Srivijaya Empire The History Of a Forgotten Empire

The Srivijaya was a Malaysian seaborne Empire, which exercised considerable control over Southeast Asia during the 7th to 12th centuries.

It derives its title from the Sanskrit word “Sri”, denoting fortune or prosperity and “Vijaya”, denoting victory and triumph. Hence the Srivijaya Empire being endowed with a bountiful economy and ethereal cultural heritage, was one of the most prestigious Malay Empires.


The empire was found during the early 5th century and was established in Palembang, along the island of Sumatra located in present Indonesia by Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, its pioneering ruler and it later dominated almost the entire Malay Archipelago.

Stemming around the Musi River, Palembang is popularly accepted by historians as the Capital of the Srivijaya Empire. In its glorious years, the Srivijaya empire extended from Palembang to the Strait of Malacca and Sunda.

Historians and Scholars extensively studied the roots of the empire and have concluded upon Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa’s spiritual journey for wealth, power and spiritual connect to Jambi, as the reason behind the emergence of the Empire.


The Srivijaya empire was divided into three zones for smooth administrative purposes. The capital centre of Palembang, the area surrounding the Musi River and lastly the estuarial regions.  The territory surrounding the Musi River harboured precious assets, valuable to overseas traders making the region famous and prosperous

The capital centre of Palembang fell directly under the jurisdiction of the king whereas the land surrounding the Musi River was governed by tribal chiefs and lords, who were subordinate to the king.

In its peak, the Srivijaya empire consisted of a culmination of smaller principalities, governed by local rulers who submitted to the kings. The empire was also dotted with countless seaports for trade and power consolidation purposes.

These ports were supervised under “bhupatis” or local rulers who retained their control by submitting a certain amount as revenue to the king.

Trade and Economy

The Srivijaya empire was a profitable spot for Chinese merchants and traders belonging to the Tang and Song dynasties.  The seaports along the coast were essential transhipment areas, where goods were imported, traded and shipped.

The ports were centres for trade and commerce, supplied with heaping varieties of goods and animals for exchange.

Goods like rice, cotton and indigo from Java, resin, camphor, ivory and gold from Sumatra, exotic birds, rare animals, sandalwood and iron from the Indonesian Archipelago and a collection of the finest spices from India were imported and traded at the seaports.

It was also a hub for foreign traders to market their good for aesthetes to purchase.

 Its paramountcy in luxurious trade and enabled the Srivijaya empire to gain supreme domination over the trade routes of India and China by controlling over the Strait of Sunda and Malacca. the Srivijaya empire was rich in economic prosperity.

This can be proven by its use of gold and silver coins as day-to-day currency.

Social structure

Like any other ancient society, the society of the Srivijaya empire was arranged in a systematic hierarchy, evident through Malay inscriptions and records of Chinese travellers.

The king was at the zenith of the hierarchy, followed by the nobility, consisting of the ministers of the court and regional rulers, the aristocracy consisting of the military chiefs and generals, judges, merchants and traders, and the lowest rank of that of the peasantry, consisting of workers, artisans and slaves. 

This discrete social structure was largely based on subjugation and inequality.

Art and Architecture

Native artistic characteristics and trends of the Srivijaya empire were largely influenced by its Indian counterparts of the Gupta and Pala empires. Buddhist art and architecture was its niche.

Archaeologists have found numerous sculptures pertaining to Buddha and his philosophies such as Bodhisattva, Buddha Vairocana and Maitreya, being displayed in temples. The temples of this thalassocracy were the main centres of attraction for art and culture.

The Buddhist temples located near Jambi and Bahal are a treat to the eye. These statues of Buddha were made of stone, gold and bronze metal, throughout the Malay Peninsula. All these statutes and sculptures exhibited a similar style and design, collectively termed by historians as ‘Srivijayan Art”


The Srivijaya empire predominantly followed Buddhism and Hinduism. This is evident form the various Buddhist stupas and shrines, elaborately decorated throughout the extent of the empire. It also served as a milestone from the spread of Buddhism in China.

Chinese travellers and philosophers travelled to Palembang in search of Buddhist inscriptions and manuscripts. There was a stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism throughout the empire.

Each ruler shouldered the responsibility of funding sprawling temples and stupas for the promotion and spread of Buddhism throughout the empire. Palembang was also known as a significant pilgrimage destination for followers of Buddhism from India, China and Japan.

Fall Of The Empire

Even in its vast glory, the Srivijaya empire began to decline during the early 13th century. Its fall began with the Chola Invasion of 1025 BC. A fully equipped naval raid was carried out against 14 of the Srivijayan seaports by the Chola rulers of South India.

Over the course of 20 years, the Cholas continued to raid the trade and economic hotspots of the empire, weakening Palembang and stripping it of its former splendour and reputation.

These raids had a devastating effect on the economic and the military prowess of the Srivijaya empire.By the 12th century, a new dynasty emerged in Srivijaya, known as the Mauli Dynasty.

This challenged the declining Srivijayan empire to a shift of power. Following Javanese invasions, the empire had completely lost its stronghold by the 13th century.

The Singhasari empire of Java rose to dominate the oversees trade and economy in the Southeast Asian region, demolishing the monopoly of trade that the Srivijaya empire held. Some resolute princes of the empire, such as Sang Sapurba tried to re-establish the former importance of Srivijaya by leading revolts against the foreign invaders.

However, their endeavours proved to be futile due to their deteriorating military power against the Javas. Thus, by the end of the 13th century, the Srivijaya empire was lost and forgotten.  

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