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.

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