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The Indian-Derived Law Texts of Southeast Asia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011


The aim of this paper is to outline the characteristics of one very important class of Southeast Asian law texts—the “Indian-derived.” In the process, it may be possible to throw light on some basic questions such as the nature of State, and the definition of sovereignty in medieval Southeast Asia. The texts are important examples of the adaptation of Indian legal culture in new environments. I hope to show that the idea of law exhibited in the texts, while dependent upon such basic Indian ideas as “duty” (dharma), is not only differently defined in the various cultures of “Indianized” Southeast Asia but transcends such limited legal definitions as “rules” or “coercion.” Law instead rests upon native concepts, giving rise to rules of conduct that ought, to be observed by reason of social condition. It is among these rules that law is to be found; law is an aspect of dharma, the definition of which varies from one law text to another. It is ultimately concerned with a definition of obligation that is simultaneously suitable in local terms and consonant with absolute principles derived from the Indian texts.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1978

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Further details on the subjects treated in this paper will appear in his Concise Legal History of South-East Asia, to be published by the Clarendon Press in April 1978.

1 Heine-Geldern, R., “Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia,” Far Eastern Quarterly, 11 (1942/1943), pp. 1530CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 See the lists in Forchhammer, Emil, The Jardine Prize: An Essay on the Sources and Development of Burmese Law (Rangoon: Government Press, 1885), pp. 108–09Google Scholar and Baw, Shwe, “The Origin and Development of Burmese Legal Literature” (Ph.D. diss., Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Univ. of London, 1955Google Scholar).

3 See Manu, VIII.4–7.

4 “A principal with interest reaching double the amount”; see Wagaru, I.I.

5 Dhammavilasa, XII.6; Manu, VII.360, 361. Dhammavilasa, XII.2; Manu, VIII.28, 374–78. Dhammavilasa, XII.25; Manu, VIII.369–70.

6 Wagaru, V.64.

7 Dhammavilasa, IV. II.

8 Rangoon: Court of the Judicial Commissioner, British Burma, 1882. The Notes comprise sections I, II, III on marriage; IV and VIII on marriage and divorce; and V, VI, and VII on inheritance and partition.

9 This dhammathat, obtained a preeminent position in Anglo-Burmese law. It was held by the Privy Council that, where its provisions were clear, reference need not be made to any other text; Ma Hnin Bwin v. U Shwe Gon, (1914) 8 L.B.R. 1 (P.C.).

10 The Damathat or the Laws of Menoo (4th ed., Rangoon: Hanthawaddy Press, 1896)Google Scholar.

11 See Note II.

12 As indeed did the title of Jardine's Notes.

13 Note IV.

14 See footnote 2 above.

15 Furnivall, J. S., “Manu in Burma,” Journal of the Burma Research Society, XXX (1940), pp. 351–70; see also Shwe Baw (n. 2 above)Google Scholar.

16 On this general question see Lingat, Robert, “The Buddhist Manu or the Propagation of Hindu Law in Hinayanist Indochina,” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, XXX (1949), pp. 286–88Google Scholar.

17 Forchhammer (n. 2 above), p. 58.

18 (Note 16 above), p. 290.

19 See Jolly, Julius (Ghosh, B., trans.), Hindu Law and Custom (Calcutta: Greater India Society, 1928), pp. 9193Google Scholar.

20 See Lingat (n. 16 above), p. 292.

21 Excluding of course the Vinaya; see Davids, T. W. Rhys, “Buddhist Law,” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, VII (1932), p. 827fGoogle Scholar.

22 This is something noticed by later commentators who all lay stress on the “Burmese” element in the texts. See, e.g., Swi, Maung Kyin, “The Origin and Development of the Dhammathats,” Journal of the Burma Research Society, IL (1966), pp. 173205Google Scholar.

23 With the exception of legislation promulgated in Sukhodaya in 1397; see Griswold, A. B. & Nagara, Prasert ṇa, “A Law Promulgated by the King of Ayudhyā in 1397 A.D.,” Journal of the Siam Society [hereafter JSS,^, LVII (1969), pp. 109–48Google Scholar.

24 There is no complete translation of the whole text in any European language, although translations of substantial portions can be found in the following: Lingat, R., “La responsabilité collective au Siam,” Revue Historique de Droit Français et Étranger (4th series, 1936), pp. 523–39Google Scholar; Le régime des biens entre époux en Thailande,” La Revue Indochinoise, 19 (1943), pp. 347409Google Scholar; Les Régimes matrimoniaux du Sud-Est d'Asie (Saigon: École Française d'Extrême-Orient, 1952–55), I, pp. 149–64Google Scholar. Duplatre, Louis, Essai sur la condition de la femme au Siam (Lyon: A. Rey, 1922)Google Scholar. Varasiri, S., “La succession ab intestat dans le droit siamois” (thèse, Faculté de Droit, Université de Poitiers, 1929)Google Scholar.

25 See Wenk, K., The Restoration of Thailand under Rama I (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press for the AAS,, 1968), p. 35, citing a decree of Rama I in which it is said that nine-tenths of the legal manuscripts were lostGoogle Scholar.

26 No longer in existence; the earlier remaining texts were destroyed after the revision of 1804–05.

27 For its composition, see Wenk (n. 25 above), p. 36.

28 See Lingat, R., “Note sur la revision des lois siamoises en 1805,” JSS, XXIII (1929–30), p. 21Google Scholar

29 See Wenk (n. 25 above), p. 37 and the sources there cited.

30 See further below.

31 Griswold & Prasert na Nagara (n. 23 above), pp. 111ff.

32 The Thai version of the Dharmaśāstra.

33 By Thammasat University, Bangkok.

34 See Wenk (n. 25 above), pp. 37–41 on the revision of the Buddhist Canon under Rama I in 1788.

35 The Old Siamese Conception of the Monarchy,” JSS, XXXVI (1947), p. 163Google Scholar.

36 The Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit word dharmaśāstra.

37 See Rabibhadana, A., The Organization of Thai Society in the Early Bangkok Period 1782–1873 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Asian Studies Data Paper 74, 1969), pp. 189fGoogle Scholar.

38 More properly—in its hybrid form—Dhammasattha.

39 See Rabibhadana (n. 37 above), pp. 188–89.

40 Evolution of the Conception of Law in Burma and Siam,” JSS, XXXVIII (1950), p. 27Google Scholar.

41 Ibid., p. 28.

42 Ibid.

43 For details, see Rabibhadana (n. 37 above), pp. 98ff.

44 Ibid., pp. 113–14.

45 Wales, H. G. Quaritch, Ancient Siamese Government and Administration (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1934), p. 61Google Scholar.

46 Smith, S. J., Siamese Domestic Institutions, Old and New Laws on Slavery (Bangkok: S. J. Smith's, 1880), p. 1Google Scholar.

47 See Archer, W. J., The Siamese Law on Debts (Bangkok: S. J. Smith's, 1885), though the material has some inaccuraciesGoogle Scholar.

48 Rabibhadana (n. 37 above), pp. 40ff.

49 See Maine, Henry, Ancient Law (London: Murray, 1861), p. 60Google Scholar.

50 See Dhani Nivat (n. 35 above).

51 See Masao, T., “Researches into Indigenous Law of Siam as a Study of Comparative Jurisprudence,” JSS, II (1905), pp. 1418Google Scholar.

52 Darling, F. C., “The Evolution of Law in Thailand,” Review of Politics, XXXIL (1970), pp. 200–02Google Scholar.

53 Outlines of Historical Jurisprudence (London:Oxford Univ. Press, 1920), I, pp. 147ffGoogle Scholar.

54 The Comparative Philosophy of Comparative Law,” Cornell Law Quarterly, XLV (1960), pp. 617–58Google Scholar.

55 See Hoadley, M. C., “Continuity and Changein Javanese Legal Tradition; the Evidence of the Jayapattra,” Indonesia, No. II (1971), pp. 95109CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 See Jonker, J. C. G., Een Oud-Javaansch Wet-boek (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1885), p. 3 for referencesGoogle Scholar.

57 The History of Java, originally published 1817 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford Univ. Press Historical Reprint, 1965), appendixGoogle Scholar.

58 See note 56 above.

59 Per-Undang2-An Madjapahit (Djakarta: Bhratara, 1967)Google Scholar.

60 Obtained by John Crawfurd from the Rajah of Bliling in 1814.

61 Jonker (n. 56 above), p. 11 and the sources there cited.

62 Hall, D. G. E., A History of South-East Asia (3rd ed., London: Macmillan, 1968), p. 90Google Scholar.

63 Jonker (n. 56 above), pp. 17–20.

64 On crimes of violence see Naers-sen, F. H. van, “The Aṣṱadaśavyavahāra in Old Javanese,” Journal of the Greater India Society, XV (1956), pp. 111–32Google Scholar.

65 See Haar, B. ter (Haas, & Hordyk, , trans.), Adat Law in Indonesia (New York: Institute of Pacific Relations, 1948), p. 124Google Scholar.

66 See Vreede, F., “Hindu Tradition and Islamic Culture in Javanese Civilization,” Journal of the University of Bombay, n.s. IX. (1941), pp. 127–36Google Scholar.

67 See Hoadley (n. 55 above).

68 See Slametmuljana (n. 59 above), pp. 17–18.

69 See Korn, V. E., “The Village Republic of Tênganan Pêgêringsingan” in Bali: Studies in Life, Thought and Ritual (The Hague: W. van Hoeve, 1960), pp. 301–61Google Scholar; more specifically on inheritance, see Hunger, F. W. T., “Het erfrecht op Bali als een vraagstuck voor Hindoes en Christenen,” Koloniale Studeën, 19 (1935), pp. 405–29Google Scholar.

70 Lingat, R. (Duncan, J.Derrett, M., trans.), The Classical Law of India (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1973)Google Scholar.

71 For a description of the others, see ibid., pp.97–106.

72 For a Thai version, see Wolters, O. W., “Ayudhā and the Rearward Part of the World,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1969, pp. 166–78Google Scholar.

73 The classification adopted is not haphazard but is in an order corresponding to the economic conditions of the period; see Jolly (n. 19 above), p. 35.

74 Diamond, A. S., Primitive Laws, Past and Present (London: Methuen, 1971), p. 113Google Scholar; see also Jackson, B. S., “From Dharma, to Law,” American Journal of Comparative Law, XXIII (1975), pp. 490–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

75 Lingat (n. 70 above), p. 207.

76 On custom vis-à-vis texts, see below.

77 Note 70 above, p. 259.

78 See Coedès, G. (Cowing, , trans.), The Indianized States of Southeast Asia (Kuala Lumpur: Univ. of Malaya Press, 1968)Google Scholar.

79 Lingat, R., “L'influence juridique de l'Inde au Champa et au Cambodge,” Journal Asiatique, CCXXXVII (1949), pp. 273–90Google Scholar. See also Sahai, S., Les Institutions politiques et l'organisation administrative du Cambodge ancien (vie-xiie siècles), (Paris:Publications de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient, 1970)Google Scholar.

80 See Forchhammer (n. 2 above).

81 See Lingat, R., “La conception du droit dans l'Indochine hinayâniste,” Bulletin de l'ÉcoleFrançaise d'Extrême-Orient, XLIV (1951), pp. 163–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

82 Now known mainly in the text “The Three Great Seals”; see Lingat (n. 28 above), pp. 19–27.

83 See Wales (n. 45 above).

84 For conflicting theories about the nature of royal power, see Chomchai, P., “The Nature and Significance of Thai Political Philosophy,”. Journal of Social Sciences, III (1965), pp. 5158Google Scholar.

85 This did not, of course, prevent comparative jurists from “demonstrating” that the Thai texts were “basically Hindu law”; see Masao (n. 51 above).

86 See, e.g., Moertono, Soemarsaid, State and Statecraft in Old Java: A Study of the Later Mataram Period, 16th to 19th Century (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Monograph Series, 1968)Google Scholar.

87 See his “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture” in Holt, Claire et al. (eds.), Culture and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 170Google Scholar.

88 A classic example from Java is the well-known Bratajuda cycle episode in which Ardjuna and Kresna (Krishna) discuss duty and sentiment.

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