This is of great interest to me not only because it’s got the seeds of swashbuckling naval action in a Southeast Asian setting, it’s also got a connection to the Philippines. According to Visayan folk tradition, the Visayas got their name from Srivijaya, as people fleeing from Srivijaya’s collapse helped settle, or perhaps became rulers, of the Visayan islands.
Which raises some interesting questions. Did the Chola fleets ever make their way as far as the Philippines? Does the common Tagalog practice of shushing children by telling them ‘kukunin ka ng Bumbay’ (the Indian will get you) have anything to do with this historical fact?
It’s interesting to look at what few details can be gleaned about this campaign from the few sources I can find about it and try to extrapolate what happened, and how it relates to our history.
Item: The expeditions were undertaken by Rajendra Chola supposedly to curb piracy on the China-India route, which threads its way down the coast of South China, along the Philippine islands or across the coast of Indochina, looping around the Malay Peninsula and through the islands of Indonesia to Burma and finally Bengal and southeast India.
Item: The expeditions did not destroy Srivijaya, in fact the king of Srivijaya was later put in charge of the Khmer kingdom in Cambodia! From this we can infer that the war was fought to secure the submission of Srivijaya, not destroy it. By cowing the Srivijayan rulers, the Cholas put a stop, or at least lessened, their corsairing activities. To effectively do this, they would have had to take hostages. If that doesn’t smell like a story seed I don’t know what does!
Item: To make sure the expeditions paid for themselves, the Cholas would have had to bring home some kind of booty. Now there’s only so much material wealth you can get from archipelagic Southeast Asian settlements, which are dispersed and not quite as wealthy as mainland kingdoms like Siam. So what would have constituted the most valuable portion of the Chola loot? Most probably, slaves. So does the practice of frightening children with images of ‘Bumbay’ taking them away reflect a distorted memory of Chola slavers?
One thing’s for sure – you can bet this nugget of history will find its way into the Hari Ragat world.