History always begins with legends. Here an Indian Brahmin named Kaundinya married Soma, the Funan queen and that was the beginning of the dynasties of the Funanese kings. The name Funan derives from the Chinese rendition of the old Khmer word bnam (meaning mountain). It is unknown until today what the Funanese called themselves.

Harder facts come from the first century B.C. when some city states likely with an austro-asiatic Mon population allied. The new kingdom centered in the lower Mekong delta. Its capital city Vyadharapura (town of the hunters) has not been found until today. We know about the strong Indian influences in language, law and religion at that time. Funan was an important station on the ocean routes and it regulated the sea trade between India and China by its efficient navy. Oc Eo was the most greatest seaport. The earliest facts date to the mid-3rd century A.C. (comp.: Chinese accounts). At that time Funan reached its furthest extent under the rule of king Fan Shi Man. Nearly all the neighbour states in Thailand, Malaysia and southern Burma collapsed. Only the giant Chinese Empire had the strength to act as political counterbalance.

Funan collapsed in the sixth century and was replaced by the Chenla kingdom. The cradle of Chenla laid in the region of Wat Phu in the south of Laos with its capital city Bhavapura. The last Funanese king Bhavavarman married a princess from the royal family of Chenla and they became the founders of the first Khmer empire.

© National Geography, 1973


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