Not many traces of the Srivijaya Empire have survived to our times. This Buddhist island kingdom was founded in the 7th century and covered most of Java and other islands of present-day Indonesia, as well as the Malay Peninsula. Its heyday and time of power was between the 8th and 12th centuries, when the state controlled maritime trade in large areas of Asia between. The final collapse, on the other hand, occurred in 1377, when the kingdom of Srivijaya was finally conquered by the Majapahit Empire.
Although archaeological finds relating to Srivijaya are very modest, an interesting discovery has recently taken place. Local divers exploring Indonesia’s Musi River have found gold rings, beads and other artefacts that may be linked to the Srivijaya Empire. However, that’s not all! Among the artefacts the divers found are a life-sized Buddhist statue covered in precious jewels, temple bells, mirrors, wine jugs and peacock-shaped flutes.
Over the last five years some extremely interesting things have been turning up. Coins from different eras, gold Buddhist statues and jewels. In short, all sorts of things you can read about in the stories of Sindbad the Sailor. Only in this case we are not dealing with fiction. It’s all real – said British archaeologist Sean Kingsley, who described the findings in the autumn issue of Wreckwatch magazine.
The kingdom of Srivijaya had its beginning in Palembang, a city located on the Musi River in Sumatra. If you look through the available information on Srivijaya, you will find that the empire controlled, among other things, the Strait of Malacca. At the time, this was a key route between the Pacific and Indian oceans. It was this empire that established trade with groups from the Malay Archipelago, China and India.
Chinese sources from the 7th century indicate that Palembang was home to more than 1,000 Buddhist monks and the centre of Mahayana Buddhism. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism, Chinese Buddhists stayed in the city to study Sanskrit during pilgrimages to India. In 1025, a war with the Indian Æola dynasty reduced the power of Srivijaya. Despite this, the kingdom continued to play an important role in trade. This situation persisted for another two centuries.
Archaeologists exploring the territory of the former empire have found no traces of buildings or temples. It is possible that they were destroyed by volcanic eruptions, of which there is no shortage in the area. Another probable explanation is that the city was built mainly of wood. Houses and many other buildings were built on rafts that floated on the river. This was a type of architecture that can still be found in some Southeast Asian countries.
Very little information about the Srivijaya Empire has survived to the present day. Some of the available material is in the form of fantastic travel accounts. There are sensational descriptions of man-eating snakes and parrots speaking many languages. However, there are no valuable sources describing everyday life in the kingdom.
It is certainly known that the Srivijaya Empire was rich in gold. Bullion was a strategic resource for building relations with China and other Asian powers. The rulers of the kingdom also used it to finance Buddhist temples and monasteries in India, China and Java. The silver and gold coins that have been found have a sandalwood flower stamped on them and the word ‘glory’ written in Sanskrit.
Unfortunately, no official excavations have been carried out by archaeologists in the vicinity of the Musi River. Nevertheless, since 2011 amateurs and treasure hunters have been finding various artefacts here. It all started when construction workers discovered a number of artefacts while extracting sand from the river. Soon local fishermen and workers began searching the body of water. Some of this searching takes place during night dives.
A report released by the Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology in 2019 indicates that a large number of artefacts subsequently appeared on the antiquities market. Many of the artefacts ended up in private collections, leaving researchers with few artefacts to study the history of the Srivijaya Empire.
Photo: Wreckwatch Magazine
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