The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division , at sacred-texts.com
Hinduism, like Buddhism, came from India to Southeast Asia. In contrast to the prevalent Buddhism of Vietnam, however, Hinduism came directly from India to this area without undergoing the transformation created by Chinese influences. While Hinduism is perhaps older than Buddhism, Confucianism or Taoism, it was not a major influence in Southeast Asia until the early Christian Era. While several reasons for, the timing of its arrival in Southeast Asia might be given, a major cause seems to have been the cessation of gold supplies from Siberia. Moreover, the Roman Empire merchants and the Indians were unable to solve this shortage so that it was necessary for them to seek their own supply. Since the Indian legends in Sanskrit had long used the terms "suvarnadvipa" "the island of gold" and "suvarnabhumi" "lands of gold" in reference to Southeast Asia, it was quite natural that expansion of trade and commerce would be in this direction by sea routes as well as by land.
As the merchants and tradesmen came to Southeast Asia, many of them married into the leading indigenous families and settled down for a long time in the area. The marriages opened business contacts and promoted rapport between the merchants and their customers. Because the women were subservient to their husbands, Hindu religious beliefs and customs became their religion and that of their children. As the merchant families grew in size and number, the pervasive Hindu settlement developed into a city-state in the first century A.D. The first of these Hindu city-states in Southeast Asia was Funan, with Funan located in what is now Cambodia. In Vietnam itself the first settlement of importance was Ha-tien on the gulf of Siam.
The most noted and important of the Hinduized Southeast Asia civilizations was that of Angkor which was a composite of Hindu Indian and indigenous influences. As such, it was a major force in Southeast Asia for some time, and its influences spread throughout much of the area either directly or through the descendents of this ancient kingdom whose major contribution to this century is the ruins at Angkor. Within Vietnam, the major importance of the foregoing is that the Champa Kingdoms originated from this blending of Indian and Southeast Asian religions, doctrines, ethics, art, literature, institutions, ideas and wisdom. Champa in her might and religious zeal constructed prodigious temples in various areas under her control. Since the Champa Empire occupied the Vietnamese coast line from north of Hue’ southwards, and was not finally eradicated until less than two hundred years ago, its influence may still be seen in Vietnamese life. While the political might of the Champa Empire was destroyed about 1471, succeeding kingdoms were built on the same concepts until the Vietnamese finally consolidated their control of the whole geographic area of Vietnam.
Currently, the Hindu adherents in Vietnam seem to be the Indian merchant families found in the larger cities and the Cham people who are estimated to be 15 to 45 thousand persons. The Champa museum in Danang reveals that the Champa people were greatly influenced by Hinduism, as are most of the Chams today, even though their Hinduism is mixed with animism, etc. A number of the daily practices of the ethnic Vietnamese families also seem to have a Hindu origin. This is especially true in the rites of healing for the sick, and in such practices as winding string about the house to ward off evil spirits.
Awareness of the subtle presence of Hinduism may provide explanations for some of the customs and religious acts which are seen among the ethnic Vietnamese. When the blending of other religious forces in the lives of the Vietnamese people does not readily explain a prevailing practice, an explanation should be sought in Hinduism. Its influence also helps explain some of the statuary found in the various temples of Vietnam.
The more obvious Hindu concepts in Vietnam are discussed in the Cham Tribal Study in THE PEOPLE OF THE TRIBES OF SOUTH VIETNAM.
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