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 The earliest historical reference to Funan is a Chinese description of a mission that visited the country in the third century A.D. Funan reached its zenith in the fifth century A.D..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).


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 Cham people are descendants 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.


The first major group of immigrants to arrive in present-day Burma were the Mon who were originally from China and settled in what is now northern Burma around the third century B.C.The Mon where a highly cultured Buddhist people with a classical North Indian heritage who settled in Central Burma. Pegu (50 miles from Yangon) was established by the Mon in the 6th century, it was the capital of southern Myanmar in the 13th century, when the Mons ruled the region. In 1757, it was sacked and almost completely destroyed by the Burmese monarch, King Alaungpaya.

The closely related Mon and Khmer peoples entered Southeast Asia along migration routes from southern China in the ninth century B.C. The Khmer settled in the Mekong River Valley, while the Mon occupied the central plain and northern highlands of modern Thailand and large parts of Burma. Taking advantage of Funan's decline in the sixth century A.D., the Mon began to establish independent kingdoms, among them Dvaravati in the northern part of the area formerly controlled by Funan and farther north at Haripunjaya.

The Mon were heavily influenced by Indian Hindu culture and Asoka Buddhist kingdom in India.. They established the Dvaravati Kingdom (A.D. 6th to 11th century) and several centers in mainland Southeast Asia. The Dvaravatis controlled the Menam Valley area in present-day Thailand from the 6th or 7th century to the 11th century. They were ultimately defeated by the Thais who absorbed much of their culture.

The Mon probably began migrating into the area in about 3000 B.C. and their first kingdom Suwarnabhumi. was founded around the port of Thaton in about 300 B.C. Spoken tradition suggests that they had contact with Buddhism via seafaring as early as the 3rd century B.C. though definitely by the 2nd century B.C. when they received an envoy of monks from Ashoka. Much of the Mon's written records have been destroyed through wars. The Mons blended Indian and Mon culture together in a hybird of the two civilizations. By the mid-9th century. they had come to dominate all of southern Myanmar. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

The Mon of Haribhunjaya and Dvaravati kingdoms people in modern Thailand may have entered present-day Lower Burma as early as the 6th century A.D. According to mainstream scholarship, the Mon had founded at least two small kingdoms (or large city-states) centered around Pegu (Bago) and Thaton by the mid 9th century. The earliest external reference to a Lower Burma "kingdom" was in 844-848 by Arab geographers. The Mon practiced Theravada Buddhism. The kingdoms were prosperous from trade. The Kingdom of Thaton is widely considered to be the fabled kingdom of Suvarnabhumi (or Golden Land), referred to by the tradesmen of Indian Ocean. [Source: Wikipedia]


The Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya was the first major Indonesian kingdom and the first major Indonesian commercial sea power . Ruled by Tamils and centered in Palembang, on the Musi River in present-day Sumatera Selatan Province, it was founded in Sumatra the end of the 6th century after Funan had been conquered and thrived from the 8th to 13th centuries.. At its height, it ruled Western Indonesia and controlled the strategic Molucca Straits—a choke point on the India-China trade route— and much of the trade in the area. Although historical records and archaeological evidence are scarce, it appears that by the seventh century A.D., the Indianized kingdom of Srivijaya, centered in the Palembang area of eastern Sumatra, established suzerainty over large areas of Sumatra, western Java, and much of the Malay Peninsula.[Sources: Library of Congress, noelbynature,, June 7, 2007]

With a reach spanning from Sumatra and Java to as far north as the Thai peninsula and a reign of some 600 years, it’s remarkable that what is now known as the Srivijaya empire was only unearthed relatively recently. The first hint of a Sumatran-based polity was first alluded to by the eminent French scholar George Coedes 1918, based on inscriptions found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. In this primer, we’ll talk about the Srivijayan empire, the extent of its influence and its eventual fall.

The kingdom of Srivijaya, a name which translates to “shining victory”, was a Malay polity and a Hindu-Buddhist trading kingship ruled by the Maharajahs of Srivijaya. The empire was based around trade, with local kings (dhatus or community leaders) swearing allegiance to the central lord for mutual profit. Srivijaya’s area of influence included neighbouring Jambi, to the north the kingdoms of the Malay Peninsula: Chitu, Pan-pan, Langkasuka and Kataha, as well as eastwards in Java, where links with the Sailendra dynasty and Srivijaya are implied. The same Sailendra dynasty was responsible for the construction of the massive Buddhist stupa of Borobudur between 780 and 825 AD.

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Last updated August 2020

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