“In order to decide whether one can speak of a caste system in a society, one must ask: are status and power completely dissociated, can one find the equivalent of a Brahman/Ksatriya relationship? This question, though it may appear improper, has the virtue of immediately fixing a limit to Indian influence in South-East Asia. Important as this influence has been from the cultural and even social point of view, it would seem, roughly speaking, that nowhere in Indochina and Indonesia has the king been dispossessed of his religious prerogatives.”
This claim concerns the important question of the degree to which the Indian caste system can be, or has been, exported—a question that elicits deep-rooted and contentious problems inhering in our understanding of the nature of the caste system itself. Two propositions may here be identified and distinguished. The first is that, in India, kings—however powerful politically—did not formally possess religious or ritual authority; whereas in Indochina, however weak they were, kings formally possessed religious as well as political prerogatives. This is the contention cited above. The second is that, the first being true, it is also true that in Indochina kings possessed and exercised a degree of real control over social organization, by virtue of their ritual position (which was foreign to India): they were social engineers. In brief, they were oriental despots. The first proposition does not entail the second, but the two tend to go together; many writers have shown an inclination to accept the second, sometimes on the evidence of the first, sometimes on the evidence of facts about Indochinese kingdoms.