled by Srivijaya. Yet it had not guaranteed the profit of trade for this kingdom.
Foreign ships which did not want to be distributed on their voyage preferred not to stop by at Srivijaya harbors. They anchored on the west coast of Tanah Genting Kra, then had their cargo carried by caravans to Siam Bay through the highland.
This was certainly disadvantageous to Srivijaya because it could not collect taxes from the ships anchoring at Tanah Genting Kra. To take over Kra, Srivijaya then conquered Kedah.
By controlling Kedah that included Tanah Genting Kra, Srivijaya forced foreign ships to sail through Malacca Strait and Bangka Strait that they controlled. Srivijaya was able to get a lot of profits from foreign ships.
It was known from I-tsing’s note that the foreign ships came to Kedah and Melayu on certain occasions. They stayed for some time while waiting for a favorable wind, then they continued their voyage to their destinations. While staying in the harbors, the merchant ships could load and unload goods.
The control over Tanah Genting Kra enable Srivijaya to control the navigation in Southeast Asia because Tanah Genting and Malacca Strait were the arteries of trade and navigation between India and countries in the east including China and Indonesia.
However, this condition made the interests of the neighboring countries depend on the policy of Srivijaya. This was a challenge to Srivijaya to maintain her power because power produced reactions from the neighboring countries whose interests were endangered by Srivijaya.
In an attempt to maintain power, Srivijaya developed diplomatic relations with countries that were considered dangerous to her power. The diplomatic relations were specially developed with India and China, two powerful countries that could endanger Srivijaya’s position.
Balaputra established a friendly relationship with the king of Pala in the 9th century, then the relationship with China was strengthened by sending some envoys to the country. The navigation in Malacca Strait became very busy, so Srivijaya was well-known in other countries as twin countries: Srivijaya – Kataha (Kedah).
The decline and fall of Srivijaya Kingdom
The kings who succeeded Balaputra were probably not wise enough in carrying out the country’s foreign policy, so it inflicted a loss on the neighboring countries. As a result, the countries which were harmed by Srivijaya opposed Srivijaya’s control over the lines of international trade and navigation.
At the beginning of the 12th century, Srivijaya still controlled Palembang, Malacca Strait, Sunda Strait, and was recorded as having some control over Sailan. In the early 11th century, tension developed with the Cola Kingdom in Southern India. The Cola Kingdom which was located on the coast of Bengal Bay felt annoyed by Srivijaya.
In 1024 AD, the troops of Cola launched a sudden attack at the center of Srivijaya. The attack was not meant to take over occupy Srivijaya, it was just to reprimand Srivijaya not to disturb the authority of Cola. After the sudden attack, Cola troops pulled back but continued to eliminate Srivijaya’s control over the waters of southern India. In 1265 AD, the island of Sailan was taken over by Cola from Srivijaya.
In the end of the 13th century, a conflict with the Singasari Kingdom in East Java arose. In 1275, an expedition of Singasari troops entered the territory of Srivijaya in Melayu, Jambi. The expedition was called Pamalayu, and after that Melayu became a territory of Singasari. From Melayu, Srivijaya was pushed back farther, so its territory only covered the area of Palembang.
In 1300 AD, Tanah Genting Kra took over by the Siam Kingdom. While the power of Srivijaya was declining, its occupied territories in North Sumatra freed themselves. So some small kingdoms emerged, such as Samudera, Perlak, Paseh. and Lamuri.
These coastal kingdoms took advantage of the trade-in Malacca Strait. Through Indian merchants who had become Muslims, Islam was spread in North Sumatra. This region became the first Islamic region in Indonesia.
The role of Srivijaya in international trade and navigation had become insignificant. In 1365 AD, Srivijaya was occupied by Majapahit. In 1377, Srivijaya tried to rebel against Majapahit, but the rebellion was successfully suppressed.
After that, the region became chaotic and was abandoned by Majapahit troops. Finally, the former territory of Srivijaya around Palembang turned into a home of pirates. That is the tragic end of Srivijaya in approximately 1400 AD after it stood for seven centuries.