The Deep Legacy of Indian Immigration to the Malay Peninsula

loading Indian rubber estate workers.

The ties between India and Malaya go back millennia. Silappadikaram, 1 a second-century Tamil epic, highlighted that Tamil merchants were operating from a Malay Peninsula port called Tondi, and they used to barter Indian textiles with spices and jungle products. Pattinappalai, 2 another important work of Tamil literature, also mentions the regular travels of Tamil merchants to the peninsula.

In the pre-modern period, there was brisk trade as well as religious travel in the region. Ancient ports such as Kaveripoompattinam, Mahabalipuram, Nagapattinam, Korkai and Alagankulam were not only important port hinterland connectors, but also played a vital role in the establishment of Hindu kingdoms and culture. Traditions like the worshipping of mountains as the abodes of gods – as attested to in Lord Siva and Brahman belief – could have influenced Malay-Indonesian cultural practices and beliefs; for example, Mount Seguntang Mahameru in Sumatra was thought to be sacred, and that the Malay kings descended from there.

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