Indian cultural influences in early Philippine polities

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The exact scope, sequence, and mechanism of Indian cultural influences in early Philippine polities are the subject of much debate among scholars of Philippine and Southeast Asian history and historiography.[1][2][3][4] Earlier scholars have posited that Indian elements in Philippine culture suggest early relations between the two societies - as early as the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE, during the Iron Age.[1] More recent scholarship suggests that these cultural influences mostly filtered in during the 10th through the early 14th centuries, through early Philippine polities' relations with the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires.[1][5]

Evidences of "cultural influence"[edit]

Because physical evidence regarding the degree to which India influenced the Philippines prior to the Spanish conquista is rather sparse, scholars have held differing views on this matter over the years. Preeminent Filipino Anthropologist F. Landa Jocano (2001) notes:

"Except for a few artifacts and identified loanwords that have been accepted as proofs of Indian-Philippine relations, there are meager intrusive materials to sustain definite views concerning the range of Indian prehistoric influence in the country. Many generalizations [that] have so far been advanced merely obscure the basic issues of Philippine cultural development. Even archeological data, mostly trade items, must be critically evaluated before they are judged as evidence of direct contacts.[1](pp138–139)"

Jocano lists the various streams of the evidence which support the assertion that this influence reached the Philippines include:[1]"Syllabic writing; artifacts in the form of different figurines made of clay, gold, and bronze that were dug in various sites in the Philippines; and 336 loanwords identified by Professor Francisco to be Sanskrit in origin, with 150 of them identified as the origin of some major Philippine terms."

The Agusan Golden Tara[edit]

One major artifact often presented as physical evidence of early Indian influence in the Philippines is the "Golden Tara" artifact, a 1.79 kilogram, 21 carat Majapahit-period gold image discovered by a Manobo woman named Bilay Campos in Esperanza, Agusan in 1918.

H. Otley Beyer interpreted the image as that of a Sivaite goddess, but with the religiously important hand signals improperly copied by local (probably Mindanao) workmen. Thus it suggests that Hinduism was already in the Philippines before Magellan arrived, but also suggests that the early Filipinos had an imperfect version of Hinduism which they got from the Majapahit.[6]

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription[edit]

Another artifact often presented as physical evidence of early Indian influence in the Philippines is the 10th century Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI), found in 1989 and deciphered in 1992 by Dutch anthropologist Antoon Postma, and famous as the earliest known written document found in the Philippines.[7]

The (LCI) was written in a variety of the Old Malay language, using the Old Kawi script,[7] and contains numerous loanwords from Sanskrit and a few non-Malay vocabulary elements whose origin may be Old Javanese. The use of Sanskrit loanwords is considered evidence of Indian cultural influences on the cultures of the Malay Archipelago, which in turn had close trade and cultural ties with early Philippine polities, including those mentioned in the LCI.[1]

Sanskrit Loanwords[edit]

According to Jocano, a total of 336 loanwords were identified by Professor Juan R. Francisco to be Sanskrit in origin, "with 150 of them identified as the origin of some major Philippine terms."[1] Many of these loanwords concerned governance and mythology, which were the particular concern of the Maginoo class, indicating a desire of members of that class to validate their status as rulers by associating themselves with foreign powers.[8]

Degree and nature of "influence"[edit]

Regardless of how and when it actually happened, Historiographers specializing in Southeast Asia note that this "influence" was cultural and religious, rather than military or political in nature. For example, Osborne, in his 2004 history of Southeast Asia, notes:[3](p23)

Beginning in the 2nd and third centuries C.E. there was a slow expansion of [Indian] cultural contacts with the Southeast Asian region. It was an uneven process, with some areas receiving Indian influence much later than others, and the degree of influence varying from century to century. [...]Indianization did not mean there was a mass migration of Indian population into Southeast Asia. Rather, a relatively limited number of traders and priest scholars brought Indian culture in its various forms to Southeast Asia where much, but not all, of this culture was absorbed by the local population and joined to their existing cultural patterns.

Osborne further emphasizes that this "indianization" of Southeast Asia did not per-se overwrite existing indigenous patterns, cultures, and beliefs:

"Because Indian culture “came” to Southeast Asia, one must not think that Southeast Asians lacked a culture of their own. Indeed, the generally accepted view is that Indian culture made such an impact on Southeast Asia because it fitted easily with the existing cultural patterns and religious beliefs of populations that had already moved a considerable distance along the path of civilization.[…] Southeast Asians, to summarize the point, borrowed but they also adapted. In some very important cases, they did not need to borrow at all.[3](p24)"

"Indirect Indianization" through the Maritime Southeast Asia[edit]

Historiographers — both from Southeast Asia in general,[3] and the Philippines specifically[2][1][4] — agree that the impact of "indianization" in Philippines was indirect in nature,[3] occurring through contacts with the Majapahit culture.[1][2] Orborne (2004) notes that Vietnam and the Philippines did not participate in the main wave of Indianization:[3](p23)

"In the case of Vietnam, who were in this period living under Chinese rule, the process of Indianization never took place. For a different reason – distant geographical location – neither did the Philippines participate in this process."

Jocano furthers:

"The Philippines is geographically outside the direct line of early commerce between India and the rest of Southeast Asia. Moreover, the island world of Indonesia, with Sumatra and Java controlling the traffic of trade, functioned as a sieve for whatever influence (cultural, social, and commercial) India might have had to offer beyond the Indonesian archipelago.[...]Thus, it can be said that Indian Influence filtered into the Philippines only indirectly."[1](p139)

Possible early contacts through the Srivijaya[edit]

Popular literature and some 20th century history textbooks often suggest that Hindu and Buddhist cultural influences first came to the Philippines through early contacts with the Srivijayan and Majapahit thassalocracies. Jocano notes, however, that there is insufficient physical evidence[1] to suggest that Philippine polities traded extensively with the Srivijayan empire. He suggests that contact between Philippine polities and the Srivijaya was probably limited to small-scale trade.[1]

Indianization through the Majapahit[edit]

Jocano suggests that the Hindu and Buddhist cultural influences on Philippine cultures actually probably came through the Majapahit, as evidenced by significant archeological findings:

"Philippine-Indonesian relations during precolonial times became intensified during the rise of the Majapahit Empire. It was during this time that much of the so-called Indian cultural influence reached the Philippines through Indonesia. But what penetrated into our country, particularly in the seaport communities, was already the modified version of the original Hindu cultural traits."[1](p142)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Jocano, F. Landa (2001). Filipino Prehistory: Rediscovering Precolonial Heritage. Quezon City: Punlad Research House, Inc. ISBN 971-622-006-5. 
  2. ^ a b c Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Osborne, Milton (2004). Southeast Asia: An Introductory History (Ninth ed.). Australia: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-448-5. 
  4. ^ a b Jocano, Felipe Jr. (2012-08-07). Wiley, Mark, ed. A Question of Origins. Arnis: Reflections on the History and Development of Filipino Martial Arts. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4629-0742-7. 
  5. ^ Churchill, Malcolm H. (1977). "Indian Penetration of Pre-Spanish Philippines" (PDF). Asian Studies. Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines Asian Center. 15. 
  6. ^ H. Otley Beyer, "Outline Review of Philippine Archaeology by Islands and Provinces," Philippine Journal of Science, Vol.77,Nos.34 (July–August 1947),pp. 205-374
  7. ^ a b Postma, Antoon (April–June 1992). "The Laguna Copper-Plate Inscription: Text and Commentary". Philippine Studies. Ateneo de Manila University. 40 (2): 182–203. JSTOR 42633308. 
  8. ^ Junker, Laura Lee (1990). "The Organization of IntraRegional and LongDistance Trade in PreHispanic Philippine Complex Societies". Asian Perspectives. 29 (2): 167–209.