Southeast Asian art and architecture: Early History

Early History

As Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced to Southeast Asia, their traditions were altered to conform to the traditions of the indigenous peoples. Works predating outside influence were generally made of perishable materials and have not survived. Neolithic sites in the area produced stone tools, baskets, and pottery. The Bronze age in Southeast Asia dates from about 800 b.c.; by c.500 b.c. there were recognizable divisions between those cultures influenced by China and those influenced by India.

The Dongson (or Dong Son) culture, which was centered around the Tonkin gulf in present-day Vietnam, was notable among those drawing influence from China. From this culture various artifacts of great beauty have been excavated such as bronze dagger hilts, ornaments, lamps, and tomb furnishings. Typical of Dongson style are spirals and Greek key ornamentation. Massive bronze drums for burial with the dead are also part of Dongson culture. Such drums are thought to have been part of rituals to create rain. Han China conquered much of the Dongson area in 111 b.c. after which Chinese taste and techniques became predominant in the area.

Opportunities for trade between W Indochina and India flourished and brought with commerce an influx of Indian expertise in mechanical engineering, social hierarchies, and a pantheon of deities both Hindu and Buddhist. The ancient kingdom of Fou Nan (or Funan, a name given by Chinese historians) spreading into Indonesia was a commercially based and powerful force in the area. Stone temples after the Indian prototypes are found dating back to Fou Nan in the 6th cent. The Fou Nan kingdom eventually moved up the Mekong and united with the Chen La (or Chenla) kingdom and flourished in the middle area of the Mekong. Its early monuments which anticipate Khmer art are for the most part statues of gods and goddesses whose smooth and gracefully sinuous bodies are clothed in draperies of extreme thinness.

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