From which direction did the Mongol invasion take place?
Long after Hinduism and Buddhism took root in Southeast Asia, Indians carried a third religion, Islam, into the region. By the 1200s, Muslims ruled northern India. From there, traders spread Islamic beliefs and Muslim culture throughout the islands of Indonesia and as far east as the Philippines. Today, Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any nation in the world.
Arab merchants, too, spread the new faith. The prevalence of Islam in lands surrounding the Indian Ocean contributed to the growth of a stable, thriving trade network.
How did Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam become established in Southeast Asia?
The blend of Indian influences with local cultures in time produced a series of kingdoms and empires in Southeast Asia. Some of these would rival those of India.
The kingdom of Pagan (puh GAHN) arose in the fertile rice-growing Irrawaddy Valley in present-day Myanmar. In 1044, King Anawrahta (an ow RAHT uh) united the region. He is credited with bringing Buddhism to the Burman people. Buddhism had reached nearby cultures long before, but Anawrahta made Pagan a major Buddhist center.
Anawrahta filled his capital city with magnificent stupas, or dome-shaped shrines, at about the same time that people in medieval Europe were beginning to build Gothic cathedrals. Stupas originated in India, but in Pagan they took on a distinctly different form. These stupas were designed as sacred mountains of bricks and stone with stairways and terraces that turned them into large temples.
Painting, carvings, and sculpture told the life of the Buddha. The great Anada temple at Pagan dates from 1090 A.D. and is still in use. Over time, many stupas have been built over smaller stupas.
Pagan flourished for some 200 years after Anawrahta's death, but fell in 1287 to conquering Mongols. When the Burmans finally threw off foreign rule, they looked back with pride to the great days of Pagan.
Indian influences also helped shape the Khmer (kuh MEHR) empire, which reached its peak between 800 and 1350. Its greatest rulers controlled much of present-day Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. The Khmer people adapted Indian writing, mathematics, architecture, and art. Khmer rulers became pious Hindus. Like the princes and emperors of India, they saw themselves as god-kings. Most ordinary people, however, preferred Buddhism.