According to Countryaah data, Cambodia is the only country to get its name from a rishi (sage) when the first Cambodian kings proclaimed that they were descended from the great sage, Cambu Svayambhuva. The first Cambodian kingdom became known in the Chinese script by the name of Funan, and was founded by the Mon and Khmer people who immigrated from the north in the first century (according to our time). During these first centuries, the Indian influence was of great importance when Indian and Chinese pilgrims made their way along the coasts of present-day Cambodia to exchange silks and metals for spices, aromatic wood and gold.
The Chinese sources describe the extent of the Indian influence in Funan in the figure of the sage Kaundimnya, who married Princess Soma who had Nagi background – ie. a semi-god. He changed the Khmer institutions according to Indian pattern. One of the changes was probably the introduction of large-scale irrigation, which made it possible to harvest rice up to three times a year. Another was the building of a cult around the Indian god, Shiva, who was perceived by the Khmer as the original spirit and owner of the earth. A third change attributed to Kaundimnya was the relative coexistence between Hinduism and Buddhism that characterized Cambodia for more than 1000 years.
According to Chinese sources, a centralized state apparatus was developed in Funan, with a monarchical monarch at the forefront. The monarch managed the agricultural work and acquired the surplus of production, to finance his own and a priest’s way of life, as well as to build fortifications, palaces and temples.
The first inscriptions are found in Sanskrit in the 6th century and in the 7th also in Khmer. To date, it has not been possible to clarify the history between the decline of Funan culture and the development of a new centralized state three centuries later in northwestern Cambodia. A region like the Chinese writings of the era called Chenla. The Chinese sources point to the existence of at least two Cambodian kingdoms who sought China’s recognition. They were both under the control of the Java kingdom, which probably belonged to Sumatra. Khmer and Sanskrit sources at least attest to the existence throughout the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries of a great number of kingdoms who paid tribute to the Java kingdom.
According to thesciencetutor, in the year 790, a Cambodian prince born and educated at the Javanese court under the Sailendra dynasty declared himself the heir to the Funan monarchy. He declared the territory inhabited by Khmer as independent of Java and crowned Jayavarman II. Over the following 10 years, Jayavarman extended his power to the north, subdued vassal states and reached the river valley. In 802 he was crowned again. This time as “chakravartin” – the ancient Indian term for world ruler – in northeastern Cambodia. Jayavarman was Cambodia’s first “national” king.
In 887, Indravarman conquered the throne that was actually intended for his cousin, Jayavarman III. During his reign, a large dam plant was built around the capital Roluos. It became the first part of an extensive system of dams, canals and irrigation channels that once again made the area’s soil productive. It enabled the establishment of a densely populated and centralized state in a region that would otherwise have been gold. In 889, Yasovarman became the king of Khmer and began in the same area the building of the city of Angkor – then called Yasodharapura – which became the capital of the Khmer kingdom. In 1002, Suryavarman I conquered the throne and extended the Khmer kingdom far into what is today Thailand and Laos. By 1080 Angkor had been conquered by the kingdom of Champa, but a Khmer governor of one of the northern provinces, under the name of Javayarman VI, declared himself king and ruled the kingdom – not from Angkor but from his own province.
In 1177 Angkor was once again conquered by forces from Champa. Jayavarman VII proclaimed king and conquered in 1181 Vijaya, the capital of Champas – in present-day Vietnam. During his reign, the Khmer Empire reached its greatest extent, covering both present-day Thailand and Laos, but also reached Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam. Jayavarman VII allowed himself to be converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, thus becoming the national religion.
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In the year 1200, the building of Angkor Thom, the new capital of the kingdom, was begun. This task was so great that it drained the treasury of the kingdom, and it suffered serious financial problems for the following decades. Angkor’s decline coincided with the rise of Thai kings in the west and Vietnam in the east. Cambodia became a small state between two major neighbors. The Khmer Empire was alternately dependent on both. When it was to escape from bondage under one occupying power, it had to seek support from the other. To settle their debts, the Khmer eventually had to submit. When the Thais had once again conquered Angkor in 1432, the Khmer left the city and left it to the jungle.