After the A.D. 1st century complex polities began emerging in what is now Cambodia. The most powerful of these was known as Funan by the Chinese, and may have existed across an area between Ba Phnom in Prey Veng Province and Oc-Eo in Kien Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Funan was a contemporary of Champasak in southern Laos (then known as Kuruksetra) and other lesser fiefdoms in the region. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Funan was the first large Southeast Asian civilization. It was centered on the lower Mekong Delta in present-day Cambodia and Vietnam and stretched into Thailand, and, possibly, Malaysia. Funan lasted from the A.D. 1st century to 7th century. Archeologists are still not sure where the Funanese capital was. They are currently excavating a site at Angkor Borei in Cambodia, which they think may have been it. Funan is a Chinese name, and it may be a transliteration of the ancient Khmer word bnam (mountain). What the Funanese called themselves, however, is not known. Although very little is known about Funan, much has been made of its importance as an early Southeast Asian centre of power.

Even the Chinese, who considered most everyone around them to be Barbarians, marveled over Funan's treasures of gems and gold. Funan was a convenient stopover point for Hindu traders on their way to China. The Funanese were in power when Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced to Southeast Asia.

Funan, the earliest of the Indianized states in Southeast Asia, generally is considered by Cambodians to have been the first Khmer kingdom in the area. Its capital, Vyadhapura, probably was located near the present-day town of Phumi Banam in Prey Veng Province. The earliest historical reference to Funan is a Chinese description of a mission that visited the country in the third century A.D. Funan reached its zenith in the fifth century A.D.. 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. [Library of Congress]

Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "The Fu Nan culture flourished in the Mekong River delta in southern Viet Nam and was a center of Southeast Asian trade between the first and fifth century. This period saw an increase in international trade from the Mediterranean to China. Westerners sought the gold of the East, and with the development of more advanced sailing ships that harnessed the power of the monsoon winds, transoceanic travel became possible. Few details are known about the Fu Nan people; however, it is evident that they were a technically advanced seafaring people with the means to participate in trade on a large scale. One third-century source describes their ships as two hundred feet long and able to carry seven hundred men and an extensive cargo. [Source: Nancy Tingley, Asia Society **]

The Funan Empire collapsed in the 6th century, under the pressure of the vassal state, Kambuja to the north of Cambodia. One of the kings, Icanavarman I, based his capital at Sambor Prei Kuk (30 kilometers northeast of present-day Kompong Thom in Cambodia).

Funan Culture

During the first century A.D., when Rome ruled the Mediterranean, the Funanese traded widely, established a wonderful tradition of Hindu-influenced art and architecture, and became skilled goldsmiths and jewelers. They also built an irrigation system, impressive even by today's standards, and used an extensive network of canals for both transportation and agriculture.

Funan was essentially an Indian civilization set in Southeast Asia. Ruled by Hindu rulers and influenced by the culture of the Indian Pallava kingdom, it absorbed of Indian concepts of jurisprudence, astronomy, literature and universal kingship. The Sanskrit language was used in Funan courts. It gave birth to the first writing system and inscriptions used in Southeast Asia.

Most of what historians know about Funan has been gleaned from Chinese sources. According to Lonely Planet: These report that Funan-period Cambodia (1st to 6th centuries AD) embraced the worship of the Hindu deities Shiva and Vishnu and, at the same time, Buddhism. The linga (phallic totem) appears to have been the focus of ritual and an emblem of kingly might, a feature that was to evolve further in the Angkorian cult of the god-king. The people practised primitive irrigation, which enabled successful cultivation of rice, and traded raw commodities such as spices with China and India. [Source: Lonely Planet]

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. [Library of Congress]

Cambodia's modem-day culture has its roots in Funan. It is from this period that evolved Cambodia's language, part of the Mon-Khmer family, which contains elements of Sanskrit, its ancient religion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Historians have noted, for example, that Cambodians can be distinguished from their neighbors by their clothing - checkered scarves known as Kramas are worn instead of straw hats. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]

Funan Government and Economy

According to the Library of Congress: Funan emerged in the second century B.C. as the earliest and most significant power in Southeast Asia. Its Hindu ruling class controlled all of present-day Cambodia and extended its power to the center of modern Thailand. The Funan economy was based on maritime trade and a well-developed agricultural system; Funan maintained close commercial contact with India and served as a base for the Brahman merchant-missionaries who brought Hindu culture to Southeast Asia. [Source: Library of Congress]

Funan traded with the Mediterranean, Persia, India, China and Indonesia. At the Funanese site of Oc-Eo in Vietnam Roman artifacts (including a gold medallion dated at A.D. 152) have been found as well as a seal rings with Sanksit inscriptions, a life-size Hindu statue, gems, crystal beads, a gold bell, and gold-and-sapphire rings.

Modern-day archaeological findings provide evidence of a commercial society centered on the Mekong Delta that flourished from the 1st century to the 6th century. Among these findings are excavations of a port city from the 1st century, located in the region of Oc-Eo in what is now southern Vietnam. Served by a network of canals, the city was an important trade link between India and China. Ongoing excavations in southern Cambodia have revealed the existence of another important city near the present-day village of Angkor Borei.

During the Funan period 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. [Library of Congress] By the fifth century A.D., 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. [Library of Congress]


In the 6th and 7th centuries Funan was weakened by civil wars and absorbed by the pre-Khmer civilization of Chenla (Zhenla). Chenla endured for around 200 years. In the 8th century it split into two kingdoms. Lower Chenla was located east of Tonle Sap. Upper Chenla extended from the northern shore of Tonle Sap northward up the Mekong River into southern Laos. Chenla was conquered by Khmers.

From the 6th century, Cambodia’s population gradually concentrated along the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers, where the majority remains today. The move may have been related to the development of wet-rice agriculture. From the 6th to 8th centuries it was likely that Cambodia was a collection of competing kingdoms, ruled by autocratic kings who legitimised their absolute rule through hierarchical caste concepts borrowed from India.

This era is generally referred to as the Chenla period. Again, like Funan, it is a Chinese term and there is little to support the idea that Chenla was a unified kingdom that held sway over all of Cambodia. Indeed, the Chinese themselves referred to ‘water Chenla’ and ‘land Chenla’. Water Chenla was located around Angkor Borei and the temple mount of Phnom Da, near the present-day provincial capital of Takeo, and land Chenla in the upper reaches of the Mekong River and east of Tonlé Sap Lake, around Sambor Prei Kuk, an essential stop on a chronological jaunt through Cambodia’s history.

Chenla flourished from southern Cambodia to southern Laos. The first stone inscriptions in the Khmer language and the first brick and stone Hindu temples in Cambodia date from the Chenla period. Little archeological evidence exist on Funan or Chenla. Most of what is known about them is based on Chinese texts. Many historian now think they were relatively minor states and the only reason they were mentioned in Chinese texts is because they paid tribute to the China. States that may have been more powerful but didn’t pay tributes were not mentioned.

King Mahendravarman reigned form 607 to 616 over Chenla. He was a son of a king. The century following the death of Jayavarman I, the last known king of the kingdom, in the second half of the 7th century, was a dark period in the history of Chenla. According to a Chinese accounts, in the 8th century, the country of Chenla was divided into land and water Chenlas. The obscurity prevails and this monument might be neglected thereafter. The history. However, is traced again with the accession of Jayavarman II, who founded a new polity that is now referred as Angkor in the beginning of 9th century.

Impact of the Chenla

The people of Chenla also were Khmer. Once they established control over Funan, they embarked on a course of conquest that continued for three centuries. They subjugated central and upper Laos, annexed portions of the Mekong Delta, and brought what are now western Cambodia and southern Thailand under their direct control. [Library of Congress]

The royal families of Chenla intermarried with their Funanese counterparts and generally preserved the earlier political, social, and religious institutions of Funan. In the eighth century A.D., however, factional disputes at the Chenla court resulted in the splitting of the kingdom into rival northern and southern halves. According to Chinese chronicles, the two parts were known as Land (or Upper) Chenla and Water (or Lower) Chenla. Land Chenla maintained a relatively stable existence, but Water Chenla underwent a period of constant turbulence. [Library of Congress]

Funan and Chenla gave way to the Angkor Empire with the rise to power of King Jayavarman II in 802. Late in the eighth century A.D., Water Chenla was subjected to attacks by pirates from Java, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula. By the beginning of the ninth century, it had apparently become a vassal of the Sailendra dynasty of Java. The last of the Water Chenla kings allegedly was killed around A.D. 790 by a Javanese monarch whom he had offended. The ultimate victor in the strife that followed was the ruler of a small Khmer state located north of the Mekong Delta. His assumption of the throne as Jayavarman II (ca. A.D. 802-50) marked the liberation of the Khmer people from Javanese suzerainty and the beginning of a unified Khmer nation. [Library of Congress]

Funan Art

Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "More than three hundred Fu Nan archeological sites have been identified in the Mekong Delta region; these sites are characterized by domestic architecture built on stilts, terracotta wares and buff-colored ceramics, gold jewelry, and Buddhist and Hindu architecture and sculpture. A preponderance of imagery from this region is associated with the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu, and several examples are on view here. Extensive excavations of the city of Oc Eo have yielded rich local artifacts and a few examples of international contact, including Roman coins and jewelry, Chinese sculpture, and Indian beads. The dominant position of the Fu Nan people in international trade fell significantly by the sixth century and then came to a halt around 650." [Source: Nancy Tingley, Asia Society **]

Describing an Ekamukhalinga from the 6th century Tingley wrote: "The Hindu god Shiva is frequently worshipped in his linga (phallus) form, which according to ritual texts signifies Shiva’s highest level of being. This is an example of an ekamukhalinga, or one-faced linga. The linga is generally installed in the garbhagrha ("womb," or central, chamber) of the temple, and is the primary object of worship for devotees of Shiva. The form of the linga is divided into three sections, a square section that alludes to Brahma the Creator; an octagonal section, to Vishnu the Preserver; and the cylindrical upper portion, to Shiva the Destroyer." [Source: Nancy Tingley, Asia Society, found at the Oc Eo site, My Lam Village, An Giang Province; now in Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 5532]

Describing Three Intaglio made from carnelian and crystal from the 6th century, Tingley wrote: "These intaglios, along with Indian inscribed gems, cameos, and Roman medallions, attest to the cosmopolitanism of Oc Eo. The use of carnelian for stone seals was common in the western ancient world. A close look at these carnelian intaglios reveals that they were produced with a rotary abrasive tool, which creates a round edge at the end of a cut. In contrast, the crystal intaglio was more coarsely carved with a chisel, and was probably made at a different location. Several similar crystal examples with figures seated in the posture of royal ease were excavated at Oc Eo." [Source: ** found at Oc Eo site, My Lam Village, An Giang Province now in the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 2248, BTLS 2258, BTLS 2253]

Describing a stone lintel from the late 7th century, Tingley wrote: " The lintel of a Southeast Asian temple, positioned above the doorway, served as the sculptural focus for the temple’s entrance and provided a large surface for deep relief carving. The lintel framed the image of the primary deity inside and was one of the first views the devout had of the building. As in this example, early lintels often included a curved arch that imitated wooden prototypes." [Source: ** found at Thuy Lieu Village, An Giang Province; now in the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 5977 ]

Bronzes combine elements of indigenous animism with tantricism. Buddhism. Describing a bronze Vishnu from the 7th century, Tingley wrote: "Vishnu was the most popular Hindu god during the Fu Nan period, and four-armed images of him are abundant throughout the Mekong Delta region. In these images, he holds a conch (a symbol of the origin of existence); a mace, which also serves to support the figure in this example; a clod of earth; and a wheel (a symbol of power), broken here. The long dhoti he wears recalls earlier images of Vishnu, but also suggests Pallava south Indian influences. The silvery patina of this piece reveals that the bronze is of high tin content, which is typical of Southeast Asian bronzes. The large hands and the backward thrust of the second pair of upper arms are also common in sculpture of this early period." [Source: ** found at the Tan Phu site, Tan Hoi Village, An Giang Province; now in the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 1585]

Describing Three Elephants made of gold sheet from the 7th–8th century, Tingley wrote: "The site of Go Xoai, excavated in 1987, included a square brick temple measuring approximately 50 feet (15.4 meters) on all sides. The temple contained a smaller structure in its western section. In this secondary structure, the excavator found a hole filled with white sand and ash, as well as a thin inscribed gold leaf text; inlaid jewelry; and tortoise, snake, eight elephants, and a number of lotuses all in gold repoussé. The dedication of a temple in Southeast Asia was an important religious and secular event that involved the practice of burying gold and other precious objects in the foundation. The Agni Purana, an Indian text of which the Southeast Asians were aware, states that a tortoise and five objects of cosmological significance were to be buried in the base of the temple." [Source: ** found at the Go Xoai site, Duc Hoa District, Long An Province; now in the Long An Museum, BT87-M1-I-3]

Describing a stone Surya from the 7th–8th century, Tingley wrote: "Surya, the sun god, is an important generative force derived from Indian Vedic and other solar deities. When portrayed without his chariot and attendants, he can be distinguished by the two lotuses he holds and his heavy clothing. Early images of Surya have been found in many areas of Southeast Asia. His importance derives not only from his independent identity as sun god, but also from his close association with the Hindu god Vishnu. In this sculpture, Surya’s headdress recalls that of Vishnu, although this headdress has an octagonal form, rather than the more common circular shape." [Source: ** at the Ba The Village, An Giang Province; now in the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 5527]


The Hindu kingdom of Champa emerged around present-day Danang in the late A.D. 2nd century. Like Funan, it adopted Sanskrit as a sacred language and borrowed heavily from Indian art and culture. By the 8th century Champa had expanded southward to include what is now Nha Trang and Phan Rang. For centuries a race of warriors and pirates, the Cham defended their vast and prosperous Kingdom of Champa from numerous invasions. However, in 1471, the empire finally collapsed before Vietnamese invaders. Only the grandiose temples and sanctuaries, irrigation systems, sculpture, woven cloth, and jewelry remain as evidence of this once great civilization. According to Lonely Planet: The Cham were a feisty bunch who conducted raids along the entire coast of Indochina, and thus found themselves in a perpetual state of war with the Vietnamese to the north and the Khmers to the south. Ultimately this cost them their kingdom, as they found themselves squeezed between two great powers.

The Champa empire flourished in central Vietnam for more than 1,000 years before it was defeated in the 15th century by northern Vietnamese. The Cham people of today are descendants of the Cham of the Champa kingdom, which was established in the second century. The kingdom, at its height in the ninth century, controlled the lands between Hue and the Mekong Delta and was prosperous with maritime trade in sandalwood and slaves. The first religion of the Champa was a form of Hinduism, brought overseas from India. In Sanskrit, Champa is the name of a bush and of a flower.

As Arab merchants stopped along the Vietnamese coast enroute to China, Islam began to infiltrate the civilization, and Hinduism soon became associated with the upper classes. Between the rise of the Khmer Empire around the year 800 and Vietnam's territorial push to the south, the Champa kingdom began to diminish. Today, about 100,000 Cham still live in Vietnam, mainly in coastal Phan Rang and Phan Thiet provinces and on the Cambodian border around Chau Doc province. [Source: Vietnam News Agency - October 12, 2005]

The coastal communities are largely Hindu worshippers of Shiva and follow the matrilineal practices of their Cham ancestors. Many earn a living from farming, silk weaving and crafting jewelry of gold or silver. Groups along the Cambodian border are Islamic and mainly patrilineal. They engage in river-fishing, weaving and cross-border trade, with little agricultural activity. On the whole, Cham traditional arts, principally dance and music, have experienced a revival in recent years.

Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "The seafaring people of Champa inhabited the central coast of Viet Nam between the fifth and the early nineteenth centuries. The region is divided by numerous rivers, in turn often separated by mountains. As a result, the Cham were not a unified kingdom, but a loosely knit series of polities whose power waxed and waned depending on the efficacy of their current ruler. Since maritime trade was the primary source of income for the Cham, their ports became entrepot for the exchange of both goods and ideas. Though much of their trade was with the Chinese—like other Southeast Asian peoples, they provided coveted forest goods to the Chinese—Indian religion and ideas of statecraft were important elements of Cham culture. [Source:Nancy Tingley, Asia Society **]

Sa Huynh Culture and the Origins of the Cham

The Sa Huynh culture was founded by the ancestors of the Cham who founded the Champa Kingdom. Pre-Sa Huynh culture evolved in South Central Vietnam during the Iron Age. The people of this group lived between Thua Thien and the Dong Nai River Delta. At that time, people were buried in tombs which contained many tools made of iron and jewelry made of agate and jasper.. The Sa Huynh culture was founded by the ancestors of the Cham who founded the Champa Kingdom. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "Archeological evidence has uncovered a Southeast Asian trading system that dates to at least the second millennium B.C. The broad distribution of bronze drums created by the early culture of Dong Son and the Sa Huynh culture’s jewelry found outside Viet Nam support Viet Nam’s important position in this early interchange. By the beginning of the Common Era, it is clear that Viet Nam also conducted regular exchange with India and China. Along with the advantages of these commercial transactions came the exchange of both technologies and ideas and beliefs, including concepts of statecraft and the introduction of foreign religions. [Source: Nancy Tingley, Asia Society **]

The early prehistoric cultures of Dong Son in northern Viet Nam and Sa Huynh in central and southern Viet Nam are the source of substantial archeological evidence of exchange between coastal Viet Nam and other Asian countries. While the Dong Son culture thrived in the north, the Sa Huynh culture flourished farther south from the fifth century B.C. to the first century CE. The culture was first discovered in the early twentieth century, and scholars have only recently begun to study it. The Sa Huynh produced a variety of decorated ceramic vessels, as well as huge, thin-walled ceramic jars and nephrite ear ornaments. Chinese mirrors and vessels and other foreign goods found at Sa Huynh sites, as well as Sa Huynh-produced goods found in the Philippines, Thailand, and Taiwan attest to the culture’s importance as a center of international exchange. **

Early History of the Cham

The Cham are believed to have originated in Java, where they absorbed a number of Hindu and Indian influences. In the A.D. 2nd century, they established the kingdom of Champa near present-day Danang and dominated present-day central Vietnam, particularly the coastal areas, and to a lesser extent southern Vietnam. The precise origin of the Cham is unknown, but the similarity of customs and linguistic affinities indicates that they emigrated from the Malayan-Indonesian Archipelago sometime during the Stone Age. By the time Hindu traders reached the Indochinese Peninsula (Annam) in the beginning of the Christian era, many of the Cham had intermarried with various tribal groups of Indonesian origin already inhabiting the area.

Early Cham history is divided into two major periods. The first, from the 2nd to the 10th centuries, was characterized by fighting between the Cham and Chinese. The second, from the 10th to 15th centuries, was characterized by fighting between the Cham and Annamese (Vietnamese). Champa endured until 1471 when it was defeated by the Annamese emperor Thanh Ton. The Cham story of the past is confined to the legends of the fabulous adventures ascribed to their kings. Many of these monarchs have been deified over the ages.

The existence of the Cham enclave, known by the Chinese as Lin Yi or "savage forest," was first recorded in the latter part of the A.D. second century. The Chinese annals date the founding of the Cham kingdom in A.D. 192. In the third century the Cham moved north from Binh Thuan Province, pillaging and seizing territory from the Han dynasty. They also drove some of the tribal peoples, known now as the Montagnards, into the hills from the coastal areas. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]

In the 12th century, the Cham established hegemony over most of the Darlac Plateau. During this period of hegemony, the Cham organized the Jarai, Rhade, and Churu tribes, established administrative divisions where total anarchy had previously prevailed, and taught the tribesmen agricultural techniques. The Cham recruited the Montagnard tribesmen as auxiliaries for their armies and collected taxes from them. From the outset of their expansion, the Hindu Cham clashed with the Chinese and the sinicized Annamese or ethnic Vietnamese. Protracted border wars between the Chinese and the Cham continued for several centuries, interrupted periodically by Chinese-Vietnamese disputes. **

In its grandest period, the Champa Kingdom extended from Saigon to Canton and perhaps west to Siam. It was divided into a number of provinces corresponding to the natural configurations of the coastal plains. Pushed southward by the Chinese, the Kingdom maintained itself between 10-20 degrees latitude and 103-107 degrees longitude. After evacuating Hue, the first Cham capital, and Tra Kieu, the second capital, during the Chinese advance, Cham power apparently stabilized around the fortress of Cha Bon, the last stronghold of the Cham kings. **

Decline of the Cham Kingdom

During Chinese-Vietnamese conflicts, the Cham sided first with one, then the other, finally helping the Vietnamese free themselves of Chinese rule in the 10th century. Once liberated, the Vietnamese devoted their attention to fighting the Cham. They clashed so relentlessly that only extermination of one group or the other could solve the conflict. Champa was further weakened by a series of wars with the Chinese and Khmer. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]

The Cham finally succumbed to the Vietnamese in 1471. The battle cost the Chams 36,000 prisoners, including their king and 50 members of his royal family, and 60,000 dead. The conquerors seized the most fertile coastal lands for their settlements, and the Cham survivors of the massacre in 1471 fled into the woods and hill country or were absorbed by the Vietnamese army and settled in military colonies.

After the defeat by the Annamese in 1471 the Chams failed in their attempt to break away from Annamese dominance. Cham culture declined and the Cham kingdom was pushed into a small enclave, which included Saigon, in the south, which remained part of the Kingdom of Champa until 1698. As the Cham kingdom declined there was an exodus of Cham nobleman and commoners to Cambodia. The Cham hung on as a shadow of their former self. At the turn of the 20th century their numbers had dropped so low they were in danger of extinction. The last Champa queen was 90 in 1997. She had no daughter, which means that in a matriarchal society her line has died out. Vietnam's Cham population today numbers only 80,000.

Their geographic location has greatly influenced Cham development since the downfall of their Kingdom of Champa. Driven back from the sea and the fertile areas of the coastal plains, the Cham have changed from a prosperous seafaring power to a small agrarian culture. Principalities related to ancient clan names formed small political units bounded by the mountain spurs that divide the Cham territories. Internal rivalries prevented reunification of the Cham which in turn made impossible a united defense against common enemies. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]

Equally significant are the social relationships that evolved between the Cham and other ethnic and tribal groups. The proximity of the Cham and the Vietnamese has resulted in some exchange of customs, though the extent of the interchange is unclear. Many authorities contend that the Cham remain socially distant from the Vietnamese. Other authorities believe that since the Cham-Vietnamese wars there has been considerable contact between the two groups including some intermarriage and that Vietnamese influence is strong among the Cham. **

Significant Historical Events of the Cham

A.D. 192: Probable founding of Champa Kingdom. 220-230: First mention of Champa (Lin-Yi) in Chinese annals. 3d Century: Vietnamese reach Col des Nuages. 248: Cham push northward to Gate of Annam and site of Hue. 4th-5th Century: Series of wars result in Chinese conquest of coastal areas and Tonkin Delta, and eviction of Cham. 8th Century: Period of invasions and pillages by pirates, armies from Java. Center of Champa moved to Panduranga (Phan Rang) and Kauthara (Nhatrang). [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]

10th Century: Cham abandon region of Hue. 982: Vietnamese independence from China. 1040-1044: Vietnamese invasions - land and sea - of Champa. 1150: Beginning of Cham hegemony over plateau of Darlac. 1190: Cambodian invasions of Champa. 1217-1218: Cambodians and Cham unite against Vietnamese. 1220: Withdrawal of Cambodians from Champa. 1242: New Vietnamese invasions. 1282: Mongol occupation of Champa. 1312: Champa becomes feudal state of Vietnam until 1326. 1371: Cham invasions of Red River valley and pillage of Hanoi.

1350-1400: Frequent clashes between Cham and Vietnamese. 1471: Vietnamese capture of Vijaya, last Champa stronghold. Massacres - 30,000 Cham taken into captivity. Withdrawal of Cham kings to the southern area of Cap Varella. 1509: Massacre of hundreds of Cham by Li-Oai-Muc. 1579-1735: Residence of Cham princes at Panduranga (Phan Rang). 1650: Seizure of Prince Po Rome: Vietnamese conquest of Phu Yen and Nhatrang. 1698: Dong Nai region falls under Vietnamese domination. 1735-1822: Conversion of titled princes to simple mandarins. Vietnamese invasion of Binh Thuan, seizure of coastal Cham territory, Mekong Delta, fisheries, fertile land. 1757: Vietnamese seizure and domination of Chau Doc. 1822: Cham administrative authority limited to chiefs of villages and cantons.

The history of the Cham as a distinct culture ends early in the 19th century. For the past century and a half, the Cham have been trying to retain their own language, customs, and mores in the face of almost continual adversity. In recent years they have been opting between extinction and assimilation by the ethnic Vietnamese.

Ancient Cham Culture and Trade

The Chams were known for their seafaring skills, agricultural inventiveness and religious monuments and temples. They commanded pirate vessels that traveled in the South China Sea and fought with the Khmers to the west and the Vietnamese and Chinese to the north. During times of peace Vietnamese rulers married off their daughters to Cham rulers.

The Cham civilization was centered in My Son (40 miles from Da Nang). Established in the 4th century by King Bhadravaman and occupied until the 13th century, it is not as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Pagan in Burma, but it contained a number of monumental stone structures and temples, some of which contained bas-reliefs of elephants and birds and Malay-Polynesian-style boat roofs. They also built numerous orange brick and sandstones towers across the Vietnamese countryside.

The Chams were skilled musicians and traders. They spoke a language similar Indonesian and decorated their temples with Indonesian-style motifs. India also had a strong influence on Cham culture and political organization. The Chams adopted Hinduism around the A.D. 5th century, used Sanskrit in important rituals and incorporated Hindu symbols and styles in their art and architecture.

David Lamb wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “ Though not as imposing as the temples of Angkor in neighboring Cambodia, Cham architecture and art represent the finest produced in Vietnam, according to many art historians. [Source: David Lamb, Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2001]

My Son

My Son (70 kilometers southwest of Danang City and 40 kilometers from Hoi An City) is an important Cham historical site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it is by no means as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Pagan in Burma, it is worth a visit. Established in the 4th century by King Bhadravaman and occupied until the 13th century, it contains the remains of 68 structures and temples, many of the with Hindu influences. During the Vietnam War, some of the best Cham towers were pulverized by bombs dropped by American B-52s.

The temples at My Son are divided into 10 groups—A, A', B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and K—that are all with a couple hundred meters of one another. Group B contains original masonry, bas-reliefs of elephants and birds and Malay-Polynesian-style boat roofs. Group A used to contain the most impressive structures but many were badly damaged in the Vietnam War. The ruins are reached via a three miles hike from the main road.

The Champa Kingdom, which began in A.D. 192, was an important phenomenon in the political and cultural history of South-East Asia, vividly illustrated by the ruins of My Son. The sanctuary is an exceptional example of cultural interchange, with the introduction of the Hindu architecture of the Indian subcontinent into South-East Asia. [Source: UNESCO]

My Son Sanctuary dates from the A.D. 4th to the 13th centuries. It is situated in a small valley belonging to Duy Phu Commune in the mountainous border region of Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province in central Viet Nam. It is situated within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, which provides the watershed for the sacred Thu Bon river. The source of the Thu Bon river is here and it flows past the monuments, out of the basin, and through the historic heartland of the Champa Kingdom, draining into the South China Sea at its mouth near the ancient port city of Hoi An. The location gives the sites its strategic significance as it is also easily defensible.

While the religious significance of My Son was important, its location in a small valley surrounded by high mountains gave it strategic significance as an easily defensible stronghold. During the 4th to 13th centuries there was a unique culture on the coast of contemporary Vietnam, owing its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of India. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower temples in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.

History of the Chams at My Son

The Champa Kingdom began in A.D. 192 when the people of the Tuong Lam area rose up against their Chinese overlords and founded an independent state in the narrow strip of land along the coast of central Vietnam. This state is known from sporadic Chinese records, in which it appeared successively as Lam Ap, Hoan Vuong, and then Chiem Thanh, a transcription of Champapura, meaning "the city of the Cham people." The Cham economy was based on farming (wet-rice agriculture), fishing, and seaborne trade.[Sources: UNESCO,]

The Cham came under the influence of the Hindu religion of the Indian sub-continent early in their development, though the exact date is not known. Many temples were built to the Hindu divinities, such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva. Mahayana Buddhism must have penetrated the Cham culture later, probably in the 4th century, and became strongly established in the north of the Champa Kingdom, but Shiva Hinduism remained the state religion.

There were two sacred cities in the Champa Kingdom, each belonging to a large My Son of the Dua Clan, ruled over the north of the kingdom and worshiped the God Srisana Bhadresvara. The Cau Clan, who reigned over the south had Po Nagar Sanctuary, dedicated to Goddess Po Nagar. Nevertheless, My Son was considered as the sanctuary of the Cham Kingdom.

My Son (the name in Vietnamese means "Beautiful Mountain") was sacred to the Dua clan (Narikelavansa in Sanskrit), who worshipped the mythical king Srisanabhadresvara and governed Amaravati, the northern part of the kingdom; it was also the capital of the whole Champa Kingdom. Whilst the religious significance of My Son was important, its location, in a small valley surrounded by high mountains gave it strategic significance as an easily defensible stronghold.

The oldest structures at My Son date back to the 4th century under the reign of Bhadravarman for the worship of God Shiva-Bhadresvara. But later on, the temple was destroyed. At the beginning of the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman had it rebuilt and rebaptized Sambhu-Bhadresvara. Each new monarch came to My Son after his accession to the throne, for the ceremony of purification and to present offerings and erect new monuments, which explains why My Son is the only place where Cham art flourished without interruption from the 7th to the 13th century.

Successive kings in the 6th to 8th centuries favoured My Son and endowed it with fine temples. Between 749 and 875 the Cau clan were in power, and for a time the capital was moved to Vivapura in the south of the territory. Nevertheless, My Son retained its religious importance, and resumed its paramountcy in the early 9th century during the reign of Naravarman I, who won many battles against the Chinese and Khmer armies.

From the beginning of the 10th century the influence of Buddhism began to wane, to the advantage of My Son, where Hinduism had always been strong. By the reign of Giaya Simhavaram in the later 10th century it had achieved parity with Buddhism in the Cham Kingdom. It was at this time that most of the finest surviving architectural monuments were built there.

Most of the 11th century was a period of continuous warfare and My Son, along with other sacred sites in the Champa Kingdom, suffered grievously. It was Harivarman IV who brought peace to the kingdom. He had moved his capital to Do Ban towards the end of the century but he undertook the restoration of My Son. Warfare broke out again in the 12th century, when Jaya Indravarman IV attacked the Khmer Empire and sacked its capital. This resulted in an immediate reprisal, and the Champa Kingdom was occupied by the Khmers from 1190 to 1220. From the 13th century the Champa Kingdom slowly declined and was absorbed by the growing power of Vietnam. It ceased to exist as an entity in the later 15th century, when worship ceased at My Son.

Architecture at My Son

Successive kings in the 6th to 8th centuries favoured My Son and endowed it with fine temples. In the later 10th century, most of the finest surviving architectural monuments were built there. The site represents the ancient settlement and sanctuary area; eight groups of tower temples have been singled out. In date they cover the period from the 10th to the 13th centuries, and this long date range is reflected in different architectural styles. All are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. [Sources: UNESCO,]

Of the 225 Cham buildings and monuments found in Vietnam, My Son possesses 71 monuments and 32 epitaphs, whose contents are still being studied. Eight groups of 71 standing monuments exist as well as extensive buried archaeology representing the complete historic sequence of construction of tower temples at the site, covering the entire period of the existence of the Champa Kingdom.

The Cham owed its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of the Indian sub-continent. Under this influence many temples were built to the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva. Although Mahayan Buddhist penetrated the Cham culture, probably from the 4thcentury CE, and became strongly established in the north of the kingdom, Shivite Hinduism remained the established state religion.The monuments of the My Son sanctuary are the most important buildings of the My Son civilization.

The temples in My Son were built into groups that basically followed the same model. Each group was comprised of a main sanctuary (kalan), surrounded by towers and auxiliary monuments. The kalan, which is a symbol of Meru Mountain (centre of the universe, where the gods live) is dedicated to Shiva. The small temples are devoted to the spirits of the eight compass points. In the towers, topped with tiled, curved roofs, were stocked the offerings and sacred objects of the pilgrims. Cham temples do not have windows, so they are very dark inside. Windows are only found on the towers.

Cham towers and temples are built of bricks associated with sandstone decorations. It is quite noteworthy that no adhesive can be seen in between the bricks, which is amazing since some of the works have survived thousands of years. The structures were built, and only then did the sculptors carve the decorations of floral patterns, human figures or animals. This technique is unique in Asia.

The tower temples have a variety of architectural designs symbolizing the greatness and purity of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred mountain home of Hindu gods at the center of the universe, now symbolically reproduced on Earth in the mountainous homeland of the Cham people. They are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Their technological sophistication is evidence of Cham engineering skills while the elaborate iconography and symbolism of the tower-temples give insight into the content and evolution of Cham religious and political thought.

Every kalan in My Son is comprised of three parts: the bhurloka (foundations), the bhurvaloka (body of the tower) and the svarloka (roof). The main tower (kalan ) symbolizes the sacred mountain (Meru ) at the center of the universe. The square or rectangular base (bhurloka ), representing the human world, is built from brick or stone blocks and decorated with reliefs. Above this rises the main tower (bhuvakola ), constructed entirely in brick, with applied columns and a false door facing east. The interiors are plain, with small niches for lamps; the Shivalingam was situated on a plinth in the centre. It symbolized the spirit world, where, after being purified, men could meet the ancestors and the gods. The towers were separated from their roofs (suarloka) by a decorated frieze. Many of these roofs were originally covered with gold or silver leaf.

The predominant style of the architecture and sculptural decoration of the My Son temples derives directly from India. The bhurloka is decorated all the way round by engravings of patterns, animals, human characters praying under small vaults, masks of Kala or Makara (monsters), dancers and musician, The bhurvaloka is built with very thick bricks (about one meter thick), but its height can vary from one monument to the next. The outside is decorated with pilasters, false doors or windows.

The svarloka usually has three storeys in the same style as the base, and features a main door and other, false, ones. It is decorated with small sandstone or brick statues representing mythical animals, which are mounts ridden by gods in the Indian tradition: birds, swans, buffaloes, elephants or lions. There are small decorative towers at the corners of the 1st and 2nd storeys. This roof, made of sandstone or brick, can be either pyramidal or boat-shaped.

Cham Art and Sculpture

The Museum of Cham Sculpture (intersection of Trung Nu Vuong and Bach Dang Streets, Danang City) houses the most extensive collection of Cham art in the world. The sculptures were collected from Cham Temples and towers throughout Central Vietnam, more specifically the area stretching from Quang Binh to Binh Thuan. The museum contains an impressive display of 300 Cham sandstone and terra-cotta friezes, sculptures, statues and bas-reliefs collected from the Cham kingdom sites such as Tra Kieu, Dong Duong, Thap Man and My Son.

"Monumental in size, exquisite in detail, " wrote Susan Brownmiller in the New York Times, "Cham art is an eclectic mix of Hindu deities and legends that gradually incorporated Buddhist themes as the Cham underwent a religious conversion. The museums' three connecting galleries around a graceful courtyard follow the Cham civilization from the 7th through the 14th century...I strolled past awesome sea monsters, mythical lions, smiling elephants, prancing apsaras, proud Shivas and a lot lingams—huge phalluses of stone."

Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "Early Cham inscriptions are in Sanskrit, and traces of Indian influence can be seen in the impressive fifth- through fifteenth-century sculptures and relief carvings on view in this section of the exhibition, which were created for Cham Hindu and Buddhist structures. ** Many of these structures were dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and built on hilltops, a probable reference to Shiva’s role as Lord of the Mountain. Although the Cham were known for their bricklaying skills and some decor was carved into the brick, stone sculpture was the major source of temple adornment; the tympana over doorways and windows were favored surfaces for the depiction of gods and goddesses. [Source:Nancy Tingley, Asia Society **]

Describing a stone Pedestal from the 8th–9th century, Nancy Tingley of the Asia Society wrote: "Embellished pedestals, which supported an object of devotion, are a distinctive feature of Cham art, with no comparable form existing in Indian temples. The upper register of this pedestal is carved with images of Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, and a fourth figure holding a kendi (water vessel) in his left hand (the right is broken). On the lower register, rampant lions appear below the four dikpalas (directional deities) on each corner. The presence of the horned Rahu, the ascending node of the moon, on one side, illustrates the Cham inclination to combine the dikpala with the navagraha (nine planets)." [Source: Nancy Tingley, Asia Society **, from the Van Trach Hoa Village, Phong Dien District, Thua Thien Hue Province; now in the Thua Thien Hue Historical and Revolutionary Museum, TTH 2813/D99]

Describing a stone Relief of Figure Making offering from the late 10th century, Tingley wrote: "This figure kneels before a floral motif and holds a closed flower bud. The gesture of the raised flower and the figure’s kneeling posture suggest that he is making an offering. The original placement of this relief remains uncertain. Curved tympanums were placed over the doors of temples, but it seems unlikely that this figure, possibly representing a donor, would have been placed in such a prominent position. Other examples of architectural elements depicting single figures holding a lotus bud are known to have decorated the spires of temples." [Source: ** now in the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, BTLS 5906]

Describing a sandstone Dancer from the 11th century, Tingley wrote: "The active pose of dance, as seen in this sculpture, was a favorite of Cham sculptors. It was used in depictions of minor figures like this one, as well as in numerous depictions of Shiva in his form of King of the Dance. The temple site at Tra Kieu, where this figure was discovered, included a number of these dancing figures, which were likely placed around the exterior base of the structure. This particularly lively male swirls a scarf around his body as he raises one leg." [Source: ** found at the Tra Kieu site, Quang Nam Province; now in the Hue Royal Antiquities Museum, DKC 44]

Describing a a stone Gajasimha from the 12th–13th century, Tingley wrote: "The site of Thap Mam in Binh Dinh Province yielded many sculptures, including numerous fantastic beasts like this gajasimha (elephant-lion). The region thrived from the eleventh to the thirteenth century when patrons constructed a large number of temples there. Thap Mam style is characterized by monumentality and the use of big, broad surfaces as background for ecstatic patterning. This gajasimha, one of a pair, stood a good distance from the front of the main shrine and was undoubtedly intended as a guardian figure that demarcated sacred space. The two massive gajasimha, with their stylized elephant heads and lion bodies, would have created a formidable deterrent to anyone with ill intent." [Source: ** found at Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh Province; now in the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture, 38.7]

Describing a stone Lion from the late 12th–13th century, Tingley wrote: "A number of acrobatic lions were found at the site of Thap Mam, both in inverted and upright positions. A corner piece was also discovered, which suggests that the lions were placed around the base of a building. From the earliest period of Viet Nam’s history, prancing and preening lions were used as decorative building supports. This lion stands on his forepaws, and his back legs would have figuratively held up the structure. The blocky body is typical of Thap Mam sculpture, as is the profuse surface decoration from the lion’s grimacing face to its curling tail." [Source: ** found at the Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh Province ; now in National Museum of Vietnamese History, Hanoi, LSb 21187]

Describing a stone Kinnara from the late 12th–13th century, Tingley wrote: "This kinnara, a supernatural being that is half man and half bird, raises its two hands in anjali mudra, the gesture of devotion. The sculpture would have originally been located on the exterior of one of the Thap Mam towers to ward off evil. In Southeast Asia, the kinnara, unlike other minor deities, attained an independent status and was frequently depicted in art. Most often, only the upper torso was shown. In this example, the large, bold patterns of the ornaments encircling the smooth flesh are characteristic of Thap Mam style." [Source: ** Thap Mam site, Binh Dinh Province, Hue Royal Antiquities Museum, DKC 33]

Archeology at My Son

In 1895, C. Paris, a French scholar, was the first one to clear the My Son Sanctuary. Then, many scientists came to My Son to study Cham epitaph, sculpture and architecture such as Henri Parmentier, C. Carpeaux, P. Stern. Thanks to Henri Parmentier, the temples of My Son were classified into groups of letters (A, A’, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and K), and then numbered according to their functions. It starts with the main sanctuary, the kalan, (number 1), then the gate tower (number 2), and so on. Even though these categories break up the architectural complex of My Son as a whole, they are remarkably efficient for the study and maintenance of the ruins. [Sources: UNESCO,]

Research by archaeologists and architects have revealed that at the beginning, there was only one small wooden temple built by King Bhadresvara I in late 4th century. In the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman had it rebuilt, using more durable materials From then on, successive Cham kings, when enthroned, had their temple-towers constructed as offerings to their gods.During seven centuries (7th to 14th century), such temple-towers mushroomed in My Son, turning this land into a cultural, and religious center of the Cham Kingdom. My Son was a complex of buildings, including different temple-towers and stela in various architectural styles. French researchers listed some 70 temple-towers there. However, time and war together have taken their toll on these relics. Now, only 20 temple-towers remain almost intact. The rest have been reduced to ruins.

Historically, investigation by archaeologists, historians, and other scholars in the 19th and early 20th century has recorded the significance of the site through its monuments, which are masterpieces of brick construction of the period, both in terms of the technology of their construction and because of their intricate carved-brick decorations. The location and the sacred nature of the site ensured that the monuments have remained intact within their original natural setting, although many have suffered some damage over the years. Conservation interventions under French and Polish expert guidance have been relatively minor and do not affect the overall level of authenticity of the site. The authenticity of My Son in terms of design, materials, workmanship, and setting continues to support it Outstanding Universal Value.

Chams Today

The descendants of the once powerful Cham are scattered across Cambodia and along the eastern coast of the Republic of Vietnam and near the Cambodian border. These people now eke out a living as artisans, farmers, and fishermen. The Cham live in small village settlements, grouped according to matrilineal kinship ties. Their language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family and is related to the Rhade, Jarai, and Raglai tongues. The Cham have traditionally been very religious and perform daily rituals to appease animistic spirits while also practicing Islam and Hinduism.

The Chams (also known as the Cham, Chiem Thanh, and Hroi in Vietnam) are a Malay people. They speak a Malay-Polynesian (Austronesian) language, similar to Indonesian, with Khmer, Vietnamese, Sanskrit, Indonesian and Arabic influences. They live primarily in south-central Vietnam and the Tonle Sap and Chau Doc areas of Cambodia. The Cham developed under both Hindu and Muslim influence in their early history. The imprint of these two civilizations, although altered by local tradition and superstition, is still evident in the customs, mores, and religious practices of the Cham. Cham adherents of Hinduism and of Islam call themselves Cham Kaphir and Cham Bani respectively. The Vietnamese have historically considered the Cham culturally inferior, backward, and lazy. The Cham themselves prefer to remain separate from the Vietnamese; they strongly believe that only through isolation can they retain their cultural identity.

The Cham have traditionally been farmers, fishermen and hunters. They grow wet and dry rice, cotton, maize, tobacco, castor-oil plants, manioc, peanuts, ferns, and vegetables. They developed their own method of slash-and-burn agriculture called ray cultivation. They have traditionally fished with nets and hunted with beaters, dogs and traps and raised buffalo, goats, dogs, poultry and ducks They also harvest timber from mangroves and forests for profit. In Cambodia they work primarily as lumberjacks, cattle herders and fishermen.

There are about 400,000 Cham: with 217,000 in Cambodia; 162,000 in Vietnam; 10,000 in Malaysia; 5000 in China; 4,000 in Thailand; 3,000 in the United States; 1,000 in France; and 800 in Laos. The Cham are darker than Vietnamese, and wear sarongs and colorful head dresses. They only make up about 0.2 percent of the population of Vietnam and 1 percent of the population of Cambodia. There were 132,873 of them in Vietnam in 1999 according to the census taken that year. They are extremely poor. [Source: mostly Wikipedia]

Po Dharma divides the Cambodian Cham into two groups—the orthodox and the traditional--based on their religious practices. The orthodox group, which makes up about one-third of the total number of Cham in the country, were located mainly in the Phnom Penh-Odongk area and in the provinces of Takev and Kampot. The traditional Cham were scattered throughout the midsection of the country in the provinces of Batdambang, Kampong Thum, Kampong Cham, and Pouthisat. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

In Vietnam the Cham live in Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces. They also live in An Giang, Tay Ninh, Dong Nai provinces, and Ho Chi Minh City. Cham villages are scattered throughout two principal areas in the Republic of Vietnam: along the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh and Chau Doc Provinces and in the central lowlands along the eastern slope of the Annamite mountain chain in the provinces extending from Quang Ngai to Binh Tuy. The greatest number seem to be situated around Phan Thiol and Phan Ri in Binh Thuan Province and near Phan Rang in Ninh Thuan Province. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2014

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