The Fabled Realm Of Suvarnabhumi
ASIAN Geographic|AG 05/2020 144
Cloaked in mystery for centuries, Suvarnabhumi has been the subject of much debate among scholars and historians alike ...
Elizabeth Lim

Cloaked in mystery for centuries, Suvarnabhumi has been the subject of much debate among scholars and historians alike, with many theories and traditions as to its location. From ancient bricks made of gold rich sands to the story of two monks sent on missionary activities during the reign of Indian emperor Ashoka, Suvarnabhumi is steeped in both legend and literature. We explore this fabled realm and unravel the mysteries surrounding this enigmatic Land of Gold.

Suvarnabhumi (Sanskrit) or Suvannabhumi (Pali) is known as the “Golden Land” or “Land of Gold”. Appearing in different contexts in Sanskrit and Pali texts, Suvarnabhumi is mentioned as being either a “location in mythical or religious stories” or as a reference to “short and vague accounts of trade”. Additionally, it has also appeared in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain traditions.

The exact location of Suvarnabhumi has been a topic of much discussion in scholarly as well as nationalistic contexts, and in toponymy–the study of place names and their origins, meanings and use–it remains one of the most controversial names in the history of Asia. Ancient sources have associated it with a variety of places, the most common being Oceanic Southeast Asia and Southern India, whilst other contending locations include Bengal, Thailand, and the ancient Indianised state of Funan (or Nokor Phnom), which was located in mainland Southeast Asia centred on the Mekong Delta.

Many scholars believe that the term “Suvarnabhumi” was a generic name referring to “Golden Land”, and was coined by ancient Indian traders referring to large parts of the coastal Southeast Asia region from Lower Burma (present-day Myanmar), central Thailand (Siam), the Mekong Delta, and the Malay Peninsula. While its exact location remains a matter of debate, there is little doubt that Suvarnabhumi was an important port along trade routes running through the Indian Ocean.

Legend has it that there were many maritime ventures to this fabled area in search of wealth and prosperity. Vessels were often driven offcourse by the severe weather, but those who were lucky enough to make the journey arrived at a coast where they had to embark on a long trip on foot through forested foothills of high mountains, before arriving at a forest and a shallow river rich in gold sands. Though this myth is backed up by scant evidence, archaeological excavations and research work have found that most of the Southeast Asian region did indeed have gold deposits – enough to justify the use of the term “Land of Gold” in reference to Suvarnabhumi.

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