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Author: Laxman Burdak IFS (R)

Funan (Hindi:फूनान) was an ancient Indian Kingdom around the 1st century CE in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam.

It was the name given by Chinese cartographers, geographers and writers to an ancient Indianised state—or, rather a loose network of states (Mandala)[1][2]—located in mainland Southeast Asia centered on the Mekong Delta that existed from the first to sixth century CE.


Jat clans


Some scholars have advanced speculative proposals regarding the origin and meaning of the word Funan. It is often said that the name Funan (Middle Chinese pronunciation of 扶南: /bʱi̯u năm/) represents a transcription from some local language into Chinese. For example, French scholar Georges Coedès advanced the theory that in using the word Funan ancient Chinese scholars were transcribing a word related to the Khmer word bnaṃ or vnaṃ (modern: phnoṃ, meaning "mountain").[3] However, the epigraphist Claude Jacques pointed out that this explanation was based on a mis-translation of the Sanskrit word parvatabùpála in the ancient inscriptions as equivalent to the Khmer word bnaṃ and a mis-identification of the King Bhavavarman I mentioned in them as the conqueror of Funan.[4] It has also been observed that in Chinese the character 南 (pinyin: nán, Vietnamese: nam) is frequently used in geographical terms to mean "South"; Chinese scholars used it in this sense in naming other locations or regions of Southeast Asia, such as Annam. Thus, Funan may be an originally Chinese word meaning something like "Pacified South", and may not be a transcription at all. Jacques proposed that use of the name Funan should be abandoned in favour of the names, such as Bhavapura, Aninditapura, Shresthapura and Vyadhapura, which are known from inscriptions to have been used at the time for cities in the region and give a more accurate idea of the geography of the ancient Khmer regions than the names Funan or Zhenla are unknown in the Old Khmer language.[5]


The name is found in Chinese historical texts describing the kingdom, and the most extensive descriptions are largely based on the report of two Chinese diplomats, Kang Tai and Zhu Ying, representing the Wu Kingdom of Nanking who sojourned in Funan in the mid-3rd century AD.[6]

Funan is known in the modern languages of the region as វ្នំ Vnom (Khmer) or នគរភ្នំ Nokor Phnom (Khmer), ฟูนาน (Funan) (Thai), and Phù Nam (Vietnamese), however, the name Funan is not found in any texts of local origin from the period, and it is not known what name the people of Funan gave to their polity. Some scholars argued that ancient Chinese scholars transcribed the word Funan from a word related to the Khmer word bnaṃ or vnaṃ (modern: phnoṃ, meaning "mountain"), others however thought that Funan may not be a transcription at all- rather it meant what it says in Chinese, meaning something like "Pacified South".

Like the very name of the kingdom, the ethno-linguistic nature of the people is the subject of much discussion among specialists. The leading hypotheses are that the Funanese were mostly Mon–Khmer, or that they were mostly Austronesian, or that they constituted a multi-ethnic society. The available evidence is inconclusive on this issue. Michael Vickery has said that, even though identification of the language of Funan is not possible, the evidence strongly suggests that the population was Khmer.[7] The results of archaeology at Oc Eo have demonstrated "no true discontinuity between Oc Eo and pre-Angkorian levels", indicating Khmer linguistic dominance in the area under Funan control.[8]

Based on the testimony of the Chinese historians, the polity Funan is believed to have been established in the 1st century CE in the Mekong Delta, but archaeological research has shown that extensive human settlement in the region may have gone back as far as the 4th century BCE. Though regarded by Chinese authors as a single unified polity, some modern scholars suspect that Funan may have been a collection of city-states that sometimes were at war with one another and at other times constituted a political unity.[9] From archaeological evidence, which includes Roman, Chinese, and Indian goods excavated at the ancient mercantile centre of Óc Eo (from the Khmer អូរកែវ Ou Kaeo, meaning "glass canal") in southern Vietnam, it is known that Funan must have been a powerful trading state.[10] Excavations at Angkor Borei in southern Cambodia have likewise delivered evidence of an important settlement. Since Óc Eo was linked to a port on the coast and to Angkor Borei by a system of canals, it is possible that all of these locations together constituted the heartland of Funan.

Kingdom of Funan

According to modern scholars drawing primarily on Chinese literary sources, a foreigner named "Huntian" [pinyin: Hùntián] established the Kingdom of Funan around the 1st century CE in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam. Archeological evidence shows that extensive human settlement in the region may go back as far as the 4th century BCE. Though treated by Chinese historians as a single unified empire, according to some modern scholars Funan may have been a collection of city-states that sometimes warred with one another and at other times constituted a political unity.[11]

The Funanese had no writing system and thus no recorded history of its own. The ethnic and linguistic origins of the Funanese people have consequently been subject to scholarly debate, and no firm conclusions can be drawn based on the evidence available. The Funanese may have been Cham or from another Austronesian group, or they may have been Khmer or from another Austroasiatic group. It is possible that they are the ancestors of those indigenous people dwelling in the southern part of Vietnam today who refer themselves as "Khmer" or "Khmer Krom." (The Khmer term "krom" means "below" or "lower part of" and is used to refer to territory that was later colonised by Vietnamese immigrants and taken up into the modern state of Vietnam.) It is also possible that Funan was a multicultural society, including various ethnic and linguistic groups. In the late 4th and 5th centuries, Indianization advanced more rapidly, in part through renewed impulses from the south Indian Pallava dynasty and the north Indian Gupta Empire.[12] The only extant local writings from the period of Funan are paleographic Pallava Grantha inscriptions in Sanskrit of the Pallava dynasty, a scholarly language used by learned and ruling elites throughout South and Southeast Asia. These inscriptions give no information about the ethnicity or vernacular tongue of the Funanese.

Funan may have been the Suvarnabhumi referred to in ancient Indian texts.[13] Among the Khmer Krom of the lower Mekong region the belief is held that they are the descendants of ancient Funan, the core of Suvarnabhumi/Suvarnadvipa, which covered a vast extent of Southeast Asia including present day Cambodia, southern Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Malaya, Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia.[14]

In December 2017, Dr Vong Sotheara, of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, discovered a Pre-Angkorian stone inscription in the Province of Kampong Speu Baset District, which he tentatively dated to 633 AD. According to him, the inscription would “prove that Suvarnabhumi was the Khmer Empire.” The inscription, translated, read: “The great King Isanavarman is full of glory and bravery. He is the King of Kings, who rules over Suvarnabhumi until the sea, which is the border, while the kings in the neighbouring states honour his order to their heads”.[15]

Huntian : The Book of Liang records the story of the foundation of Funan by the foreigner Hùntián (混塡 Middle Chinese pronunciation /ɦwənx tɦian/): "He came from the southern country Jiào (徼, an unidentified location, perhaps on the Malaysian Peninsula or in the Indonesian archipelago) after dreaming that his personal genie had delivered a divine bow to him and had directed him to embark on a large merchant junk. In the morning, he proceeded to the temple, where he found a bow at the foot of the genie's tree. He then boarded a ship, which the genie caused to land in Fúnán. The queen of the country, Liǔyè (柳葉, "Willow Leaf")(Queen Soma) wanted to pillage the ship and seize it, so Hùntián shot an arrow from his divine bow which pierced through Liǔyè's ship. Frightened, she gave herself up, and Hùntián took her for his wife. But unhappy to see her naked, he folded a piece of material to make a garment through which he made her pass her head. Then he governed the country and passed power on to his son,[16] who was the founder of seven cities." Nearly the same story appeared in the Jìn shū 晉書 (Book of Jin), compiled by Fáng Xuánlíng in AD 648; however, in the Book of Jin the names given to the foreign conqueror and his native wife are "Hùnhuì" 混湏 and "Yèliǔ" 葉柳.

Kaundinya: Some scholars have identified the conqueror Hùntián of the Book of Liang with the Brahmin Kauṇḍinya who married a nāga (snake) princess named Somā, as set forth in a Sanskrit inscription found at Mỹ Sơn[17] and dated AD 658 (see below). Other scholars[18]have rejected this identification, pointing out that the word "Hùntián" has only two syllables, while the word "Kauṇḍinya" has three, and arguing that Chinese scholars would not have used a two-syllable Chinese word to transcribe a three-syllable word from another language.[19] However, the name "Kaundinya" appears in a number of independent sources and seems to point to a figure of some importance in the history of Funan.

Kaundinya in the Chinese sources: Even if the Chinese "Hùntián" is not the proper transcription of the Sanskrit "Kaundinya", the name "Kaundinya" (Kauṇḍinya, Koṇḍañña, Koṇḍinya, etc.) is nevertheless an important one in the history of Funan as written by the Chinese historians: however, they transcribed it not as "Hùntián", but as "Qiáochénrú" 僑陳如.[20] A person of that name is mentioned in the Book of Liang in a story that appears somewhat after the story of Hùntián. According to this source, Qiáochénrú was one of the successors of the king Tiānzhú Zhāntán 天竺旃檀 ("Candana from India"), a ruler of Funan who in the year 357 AD sent tamed elephants as tribute to the Emperor Mu of Jin (r. 344–361; personal name: Sīmǎ Dān 司馬聃): "He [Qiáochénrú] was originally a Brahmin from India. There a voice told him: ʻyou must go reign over Fúnán,ʼ and he rejoiced in his heart. In the south, he arrived at Pánpán 盤盤. The people of Fúnán appeared to him; the whole kingdom rose up with joy, went before him, and chose him king. He changed all the laws to conform to the system of India."

Kaundinya in the inscription of Mỹ Sơn:

The story of Kaundinya is also set forth briefly in the Sanskrit inscription C. 96 of the Cham king Prakasadharma found at Mỹ Sơn. It is dated Sunday, 18 February 658 AD (and thus belongs to the post-Funanese period) and states in relevant part (stanzas XVI-XVIII):[21] "It was there (at the city of Bhavapura) that Kauṇḍinya, the foremost among brahmins, planted the spear which he had obtained from Droṇa's Son Aśvatthāman, the best of brahmins. There was a daughter of a king of serpents, called "Somā", who founded a family in this world. Having attained, through love, to a radically different element, she lived in the abode of man. She was taken as wife by the excellent Brahmin Kauṇḍinya for the sake of (accomplishing) a certain task ...".[22]

Kaundinya in the inscription of Tháp Mười: This stele found at Tháp Mười in Đồng Tháp Province, Vietnam and now located in the Museum of History in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few extant writings that can be attributed confidently to the kingdom of Funan. The text is in Sanskrit, written in Grantha alphabet of the Pallava dynasty, dated to the mid-5th century AD, and tells of a donation in honour of Vishnu by a Prince Gunavarman of the Kaundinya lineage.

The Sanskrit inscription (K.5) of Tháp Mười (known as "Prasat Pram Loven" in Khmer), which is now on display in the Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City, refers to a Prince Guṇavarman, younger son (nṛpasunu—bālo pi) of a king Ja[yavarman] who was "the moon of the Kauṇḍinya line (... kauṇḍi[n]ya[vaṅ]śaśaśinā ...) and chief "of a realm wrested from the mud".[23]

Kaundinya in Khmer folklore: The legend of Kaundinya is paralleled in modern Khmer folklore, where the foreign prince is known as "Preah Thaong" and the queen as "Neang Neak". In this version of the story, Preah Thaong arrives by sea to an island marked by a giant thlok tree, native to Cambodia. On the island, he finds the home of the nāgas and meets Neang Neak, daughter of the nāga king. He marries her with blessings from her father and returns to the human world. The nāga king drinks the sea around the island and confers the name "Kampuchea Thipdei", which is derived from the Sanskrit (Kambujādhipati) and may be translated into English as "the lord of Cambodia". In another version, it is stated that Preah Thaong fights Neang Neak.[24][25][26]

Other occurrences of the name "Kaundinya" in the history of Funan:

The name "Kauṇḍinya" is well-known from Tamil inscriptions of the 1st millennium AD, and it seems that Funan was ruled up the 6th century AD by a clan of the same name. According to the Nán Qí shū 南齊書 (Book of Southern Qi) of Xiāo Zīxiǎn 簫子顯 (485–537) the Fúnán king Qiáochénrú Shéyébámó 僑陳如闍耶跋摩 (Kauṇḍinya Jayavarman) "sent in the year 484 the Buddhist monk Nàqiéxiān 那伽仙 (Nāgasena) to offer presents to the Chinese emperor and to ask the emperor at the same time for help in conquering Línyì (north of Campā) ... The emperor of China thanked Shéyébámó for his presents, but sent no troops against Línyì".[27]

Apex and decline of Funan: Successive rulers following Hun-t'ien included Hun-p'an-huang, P'an-p'an, and then Fan Shih-man, "Great King of Funan", who "had large ships built, and sailing all over the immense sea he attacked more than ten kingdoms...he extended his territory five or six thousand li." Fan Shih-man died on a military expedition to Chin-lin, "Frontier of Gold". He was followed by Chin-cheng, Fan Chan, Ch'ang and then Fan Hsun, in successive assassinations. Before his death, Fan Chan sent embassies to India and China in 243. Around 245, Funan was described as having "walled villages, palaces, and dwellings. They devote themselves to agriculture...they like to engrave ornaments and chisel. Many of their eating utensils are silver. Taxes are paid in gold, silver, pearls, perfumes. There are books and depositories of archives and other things." The Indian Chan-T'an was ruling in 357, followed by another Indian Chiao Chen-ju (Kaundinya) in the fifth century, who "changed all the laws to conform to the system of India." In 480, She-yeh-pa-mo, Jayavarman or "Protege of Victory" reigned until his death in 514. One of his sons, Rudravarman, killed the other, Gunavarman, for the throne, and became the last king of Funan.[28] [29]

Funan reached the apex of its power under the 3rd-century king Fan Shiman (pinyin: Fàn Shīmàn). Fan Shiman expanded his empire's navy and improved the Funanese bureaucracy, creating a quasi-feudal pattern that left local customs and identities largely intact, particularly in the empire's further reaches. Fan Shiman and his successors also sent ambassadors to China and India to regulate sea trade. The kingdom likely accelerated the process of Indianization of Southeast Asia. Later kingdoms of Southeast Asia such as Chenla may have emulated the Funanese court. The Funanese established a strong system of mercantilism and commercial monopolies that would become a pattern for empires in the region. Funan's dependence on maritime trade is seen as a cause for the beginning of Funan's downfall. Their coastal ports allowed trade with foreign regions that funnelled goods to the north and coastal populations. However, the shift in maritime trade to Sumatra, the rise in the Srivijaya trade empire, and the taking of trade routes all throughout Southeast Asia by China, leads to economic instability in the south, and forces politics and economy northward.[30]

Funan was superseded and absorbed in the 6th century by the Khmer polity of the Chenla Kingdom (Zhenla).[31] "The king had his capital in the city of T'e-mu. Suddenly his city was subjugated by Chenla, and he had to migrate south to the city of Na-fu-na."[32]

The first inscription in the Khmer language is dated shortly after the fall of Funan. A concentration of later Khmer inscriptions in southern Cambodia may suggest the even earlier presence of a Khmer population.[33] Despite absence of compelling evidence as to the ethnicity of the Funanese, modern scholar Michael Vickery has stated that "on present evidence it is impossible to assert that Funan as an area and its dominant groups were anything but Khmer".[34]

फूनान (कम्बोडिया)

फूनान कम्बोडिया में स्थापित सर्वप्रथम हिंदू उपनिवेश था.फूनान एक चीनी नाम है. इसमें वर्तमान कंबोडिया तथा कोचीन-चीन सम्मिलित थे. चीनी कथाओं के अनुसार यहां के आदिवासी जंगली और असभ्य थे. वे नग्न रहते थे और गोदानों से शरीर अंकित करते थे. सबसे पहले ह्वीनतीन या कौण्डिन्य नामक हिंदू नरेश ने इस देश में राज्य स्थापित किया तथा यहां के निवासियों को सभ्य बनाकर उन्होने कपड़े पहनना सिखाया. इस राजा का समय पहली सदी ई. माना जाता है. फूनान का अस्तित्व सातवीं शती ई. के पश्चात कंबोडिया (= कंबुज) राज्य के उत्कर्ष के साथ ही समाप्त हो गया.[35]


  1. Martin Stuart-Fox (2003). A Short History of China and Southeast Asia: Tribute, Trade and Influence. Allen & Unwin. p. 29.
  2. Dougald JW O′Reilly (2007). Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia. Altamira Press. p. 194.
  3. Georges Cœdès, "La Stele de Ta-Prohm", Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extreme-Orient (BEFEO), Hanoi, VI, 1906, pp.44-81; George Cœdès, Histoire ancienne des États hindouisés d'Extrême-Orient, Hanoi, 1944, pp.44-45; Georges Cœdès, Les états hindouisés d'Indochine et d'Indonésie, Paris, E. de Boccard, 1948, p.128.
  4. Claude Jacques, "'Funan', 'Zhenla'. The reality concealed by these Chinese views of Indochina", in R. B. Smith and W. Watson (eds.), Early South East Asia: Essays in Archaeology, History, and Historical Geography, New York, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp.371–9, pp.373, 375; Ha Van Tan, "Óc Eo: Endogenous and Exogenous Elements", Viet Nam Social Sciences, 1-2 (7-8), 1986, pp. 91-101, pp.91-92.
  5. Claude Jacques, "‘Funan’, ‘Zhenla’: The Reality Concealed by these Chinese Views of Indochina", in R. B. Smith and W. Watson (eds.), Early South East Asia : Essays in Archaeology, History and Historical Geography, New York, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp.371-9, p.378.
  6. Higham, C., 2001, The Civilization of Angkor, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9781842125847,p:24
  7. Michael Vickery, "Funan reviewed: Deconstructing the Ancients", Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême Orient XC-XCI (2003–2004), pp. 101–143
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  9. Hà Văn Tấn, "Oc Eo: Endogenous and Exogenous Elements", Viet Nam Social Sciences, 1–2 (7–8), 1986, pp.91–101.
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  11. Hà Văn Tấn, "Oc Eo: Endogenous and Exogenous Elements", Viet Nam Social Sciences, 1–2 (7–8), 1986, pp.91–101.
  12. Asia: A Concise History by Milton W. Meyer p.62
  13. Pang Khat, «Le Bouddhisme au Cambodge», René de Berval, Présence du Bouddhisme, Paris, Gallimard, 1987, pp.535-551, pp.537, 538; Amarajiva Lochan, "India and Thailand: Early Trade Routes and Sea Ports", S.K. Maity, Upendra Thakur, A.K. Narain (eds,), Studies in Orientology: Essays in Memory of Prof. A.L. Basham, Agra, Y.K. Publishers, 1988, pp.222-235, pp.222, 229-230; Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, The Ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia, Chieng Mai, Silkworm Books, 2010, p.55
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  15. Rinith Taing, “Was Cambodia home to Asia’s ancient ‘Land of Gold’?”, The Phnom Penh Post, 5 January, 2018.
  16. Huntian, p:37
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  18. Vickery, "Funan reviewed", p. 197
  19. Edwin George Pulleyblank, Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in early Middle Chinese, and early mandarin, Vancouver: UBC Press 1991, pp. 135 and 306
  20. Hackmann, Erklären des Wörterbuch zum chinesischen Buddhismus, p. 80, s. v. Chiao-ch'ên-ju
  21. Louis Finot,Notes d'Epigraphie XI: Les Inscriptions de Mi-so'n, p.923
  22. Golzio, "Kauṇḍinya in Südostasien", pp. 157–165
  23. Georges Cœdès, "Études Cambodgiennes XXV: Deux inscriptions sanskrites du Fou-nan", pp. 2–8
  24. Rudiger Gaudes, Kaundinya, Preah Thong, and the Nagi Soma: Some Aspects of a Cambodian Legend, p. 337
  25. Rudiger Gaudes, Kaundinya, Preah Thong, and the Nagi Soma: Some Aspects of a Cambodian Legend, p. 337
  26. R. C. Majumdar, Kambuja-Desa or An Ancient Cambodian Colony in Cambodia, pp. 18–19
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  28. Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.,p:38,40,42,46,56,59–60
  29. Higham, C., 2014, Early Mainland Southeast Asia, Bangkok: River Books Co., Ltd., ISBN 9786167339443,p:283–284–285
  30. Stark, M. T. (2006). From Funan to Angkor: Collapse and regeneration in ancient Cambodia. After collapse: The regeneration of complex societies, 144-167.
  31. Nick Ray (2009). Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong. Lonely Planet. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-1-74179-174-7.
  32. Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.,p:65
  33. Michael Vickery,"What to Do about The Khmers", Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 27, 2, 1996. p. 390,
  34. Michael Vickery, "Funan Reviewed: Deconstructing the Ancients", p.125
  35. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.598