August 10, 2011

The Chola Invasions & Hari Ragat

One of the fascinating but little-known nuggets of history that has always fascinated me is the Chola campaign of King Rajendra Chola against the Srivijaya Empire, circa 1025 CE.

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!

baybayin images

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.


  1. "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?"

    Actually I find the more feasible reason is more rooted from the Rape of Manila in the 18th Century by the British, during the Deigo Silang revolt. Sepoys were the primary forces used, and thus the strain of Indian heritage in manila.

  2. It could be that too, and it's certainly more recent. It's just that the way the threat is made seems to suggest a legacy of slave raiding/trading to me. Just speculations -- and they make for a good story :)

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  4. I think they meant it more literally - Sri meaning 'radiant' and Vijaya meaning 'victor'or 'victory'.

  5. Sri Vijaya? "The Enlightened?" Coined from Great Light/Radiance. I heard the term in Cambodia when i went there.


  7. The chola followed the fleeing sri vijayans. The visayans landed in aninipay, modern name panay from pannai one of the members of the sri viajayan mandala. Etjnically they are the modern hiligaynon (hinilawod, kiniraya, and akeanon/capiznon) kini means of, raya means upland. Cognate is rayu, merayu or melayu. So theyre also ethnically malayu. The chola sent an expedition under one of its minor princes. The prince landed and established the nearby chola garrison in sugbu modern day cebu. The prince and his garrison however also reblled and established the rahjanate of singhapala, modern day cebu.

    Visayan power under the kedaruan of madyaas rapidly expanded however, it warred with both tondo (ally of medang, predecessor of singhasari andd javanese madjapahit which were competitors of sri vijaya, and sulu-brunei also members of medjapahit), visayan power expanded to negros and subjugated the ethnic buglas, it also gained dominancd over singhapala cebu.. Also stablished balayan in southern luzon ( also not friendly with tondo and bruniean manila which was allied with pampanga).. The visayan also allied with butuan..

    Leyte and samar was contested with some of their datus allying with visayans and some with the tausugs of sulu.

    Noteworthy is the fact that the sri vijayan and madjapahit competition also continued in the philippine archipelago between their successor and allied states.


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