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Friday, June 2, 2023

Could Vijaynagar empire have helped Majapahit Empire in its fatal conflict with Malacca Sultanate?

I’ve always wondered why the Hindu Majapahit Empire never appealed to the Vijayanagara Empire for help during its fatal conflicts with the Malacca Sultanate. The 2 Hindu empires could have easily countered the Ming-backed Sultanate.

But I think I’ve figured-out why?

Firstly, let’s clarify that Vijayanagara maintained both cultural and trade relations with the empires of South-East Asia. The trade relations are almost trivially obvious so I won’t bother with the details. But we see Hindu religious exchange even as late as the 1480s.

A Javanese text from the late 1400s called the Śiwarātrikalpa (ꦯꦶꦮꦫꦴꦠꦿꦶꦏꦭ꧀ꦥ) introduces the practice of Mahā Śivarātri which was previously unknown in Indonesian Hinduism. Scholars suspect that this ritual was transmitted from Vijayanagara to a dying Majapahit.

So where was Vijayanagara when Majapahit was crumbling? Simple- they were actually allies of the attacking Muslim Sultanates.

How do we know? Records and Annals from the Malacca Sultanate contain remarkable detail of the Sultanate’s friendship with Vijayanagara.

‘Hikayat Hang Tuah’ (The Epic of Hang Tuah) is a text describing the exploits of a Malay diplomat – Hang Tuah. In the text, this Hang-Tuah visits Vijayanagara (‘Bijaya-Nagara’) and documents complete interactions he had with ‘Kisna-Rayan’ (Krishnadevaraya).

Excerpt below is from a translation of the ‘Hikayat Hang Tuah’. Few things to note: ‘The Raja’ here refers to the Malay Sultan. ‘The Lakshmana’ – means general/admiral and refers to Hang-Tuah himself. ‘Land of the Kelings’- refers to India as whole.

Just from the above excerpt, we can understand a few things: The Muslim Sultanate still used Hindu and Sanskrit titles like ‘Raja’, ‘Lakshmana’. In fact the Malays still uses ‘Keling’ to refer to Indians. More importantly, the Sultan calls the Indian king his ‘brother’.

Upon reaching India, Hang-Tuah manages to find an audience with Krishnadeva Raya (‘Kisan Raya’) in the city of Vijayanagara (‘Bijaya Nagaram’) An entire account of his interaction with the Raya is available in the text. I will post a few highlights in this thread.

As we see here:

The Muslim Malays still recognised the Ramayana and the Mahabharate (Pandawa-Jaya) – The Malays considered their Sultan to be a ‘brother’ of Krishnadevaraya Thus we see a very friendly relationship between Vijayanagaras and the Sultanate of Malacca.

We also see that the Malay envoy was learned in Sanskrit (unlikely to be Kannada), which he learned in Majapahit. This is not surprising though, we know Indonesia has been a centre of Sanskrit learning for a long time now.

The text goes into some more detail of the splendour of Vijayanagara, and then praises Hang Tuah some more. What is most important is that the text describes Hang Tuah becomes an intermediary envoy between Ming China and Vijayanagara.

This would have been a smart move on the part of Krishnadeva Raya because sending a ‘mission’ to the Chinese emperor is akin to becoming a vassal in the Tributary System Using the Malay’s as an intermediary was likely the quid-pro-quo of Malacca-Vijayanagar relations.

The text has some more details about Vijayanagara and I’m linking it here for those interested: Link

But from this much alone it’s fairly clear as to why Vijayanagara did not side with Majapahit in the its conflict with the Malacca Sultanate Few concluding remarks:

It’s unclear if Vijayanagara provided troops or aid to the Sultan of Malacca. Its quite possible, given the flowery language used to describe the relationship. It’s also possible Vijayanagara simply stayed neutral during the conflict. Hard to say

The text mentions the Malay envoys wanting to visit both temples and mosques in Vijayanagara. This combined with the use of Sanskrit titles means that even in the Sultanate, the influence of classical Indian culture was still very strong in Malaya.

The Malay envoys do not seem to mention the Deccan Sultanates to the north of Vijayanagara. The Raya of Vijayanagara was the king of ‘Kelings’ (Indians) and this might have meant that even to the Malays, the Deccan Sultans were not truly ‘Indian’.

(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread posted by @ShreshtVenkat on April 11, 2023, with minor edits to improve readability and conform to HinduPost style guide)

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