Name, like word, is always time-dependent. The name of a thing in the past perhaps is not appropriate today.In particular, the name of this region, now popularly called Southeast Asia, is problematic. The naming is based merely on geographic facts or inter-cardinal directions determined by compass. It diminishes the cultural components of this region and neglects the past historical interconnectivity.
So, how did ancient peoples name this stage, and what should we name it instead?Severalmaps of early 16th century capture this region and beyond. These antique maps use the names “India Intra Gangem” and “India Extra Gangem,” which consecutively means India within the Ganges Rivers and India outside the Ganges Rivers. These names might have beenused even before that time. The naming “India Intra Gangem” and “India Extra Gangem”inherentlyacknowledges the classical interconnectivity and the connected stories within this region.
But, the naming above came from another name, “India,” which is much more problematic. The name India was initially from the Sanskrit word “Sapt-Sindhu,” which means seven rivers. They are Sindhu River (Now, Indus) and its six sub-rivers (Sutlej, Jhelum, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Saraswati). However, the Saraswati River does not exist anymore. These rivers were in the most northwest part of the Indian subcontinent.
People and their civilization were called “Shindu,” but since the Persian traders could not pronounce it correctly, the word became “Hindus.” Thus, ancient people living in this area were named Hindus, and the word did not relate to any religion at that time. This notion was Hindu before Hinduism. After that, the Europeans, the Greeks, and the Romans transformed the word more, and it became “Indos” and, finally, “India.”The above brief note about India should be well comprehended by all Indonesians, because like late President Soekarno said that “we borrow half of the name Indonesia from India.”
Like other names, India is also time-dependent. Geographically, the name of present-day India excludes Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Thus, when one claims that Ramayana and other ideasare from India, then it should be asked, which India does she mean? As the name of a region, the boundaries were changing so many times and different from present-day India.
When colonialism started to creep on this region, the cultures from the Ganges Rivers had spread to the East, even crossing the ocean. It increases the complexity of the naming of this region. The colonialism divided this vast region, bounded by Malabar Coast on the West, the Himalayas on the North, Nusa Tenggara Islands on the East, and Mahameru Mountain on the South, into several sub-regions: British Indies, Dutch Indies, and others.
How should one name the whole vast region? In the new name “South Asia,” it does not include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, and so on. Similarly, the name “Southeast Asia” does not include Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, and so on. The names of South Asia and Southeast Asia diminish the interconnectedness of this region. There should be a better way to name it.
In ancient times, people in this vast region used Sanskrit as their language. A high number of inscriptions and modern words in “Southeast Asia” were using or borrowing from Sanskrit. Thus, one reasonable name for this region could be “Sanskrit Cosmopolis.” However,one should know that the Sanskrit language and other cultural circulation in this cosmopolis could not travel alone. It was made possible by the Monsoon Wind System. So, some argue that a better name could be “Monsoon Asia.”
One could imagine the scale of importance and impact of monsoon in the old days in this region through cultures. People in the Odisha State of India celebrate and remind themselvesof the voyage to Bali by ancient seafarersaround the end of October andearly November annually until today. Under the full moon Kartika Purnima, they float small lamp-lit paper boats on the flowing water or sea, and this celebration is called “Bali Jatra,” which means “sailing to Bali.”Then, after staying in Sumatra, Java, Bali, and other islands for several months,the seafarersreturned to the Indian Sub-continent is powered by the Summer Monsoon wind, bringing with them knowledge and goods.The above cultural interactions could exemplify the knowledge circulations in ancient times.
For most people both in nowadays India, Indonesia, and other countries in India Extra Gangem, it is likely to accept that the cultural flow was coming from India Intra Gangem to India Extra Gangem. However, was the other direction of the cultural stream, that is from India Extra Gangem to India Intra Gangem, happening as well? Indeed, cultural interactions cannot be only one direction.
If a South Indian visits Indonesia and finds traditional Putu, a traditional cake made from rice flour, put in bamboo cylinders, and steamed, she may say it is a clone of Puttu, traditional food in her place. The method to make it has a considerable resemblance to the Indonesian Putu. However, they are notthe same, since Putu in Indonesia has some piece of coconut sugar inside it, and for a snack, Puttu in South India, on the other hand, is for the main dish, replacing rice, not sweet. The same happens with Apem (Indonesia) - Appam (South India) and some other things.
Now, how, if an Indonesian visits South India, does she will say that Puttu is a copy of Putuand Appam is a copy of Apem? Why not?
Similarly, when one says that classical epics like Mahabharata or Ramayana are from India, it should be asked, “Which India?” Present India, as a country, is different from India in the classical era. If it means present India, then the birthplace of Sita or Shinta is not in India, since some stories tell that she was born in present-day Nepal.
Moreover, there are many Mahabharata and Ramayana versions today. Even in Java and Bali, there is a version of Mahabharata, known as Kakawin Bharatayuda. Every dalang or shadow puppeteer also has his or her variant. Thus, “Which Mahabharata?” We also know that people initially told and retold those epics to other people before they were written.
The above debates lead to some other model of cultural circulation. It is possible as well that ideas initially from India Intra Gangem arriving in India Extra Gangem, but our ancestors in India Extra Gangem filtered or selected some parts of the ideas, and then developed them further into higher levels.
Some shreds of evidence support this possibility. For example, the concept of number Zero and the base-10 place value number system we use today are from India. A mathematician cum astronomer Aryabhata, from Kusumapura, mentioned the idea of base-10 place value system in 5th century CE. He wrote “Sthanam sthanam dasha gunam,“ which means “place to place in ten times in value. “
However, the actual oldest numeral symbols of the base-10 place value system that could be found in India Intra Gangem so far is the numeral symbol “270” carved on the stone steleatthe Chatturbhuj Temple in Gwalior, in Central India. This inscription is from the 9th century CE.
On the other hand, surprisingly, there are many inscriptions found with zero symbols and base-10 place value number system from the 7th century and after in India Extra Gangem. For example, both Kedukan Bukit (found in Palembang, Indonesia) and Trapeang Prei or K.127 (found in ruins in Mekong River, Cambodia) inscriptions have numeral symbols “604” that refers to the year 604 in Çaka calendar. Converting tothe Gregorian Calendar, it would be the year 682/683 CE.
These two 7th-centuryinscriptions, stored in Jakarta National Museum and Phnom Penh National Museum respectively, contain the world’s oldest zero and base-10 place value number system known in human civilization so far.
Besides those two, more interestingly, there are a handful of ancient inscriptions found in Sumatra and Java having the zero symbols and base-10 place value systems from the 7th, 8th, and 9thcenturies. For instance, there are Talang Tuwo and Kota Kapur inscriptions, which are both just 2 and 4 years more recent than the previous two inscriptions. The Indonesian “zero” stone steles mentioned above are at the Indonesian National Museum in Jakarta now.
Unfortunately,several old publicationsuntil present still refer to the dating of K.127 based on the previous consistent misreadone by George Cœdès in 1930. Actually, Cœdès was already in doubt whentranslating the year as “604” or “605” at that time. However, Daniel Soutif in 2008 corrected this by looking carefully at the differences of the symbols “4” and “5” in inscriptions from Sumatra, Java, and Bali.Thus, the year writing of both the K-127 and Kedukan Bukit inscriptions are “604”.
In short, it is impressive then to observe that people in India Extra Gangemhad already disseminated the zero and base-10 place value system conceptsin the 7th century. To put it into a time perspective, people in India Extra Gangem had known the number concepts five centuries earlier than Europeans. They knew themath knowledge only after Fibonacci de Pisa introduced them toWestern civilization in the 12th century.
However, the question “Where is it originally from?” in the cultural area perhaps interests modern people only.Our ancestors might focus more on developing ideas rather than claiming and debating whose thoughts these are.They might be interested more in developing ideas collaboratively than showing off their superiority.
Professor Iwan Pranoto teaches mathematics at Institut Teknologi, Bandung, Indonesia.