The rapid development of Large Language Models (LLMs) and the emergence of novel abilities with scale have necessitated the construction of holistic, diverse and challenging benchmarks such as HELM and BIG-bench. However, at the moment, most of these benchmarks focus only on performance in English and evaluations that include Southeast Asian (SEA) languages are few in number. We therefore propose BHASA, a holistic linguistic and cultural evaluation suite for LLMs in SEA languages. It comprises three components: (1) a NLP benchmark covering eight tasks across Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Generation (NLG) and Reasoning (NLR) tasks, (2) LINDSEA, a linguistic diagnostic toolkit that spans the gamut of linguistic phenomena including syntax, semantics and pragmatics, and (3) a cultural diagnostics dataset that probes for both cultural representation and sensitivity. For this preliminary effort, we implement the NLP benchmark only for Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Tamil, and we only include Indonesian and Tamil for LINDSEA and the cultural diagnostics dataset. As GPT-4 is purportedly one of the best-performing multilingual LLMs at the moment, we use it as a yardstick to gauge the capabilities of LLMs in the context of SEA languages. Our initial experiments on GPT-4 with BHASA find it lacking in various aspects of linguistic capabilities, cultural representation and sensitivity in the targeted SEA languages. BHASA is a work in progress and will continue to be improved and expanded in the future. The repository for this paper can be found at: https://github.com/aisingapore/BHASA

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