THE KHMER KINGDOM
The first civilization of Cambodia existed from the 1st to 6th century in a State called Funan. In that time, trades became flourished between the East and the West, the Indian traders sailed to this region to establish Indian trading posts in order to collect goods and products during the off monsoon season. These traders brought with them their civilization, cultures, philosophy and religions, which were mostly appreciated and adopted by the less developed indigenous people. From this period Cambodias first writing language Sanskrit began. Influenced by Indian cultures, Funan accepted Hinduism, which was latter converted to Buddhism. What makes Cambodians different from its neighbors is due to the fact that Cambodians wear scarves, called Kramas, rather than straw hats.
Influence of Indian Civilization
The civilization in the Indian Subcontinent had been highly developed since ancient time. When trades became flourished between the East and the West, the Indian traders sailed to this region to establish Indian trading posts in order to collect goods and products during the off monsoon season. These traders brought with them their civilization, cultures, philosophy and religions, which were mostly appreciated and adopted by the less developed indigenous people.
The Indian post was somewhat unlike the “colony” during the colonial period, as it was rarely meant to involve in politics of the native land. The Indians were concerned mainly in trading and in collecting goods from the local to sell in distant lands.
The excavation at Eo Oc, a Funanese main port lying in South Vietnam today, revealed that the region was one of the prominent transitory points between the West and the East, and the trading connection between the two distant continents was well established. The unearthed artifacts at Eo Oc disclosed those goods originated from as far as the Roman Empire in the West and the Chinese civilization in the Far East.
During those days, the indigenous people were far less civilized than the Indian travelers and it was not surprising to find that they accepted many aspects from their foreign folks by which they deemed to be better and beneficial. One of these aspects were the religious and cultural elements of the Indian civilization. The natives adopted Hinduism as their religion and its gods Shiva and Vishnu were revered as their supreme gods. It was also found that the Brahmins, a learned caste of India, were invited into the royal courts to help in administration during the Funan period (1st century – 613 A.D) which was a predecessor of the Khmer civilization. In addition to the religious belief, the natives also learned the engineering skills such as the irrigation system as well as stone carving from the Indian Brahmins.
The extensive activities of Indian trading in the region seem to have ceased after the fall of the Roman Empire in 5th century, however, its relics were passed on to the next generations.
When the Khmer civilization evolved in early 9th century, the Khmer inherited several elements from its predecessor as well as those from the Indian civilization. Its first king Jayavarman II crowned himself as a deva-raja or “god-king” in 802 A.D, and his regime was more or less a replica of the successful Indian monarchy. Numerous impressive temples and monuments were built throughout the empire in successive centuries in order to praise the Hindu gods. These monuments are collectively known to us as the Angkor Temples (or Khmer temples), and the most famous ones are the Angkor Wat and the Angkor Thom (Bayon), both of which resided on the vast plain of Siemreap in Cambodia.
The process through which the Indian civilization had asserted a great influence upon another civilization was termed by the historians as “Indianization”. However, the Khmer had never been fully Indianized as the term suggested. Although the Khmer adopted many aspects of Indian cultural and religious elements, the way of Indian life did not penetrate deeply into the root of Khmer civilization which was consisted of the laymen who still maintained their own way of life-style.