Voyagers & the Holy Land Amaravati (India) – December 103 AD

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As the flagship with the gigantic crest of the royal house of Satavahanas came into view, the cheering reached its crescendo. On its foredeck stood the prince Pulomavi who casually placed a hand on the sea-chair in which was seated an exquisite young lady. They were flanked by two Cambodian tigers, ferocious looking animals made docile by his presence. His face painted in crimson as a sign of triumph, a returning hero with his pretty bride, soon to be the empress.

From the mouths of the river to the capital, for a hundred miles the waterfront was lined by people, men women and children, even babies in arms. They came from far afield. It’s an event no one wanted to miss. Even on a normal day the ships arriving from across the eastern sea is a sight to behold. But today’s event was an endorsement of Andhra Power over half the known world, a proof of eminence of Telugu people. Simultaneous arrival of treasure fleets, gigantic vessels and their escorting battle ships, of a magnitude unheard of in the past. It was a subject for bards and poets to go berserk with eulogies. It was a vision to be printed indelibly on their minds and passed down for generations. Tributes, from the kings and governors from the lands far away that are legend, to be placed at the feet of the Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni.

Another ship followed, first among many…

Hoisted on its mast was the grisly sight of a spread-eagled body, tied to the yardarm upside down. Everyone knew whose it was, not by sight but by reputation, and shouts of approval rent the air. Two men so unlike each other stood on its deck; one was the master strategist, ‘the Admiral of Champa’ in full battle regalia; and the other was ‘the Scout who Walks with the Gods’, naked except for a loincloth of bark and muscles rippling under his dark skin.

The stories of their voyages were already folklore…

Magelang Java (Indonesia) – June

The journey began six months before…

He checked once again the rattan purse secured in his loincloth before leaping over the hedge of crotons marking the boundary of the marketplace, and started running in the general direction he thought was right. The town is forbidden to outsiders. The native tribes are hostile to one another, but the temple of the Telen should be easy to find, he thought, once I reach there I should be safe.

He had lost count of the days and nights he traveled, hugging the coast whenever possible, living off whatever he could find on the beaches. Once he dozed off in his canoe and had lost the oar, luckily the waves pushed him to a beach and he could manage a rough and ready paddle out of driftwood. Once a sea monster chased him, he was sure, only his desperate prayers to the Telen gods, whose names he knew not, saved him. Finally, when he reached the beachhead of Magelangka, he did as the monk had instructed, he pushed the large pearl, the sum total of his life’s possessions, deep inside his anus, and when the market sentries frisked him they could find only a few grain pearls which aroused their contempt and little interest. Now his wealth is safe, back in his purse, enough to buy passage to the holy land.

The holy land is a land of wonder where gods live among men. There are temples and manmade houses taller even than palm trees, where boats can sail on land, and men fly like birds. The monk was taller than the tallest man by a cubit, the mana of sky glowed in his face, and he looked like a god himself, and there is no doubt he was telling the truth. He had shown pictures that talk, though in an unfamiliar tongue, but the stories are real. Real enough for him to decide, to leave his home, where he had no one, his mother he doesn’t remember and his uncle who now walks the dreamtime. The monk had promised to send him to the holy land, provided he had enough beads to buy passage. One by one he bartered all his possessions for this one pearl, bright as moon and the size of a pigeon egg, worthy of a chief.

The temple was a large yard fenced by a palisade, a few huts on stilts crowded around a corner and a small cubicle of stone with pointed roof stood apart, painted in stripes of white and ochre. There were many monks, and they all looked the same. He felt once again back at sea with no land in sight.

‘Who are you?’ the words were gentle and in a dialect he could barely follow. For a moment he thought it was the very same monk who had visited his island.

‘I am of the Far Isle,’ he said haltingly, pointing east, ‘I came to see a Telen monk,’ just about managing to convey his purpose in an alien tongue.

‘Wow, you’ve come so far?’ the monk was truly surprised, ‘what do you want my son?’

‘I’ve come to see the Telen monk who had visited my isle?’

‘I’m also a Telen monk, my son, you can tell me what you want,’ the monk said most gently and reassuringly, ‘first tell me, have you eaten?’ He guided him to the shade and gave him a bowl full of steamed rice and slivers of fish cooked in mustard. He ate it with relish and asked for more, now realizing how hungry he had been. The monk sat with him waiting patiently as he was served more of the same and a beaker of sugared water. Once sated, he told him his real purpose and showed him the pearl.

‘This can certainly buy you a passage,’ the monk said weighing the pearl in his hand, ‘but you may not need it. A fleet of the king of Yavadwipa is leaving in a couple of months to the holy land. They need able bodied oarsmen. You may even earn a few coins as wages on the way. Keep the pearl with you, my son; hide it carefully until you reach the holy land. I shall give a letter to a merchant in Dhanyakataka who deals in pearls, and he will give you the right price.’

‘But…’ the monk continued after a pause, ‘you must have a new identity and a civilized name. If you agree, I can start you on your new life, my son.’

‘Yes, and will I be able to walk with the gods?’

‘Surely, in time,’ he said patting his back, ‘from now you’ll be called Devagami, One Who Walks with Gods.

Nah Trang (Vietnam) – August

Jaya Varma had hardly any memories of the place of his birth. A vague picture of his mother feeding him from a silver bowl, singing to the moon, inviting the moon to come, ‘fly down in a ship,’ she used to sing. In his imaginations he saw the moon landing next to his home, a half-moon, with thousands of lamps, so bright against dark sky, occupying his entire vision. In his later life, he had always wondered what it was, until he saw a painting, which his mother had bought at the agora, of an incredibly large stupa dominating a cityscape, ‘It’s my home town, my son, that’s where you were born,’ she told him. Now he knew the subject of his vision.

The ship docked at the port of Kuddura. The town was named thus by his father, years ago when it was still a fishing hamlet. Today it’s called Telang Negara, ‘The City of Telangs’. He rushed home to give her the news, a sprawling house built on bamboo stilts, where his mother still lived. She will be proud, he was sure.

She was there as he had expected, in her wicker chair in the shaded loggia facing the beach, humming a familiar tune in harmony with the slight breeze from the sea, keeping an eye on the native Cham women mending her garden. ‘Motherrrr,’ he rushed to her, pulled out the scroll from the folds of his tunic and presented it to her, on his knees like a courtier. ‘Today, the third day of the waning moon of Bhadra, counting the twenty fifth year, of the era of the Great Salivahana… King Skanda Varma hereby appoints his loyal general, Jaya Varma, Conqueror of Amaravati, as the Admiral of the Royal Fleet of Champa,’ he announced the subject of the scroll, watching her eyes reflect his pride with an equal measure of love.

She took some time digesting the news, her frail hand on her sons head ruffling his hair, graying somewhat, ‘Amaravati…?’ she asked finally looking puzzled.

‘Yes mother, I’ve prevailed upon the king to name the new province after your hometown… and he did.’

A drop of tears escaped her eye and fell on the back of his hand resting in her lap. ‘You must take me there, one day soon, my son, before I join your father in the Tushita heaven,’ she murmured.

‘Why here, mother? I shall take you to the real place, in the holy land,’ he said looking into her eyes, ‘isn’t that all you ever wanted?’

‘Oh son, my old bones cannot take a voyage that long?’ her eyes now brimming with tears.

‘Have no worry, mother, you shall have the admiral’s cabin and a dozen maids to look after your needs.’

‘Ah huh, you’re such a devil, Jaya, tempting an old woman.’

‘We’re indeed going,’ he squeezed her hands at a show of earnestness. ‘The king gave me the charge of the tribute fleet. I must guide the ships to the holy land for the ‘Grand Feast of Victory’ of the emperor this spring. We’re leaving in a month, soon as the autumn winds turn.’

He could feel her pulse quicken with excitement as his words slowly sank in.

To be continued…



The Śātavāhana polity and the Mahāyāna religion were the two arms of the mercantile enterprise that had shaped the ancient civilizations of Southeast Asia. The lower Krishna Valley was the life spring of that cultural revolution with its epicenter Amaravati. The number of place names in the farthest parts of Asia, that echo their original counterparts from Andhra Pradesh is enough proof of Telugu influence on these cultures. A few examples are… Pegu (Kākuḷa), Bagan (Trilinga), Myawaddy (Amaravati) in Myanmar; Terenganu (Telangana) in Malaysia; Palembang Sumatra (Andala), Borobudur (Magelang) and Kalinga of Java, Chandol (Riau Island), Tenagara (Nusa) in Indonesia; Balanga (Luzon) in Philippines; and a series of port towns and provinces of Champa called Pānduranga (Phan Rang), Kuddūra (Nah Trang), Vijaya (Po Nagar), and Amaravati (My Son) in Vietnam; and Amaravati (Angkor Vat) in Cambodia. The Konḍamuḍi Inscription of Bṛhatpalāyana (Great Voyagers) refers to the towns of Kuddura and Pandura in Champa and the fact that these copper plates are deposited in the Guntur District proves the metropolitan influence of Krishna Basin on Indochina. The similarity of language and style of the inscription with that of Nasik Inscription of Gautami Bālasri, places it in the period of Gautamiputra Satakarni.

The local legends and inscriptions support the natal relations of the empires of Bagan, Pegu, Siam, Khmer, Funan, Champa, of Southeast Asia; with the ruling dynasties of Krishna basin like Śalankyanas, Viṣṇukunḍinas and Early Pallavas. The medieval Śri Vijaya and Śailēndra empires of Indonesia are connected to Śri Parvata Vijayapuri. The developments of languages and scripts in the inscriptions of the region closely followed similar developments in Andhra region.

All this began due to the zeal of Andhra merchants, spurred by the Roman demand for luxuries. During the height of Roman Empire, for over four centuries, the entire peninsular India and a major part of northern plains was part of the Andhra Empire. The conventional use of Śalivāhana Śaka (The era instituted by Gautamīputra Śātakarṇi in 78AD) as the official calendar of the ancient societies of Southeast Asia, from Myanmar to Philippines, points to the cultural hegemony of Śātavāhanas over the entire region.





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