Hinduism in Southeast Asia: Sunday Symposium – 23 May

Hinduism in Southeast Asia


It is sometimes forgotten that historically, Hinduism has had a profound impact on the political, social, economic, and of course, religious development of Southeast Asia. For 1500 years Hindu kingdoms and temples rose and fell and to this day there are unique Hindu communities in the region.

Join John Guy, Vasudha Narayanan, and Hillary Rodrigues in this exploration of the vast legacy and living traditions of Hinduism in Southeast Asia on this One-Day Seminar.

We will examine themes from worship to kingship and see how gods and goddesses morphed as they travelled the region.


When: Sunday 23 May 2021
Where: Online Via Zoom!
Convenor: Dr Raj Balkaran
Timings: 12.00–6.00pm UK Time (includes break between sessions)

All timings are UK time.

Time zones don’t work for you? Enrolment gives you access to recordings of all sessions.

Enrolment fee: £75

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Hinduism in Southeast Asia – Session One
Imagining Sanctity: Indic Ideas and Imagery in Early Southeast Asia

Kingship in Suvarnabhumi: Hindu Imagery and Early Kingship in Southeast Asia

This lecture will explore the appearance of Indic ideas in insular and mainland Southeast Asia as reflected in archaeological artefacts and the earliest Sanskrit inscriptions, swiftly followed by the appearance of cult imagery closely linked to Vishnu in his multitudinous forms and Devi, the perennial goddess. A pre-eminence given to particular deities not seen in South Asia reflects a repurposing of these cults to indigenous purpose, as witnessed in monumental images of Vishnu, Surya, Krishna Govardhana, Kalkin-Hayagriva, Vishnu Anantasayin and Garudasana Vishnu, all of startling originality and all unmistakably “un-Indian” in style.

Tutor: John Guy

Shiva’s Land: The Religious Landscape of Early Southeast Asia

Trisula. Image courtesy of John Guy

Sri Lingaparvata, the holy mountain as a natural-formed Shiva linga, is associated in inscriptions with several locations in mainland Southeast Asia. The most compelling topographically is that which presides over the ancient Khmer city of Champasak, in southern Laos. The understanding of holy places in Southeast Asia, not as surrogates for those in India but rather as part of the same living landscape, undifferentiated by place and time, infused all with an Indic sanctity. Shaivism came increasingly to serve as the universal principle of Southeast Asian kingship, providing overarching authority to rulership. Shiva honoured as the supreme yogi and Shaiva asceticism are examined through unique images of Ganesha and the probable agency of Pasupata ascetics. Finally, the role of the lingakosa – linga sheath covers – which assumed unparalleled importance in Cham state worship, is examined.

Tutor: John Guy

Session Two
“Radiant are the Arms of Vishnu which Adorn Sri of the Three Worlds”: Vishnu in Cambodia

Vishnu in the Pre-Angkor and Angkor Periods


Several manifestations of Shiva and Vishnu were popular in the Khmer empire.  In this talk we briefly discuss images of Vishnu with four arms (Vishnu Chaturbhuja)  and Vishnu on the Garuda (Vishnu Garudasana) as he is seen in Cambodia. We then focus on two other forms: Vishnu with eight arms (Ashtabhujakara) and the “reverse-reclining Vishnu.”  We also discuss the meaning of an unusual piece of votive art known as the Monument Visnuite, now at the Musee Guimet. 

Tutor: Dr Vasudha Narayanan

Vishnu Avatars in Cambodia and Interpretations of the Churning of the Milk Ocean

Churning of the Milk Ocean Cambodia at Musee Guimet.

In this talk, we will see which manifestations of Vishnu and figures from Vaishnava narratives seem to be popular in Khmer art, including Hayagriva, Krishna-Govardhana, and Vali-Sugriva.  Using texts, art, and ritual, we then discuss some possible interpretations of the churning of the ocean of milk story in India and Cambodia to explain its popularity over more than a thousand years in Cambodia.

Tutor: Dr Vasudha Narayanan

Session Three
Durga in Bali: Goddess or Demoness?

From Java to Bali: Durga’s Gruesome Transformation

As Hinduism migrated to the island of Bali, it underwent alterations through interactions with indigenous and other religious traditions, such as Buddhism. A distinct change occurred in the persona of Durga, who is generally viewed as a beautiful and empowering Great Goddess in South Asia. This session traces Durga’s transformation into a hideous goddess of death, as Hinduism migrated from Java to Bali.

Tutor: Dr Hillary Rodrigues

Balinese Myths of Durga

This session highlights stories recounted in the Sudamala and the Calon Arang, which shed light on key aspects of goddess worship in Balinese Hinduism. The Sudamala tells the tale of the Pandava hero, Sadewa, and his deadly encounter with Durga, while the Calon Arang, recounts the myth of the queen of the leyaks (shape-shifting acolytes), who propitiates Durga to unleash a devastating plague.

Tutor: Dr Hillary Rodrigues


John Guy

John Guy

John Guy is the Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He is an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He formerly served as Senior Curator of South Asian art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He has curated numerous international art exhibitions and published widely, including Indian Art and Connoisseurship (ed.); Woven Cargoes. Indian Textiles in the East; Indian Temple Sculpture; Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade (co-author); Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia; and Art and Independence: Y.G. Srimati and the Indian Style.

Vasudha Narayanan

Dr Vasudha Narayanan

Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor of Religion and the Director for the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra) at the University of Florida, and a past President of the American Academy of Religion. She is an associate editor of the six-volume Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Her research has been supported by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation,  the Centre for Khmer Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Institute of Indian Studies/ Smithsonian, and the Social Science Research Council. She is the author or editor of several books and numerous articles and chapters in books.

Dr Hillary Rodrigues

Dr Hillary Rodrigues

Hillary Rodrigues is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge. His books include Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess and the co-edited Nine Nights of the Goddess. His digital publications include Hinduism-the eBook and Eastern Religions: Understanding Our Religious World. He has been honoured with his institution’s Distinguished Teaching Medal.


Enrolment fee: £75 (includes access to recordings)

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