Is Kunlun the same as the kingdom of Kalinga (aka Klinig, today’s Orissa)?

An unusual and controversial theory comes from the Orissa government of India’s publication of “Dimensions of Orissa Population Scenario” (by Prafulla Kumar Das), an article that asserts that the famous iconic mythical Kunlun is in fact to be equated with the Kalinga kingdom and its people, who according to the theory, spurred the Indianization of and expansion of the Kalinga empire in Southeast Asia:

The Chinese travellers and historians of the period have spoken of a people in south-East Asia as Kunlun (the people of Kalinga) whose civilizing influence might have created this effect.”1

Besides, the Indian immigrants in the Malay Archipelago are still called Orang Klinig,2 which is perhaps derived from the word, Kalinga, the name by which the inhabitants of Orissa were once known.

The people of Kalinga played an important role in colonizing several parts of South-East Asia. For several centuries Kalinga remained in the form of ‘Greater Kalinga’ acquiring several islands and countries, which lay around the Indian seas under its suzerainty. It is also said that long before the Pallavas of Kanchi, the people of ancient Orissa had laid the foundation of Indian or Indianised states “beyond the moving seas”3 

In this connection many important questions arise which are yet to be answered. Why did the people of Kalinga go to such distant places in the remote past ?

What prompted them to undertake this hazardous task? At what point of time did these people take up seafaring and made voyages to distant lands? What exactly was the share of Kalinga in the process of colonization and Indianization of South-East Asia? What was the nature of the migration of the people of Kalinga? Satisfactory answers to these questions is difficult to find. However, an humble attempt in this line has been made below.

Different scholars have advocated different theories on the migration. Kautilya’ s Arthasastra recommends seizure of the territory of other countries and deporting surplus population of his own, which can be taken to indicate an early wave of Indian immigration to South-East Asia and other countries4. But this interpretation is so imaginative that it looks like a flight of nationalistic fancy rather than sober historical thinking. Some scholars however, seek to particularize a few definite waves of migration from India and assign causes to the same. They say that the Aryan conquest drove the preAryan settlers of India towards the countries beyond the sea in the east and South-east and that the Hindus were forced to migrate there in large numbers by political events in later times.

Most of the theories, however, are based on disturbed life in India, which compelled the people to take shelter in distant lands. One
theory advocates that the first wave of Hindu migration in the early centuries of the Christian era occured owing to the invasion of India by the foreign hordes such as the Greeks, Sakas and the Kushanas. Basically it is attributed to the pressure of the Kushana invasion of India in the first century A.D5. But this assumption seems to be unacceptable. It is to be remembered that the conquests of the foreigners in the early centuries A.D. hardly affected the area beyond the Gangetic plain. Further, there was ample space in India itself for them to take shelter. It is therefore, difficult and not proper to regard the foreign conquest as a sufficient cause, by itself, for a large-scale migration to a distant land beyond the sea.

The migration of the Kalingans in particular is attributed to the conquest of Kalinga by emperor Asoka in the third century BC, which might have provoked an exodus.6
Could it be that Kalinga people migrated en masse to South-East Asia on the wake of the Kalinga war of Asoka ? There is no historical
evidence of such a movement. Archaeological sources are silent regarding this. But it appears indirectly in one of the rock edicts of Asoka

 that after Kalinga war, the grief strciken emperor has not only spoken of the ‘dead and deported’ but also of ‘the people who were fortunate to have escaped’ without mentioning the land to which they escaped. As the small kingdom of Kalinga was surrounded on three sides by the mighty empire of Asoka, thousands of young people from Kalinga, experts in navigation, might have preferred to escape into the distant lands through the sea rather than being deported to Magadha as prisoners.7
But G. Coedes remarks that there was no mass emigration from India.8
The exodus was preeminently caused by commercial considerations. It is quite remarkable that despite the large-scale influx of Indians including the Kalingans of various economic classes and intellectual levels over a long period, there is no evidence of any local resistance to their arrival. The Indians also did not regard these new lands as outlets for their excessive population or an exclusive market for their growing trade nor did they insist on the superiority of their culture. D.P. Singhal remarks, “Whenever Indians settled they gave what they had and took what they could. Thus was evolved by mutual consent, a new culture whose dominant note was Indian.”9

The author makes a case for the extensive reach of this “Kunlun-Kalinga empire”:

The regions, especially the islands of South-East Asia, were so much influenced by the Indian culture that many scholars have gone to the extent of declaring them as a part of ‘Greater India’, ‘Indian colonies’, ‘Extended part of India’, ‘Further India’, etc. According to H.Kulke and D.Rothermund, the Greater Indian theory was a by-product of Indian Freedom Movement. According to them, the Indian historians struggling under the stigma of their own colonial subjection tried to compensate for this by establishing the fact that even India was strong enough to establish colonies in ancient times.10 In 1926 the ‘Greater India Society’ was established in Calcutta and R.C.Majumdar published a series of articles on the ancient Indian colonies in the Far East.

This Greater India theory has been recently objected to by many scholars from South-East Asia. The early South-East Asia remained under the influence of Indian culture from the very ancient times. In the words of A Lamb, “By the opening of the Christian era the civilization of India had begun to spread across the Bay of Bengal into both island and mainland South-East Asia; and by the fifth century A.D.
Indianized states, that is to say states organized along the traditional lines of Indian political theory and following the Buddhist and Hindu religions, had established themselves in many regions of Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Some of these states were in time to grow into great empires dominating the zone between metropolitan India and the Chinese southern border, which has sometimes been described as ‘Further India’ or ‘Greater India’. Once rooted in South-East Asian soil, Indian civilization evolved in part through the action of forces of South-East Asia origin, and in part through the influence of cultural and political changes in the Indian subcontinent.”11 Many scholars have described the eastward spread of Indian civilization in terms of a series of ‘waves’. B.K.Majumdar says “From the second to the fifth centuries A.D. the Hindus, belonging particularly to the South, North-East India, showed signs of maritime activities which culminated in the establishment of their political power beyond the seas.

On the nature of Indian Kalinga migrations and influence:

“Indians and more specifically the people of Kalinga went to South East Asia and established colonies there. The colonizing activity of the ancient Indians was distinctive in several respects.

The Indians wherever they went, settled down there, absorbed some of the cultural aspects of the natives, and adopted some traits of their civilization. In spite of their superiority they never tried to dominate, rather they allowed the indigenous elements to grow. The ancient Indian colonists had the practical knowledge of adaptability .

After centuries of interaction both the colonists and the natives formed one society, which absorbed the culture and civilization of both the groups. Indian culture firmed an important component of the composite culture of the land. About Indianization, AP. Patnaik says, “The expansion of Indian civilization to the South-East Asia during the early centuries of Christian era is one of the outstanding events in the history of the world. As the
product of this Indianization, a series of kingdoms were born that in the beginning were the true Indian states like Cambodia, Champa and the small states of Malaya peninsula; the kingdoms of Sumatra, Java and Bali; and finally the Burmese and Thai kingdoms. Though each of these states develop according to its own genius through a process of interaction with the physical and social environment of the respective area their cultures never lost the
family resemblance that they owed to their common origin…”

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