Hinduism in Southeast Asia
Does the presence of Hinduism in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries suggest that Hinduism has had a missionary tradition? No. There is no proselytizing in Hinduism, for there are no missionaries to propagate the religion.
The practice of Hinduism in Southeast Asia occurred as the result of Indian traders and seafarers who remained in those countries and settled down. They married local women and raised their families and practiced their Hindu faith. Over time, Buddhism and Islam became more popular than Hinduism, so there are relatively small Hindu communities in much of Southeast Asia. However, much of Southeast Asia owes a great debt to Hindu culture and language.
Some countries where Hinduism prevailed include central Vietnam during the Champa civilization; Cambodia during Funan; Indochina during the Khmer Empire; Sumatra during the Srivijayan kingdom; Java and Bali during the Singhasari kingdom; Bali during the Majapahit Empire; and in the Philippine archipelago. All of these countries felt the Indian influence in language, scripts, calendars, and artistic aspects.
Cambodia and Laos
Today, 95 percent of Cambodia's population adheres to the tenets of Buddhism, but that was not always the case. During the reign of the Khmer Empire (802–1431), Hinduism was an official religion of the region, and Hindu culture flourished. One of the most famous examples of Hindu architecture during the Khmer Empire was Angkor Wat, built by Suryavarman II in the twelfth century. Construction on the temple took thirty-eight years, and it was originally dedicated to Vishnu. When Buddhism began to gain prominence, many of the Hindu temples were turned into Buddhist places of worship, including Angkor Wat. Despite this, many of the temples still feature Hindu art and statues of Hindu gods.
In the first and second centuries, contact with India exposed Indonesia to Hinduism. As trade links between the civilizations strengthened in later centuries, both Buddhist and Hindu scholars settled in Java. Prambanam, an architecturally significant Hindu temple, was constructed around 850 c.e. Hinduism gradually declined as Islam gained a foothold in Java, although there are still some areas where Hinduism is practiced.
My Son, a Hindu temple complex in present-day Vietnam, is a testament to the Champa civilization that dominated the region beginning in the second century and lasting until 1832. The art and architecture reflect Hinduism's strong influence.