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Funan Kingdom - 100-545 AD

That portion of Asia which today hears the name of Cambodia, is comparatively small in area and sparsely populated. Its greatest length does not exceed two hundred and seventy miles, and its breadth one hundred and thirty. Despite the obscurity hanging about its early history, it is certain that Cambodia, though now reduced to insignificance, in ages long past was a great and mighty empire. Sometimes a person can get lost; sometimes even a city in a jungle or a desert can get lost. In Southeast Asia empires sometimes got lost. Funan is a lost empire that rose to prominence, declined and then was forgotten over the centuries. Funan existed along the southern edge of Southeast Asia in what is now Cambodia and southern Vietnam and extending an uncertain amount to the west into what is now Thailand even perhaps into what is Myanmar (Burma).

At about the time that the ancient peoples of Western Europe were absorbing the classical culture and institutions of the Mediterranean, the peoples of mainland and insular Southeast Asia were responding to the stimulus of a civilization that had arisen in northern India during the previous millennium. The Britons, Gauls, and Iberians experienced Mediterranean influences directly, through conquest by and incorporation into the Roman Empire. In contrast, the Indianization of Southeast Asia was a slower process than the Romanization of Europe because there was no period of direct Indian rule and because land and sea barriers that separated the region from the Indian subcontinent are considerable. Nevertheless, Indian religion, political thought, literature, mythology, and artistic motifs gradually became integral elements in local Southeast Asian cultures. The caste system never was adopted, but Indianization stimulated the rise of highly-organized, centralized states.

Funan was a Hindu kingdom founded in the first century AD with its capital Vyadhapura, close to the Mekong River near the border with Cambodia. The first kingdom of Southeast Asia was Phnom (the Cambodian word for "mountain"), or Funan (the Chinese name for the region). Both names refer to Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hinduism. The kingdom formed when the lower Mekong delta was united under a city called Vyadhapura ("hunter city" in Sanskrit).

King Fan Che Man during the 2nd century enlarged Funan about 10 to 12 times of the previous size of 500 li. Funan was a tributary state to China from about 300 AD to 600 AD. Funan is the Chinese pronunciation of the ancient Khmer word pnom, meaning mountain. The exact nature of the ethnology of Funan is uncertain but it was probably an Indianized state of Khmer people that preceded the similar state at Angkor Wat. Funan had a Malay upper class, but most of the population was Negrito.

Funan ruled the fertile valleys of the Mekong and the Meinam, and doubtless extended from the China Sea to the Bay of Bengal, and from the Gulf of Siam on the south to the frontiers of China at the north. It held commercial and other intercourse with the Chinese, and is mentioned in the annals of that people under various names, particularly those of Funan and Chinla. Its ports were visited for purposes of trade by the merchant galleys of Ancient Rome.

Funan arose about 100 AD and was taken over by Chenla, its former vassal state, about 600 AD. Chenla subsequently divided into a kingdom oriented to the land and centered in northern Cambodia and Laos and a kingdom oriented to the sea in the Mekong Delta region in what is now southern Vietnam. After first diplomatic contact with India from 230s, Funanese administration were reformed by slowly adopting Indian political system. And the strong Indian style of kingship and Administration was commenced from the reign of Kaundinya who was believed to come from India during late 4th century.

Local written legends again appear to speak of two early immigrations from Gangetic India. The Pali-Buddhistical annals of Ceylon record that at the conclusion of the third great synod of the Buddhist church, held at Palibothra, in the year 302 after Buddha (corresponding, according to ordinary Ceylonese reckoning, to 241 BC, but as corrected by others to 175 BC), a mission was despatched to the region of Savarna-Bhumi—i.e., Aurea-Regio or Ohryse; and this record may have been the real basis of the earlier Cambojan tradition.

But it must not be forgotten that in Ptolemy's map of the Indo-Chinese coast are found many Sanskrit names, indicating the existence of Hindu settlements at least as early as the 1st century of our era. The name of Kamboja, though in later days we find it subjected to fantastic charade-making after the Chinese fashion of etymology,1 appears to be simply the transfer of a name famous in old Indian literature as that of a race and region on the N.W. of the Panjab, in or near the present Chitral. Such transfers were common, and many survive in Indo-Chinese use or memory to this day.'

Funan is mentioned in the records of the Chinese Empire. In the Chinese annals Cambodia is noticed under the names Tchinla, Funan, Kan-pogee. The Anamese also refer to the kingdom as Funan and as Chanlap. The Chinese annals mention, under the name of Fu-nan, and as early as the 12th century BC, a kingdom embracing what afterwards became Camboja; and the Emperor Hiao-wuti of the Han dynasty is alleged to have made Funan tributary, along with adjoining countries, circa 125 BC.

Some two centuries later the same annals place an immigration under a foreign prince, who became the founder of a dynasty, and is perhaps to be identified with the Indian leader of the native legends. The fourth king of this dynasty—say in the latter part of the 2d century—makes extensive conquests over the adjoining kingdoms and coasts, and takes the name of Tawang ("great king"), probably a translation of the Indian title Mahd-rdja, which reappears some centuries later in Arab narratives as that of the King of the Isles.

It is alleged, too, at this time, that the people of the Roman empire, including Western Asia, frequented the ports of Funan for trade. This circumstance is highly probable when it is considered that Ptolemy attests such voyages as having been made at least occasionally, in the 1st or 2d century. During this early period in Funan's history, the population was probably concentrated in villages along the Mekong River and along the Tonle Sab River below the Tonle Sap. Traffic and communications were mostly waterborne on the rivers and their delta tributaries. The area was a natural region for the development of an economy based on fishing and rice cultivation. There is considerable evidence that the Funanese economy depended on rice surpluses produced by an extensive inland irrigation system. Maritime trade also played an extremely important role in the development of Funan. The remains of what is believed to have been the kingdom's main port, Oc Eo (now part of Vietnam), contain Roman as well as Persian, Indian, and Greek artifacts.

By the fifth century AD, the state exercised control over the lower Mekong River area and the lands around the Tonle Sap. It also commanded tribute from smaller states in the area now comprising northern Cambodia, southern Laos, southern Thailand, and the northern portion of the Malay Peninsula. Indianization was fostered by increasing contact with the subcontinent through the travels of merchants, diplomats, and learned Brahmans (Hindus of the highest caste traditionally assigned to the priesthood). Indian immigrants, believed to have arrived in the fourth and the fifth centuries, accelerated the process. By the fifth century, the elite culture was thoroughly Indianized. Court ceremony and the structure of political institutions were based on Indian models. The Sanskrit language was widely used; the laws of Manu, the Indian legal code, were adopted; and an alphabet based on Indian writing systems was introduced.

Funan reached its zenith in the fifth century AD. Beginning in the early sixth century, civil wars and dynastic strife undermined Funan's stability, making it relatively easy prey to incursions by hostile neighbors. By the end of the seventh century, a northern neighbor, the kingdom of Chenla, had reduced Funan to a vassal state.

The last king of Funan was named Rudravarman, who ruled from 514-545 AD. The so-called successive kings at the turn of 6th-7th centuries, founders of Chenla period claimed to be descendants of the Funan emperor.

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Page last modified: 28-05-2012 13:27:18 ZULU