THE VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF KHMER ART
RELIGION IN FUNAN

 

 

 

 

In the period between 100 B.C, and 500 A.C. the kingdom of Funan established a flourishing sea-faring trade between China, Indonesia, and India. Although China is situated much closer to Funan most of the Funanese culture was borrowed from India. Traders and wandering scholars from India brought Sanskrit, the language of their country, to Funan. Most of them were followers of Brahmanism (a forerunner of Hinduism), which merged with the existing animistic beliefs we know from the Oc Eo founds. Hindu and local deities existed side by side: a kind of new religion. The kings of Funan sponsored the worship of Vishnu and Shiva. The importance of Brahma, the third God of the Hindu trinity, is rather unknown. King Kaundinya (400 – 434 B.C.) declared in the early 5th century Shivaism state religion. Under the rule of the later kings Kaundinya Jayarvarman (478 – 514 B.C.) and  Rudravarman (514 – 545 B.C.) Shivaism was state religion although they avowed themselves to Mahayana Buddhism. The importance of Brahma, the third God of the Hindu trinity, is rather unknown. A sanskrit inscription from 375 A.C. proves that Buddhism was already present in Funan as a secondary religion in these earliest times. It was beginning to assert its presence from about 450 A.C. Ma Touan-Lin, a 13th century Chinese chronicler, accounts that in he 4th and 5th century there were ten monasteries in Funan where monks and nuns studied the sacred Buddhist texts.

In the year 229 A.C. two envoys of the Chinese Emperor, Kang Tai and Zhu Ying give the following description of the Funanese Gods: “They worship the god of heaven, as an icon of bronze with two faces and four arms, or four faces and eight arms. Each hand is holding something - a child, or a bird or beast, or a sun or moon.” Probably they described Harihara, the combination of Shiva and Vishnu in an early form. Another Sanskrit inscription from 575 A.C. documents the presence of Buddhism in Funan: "King Kuandinya Jayavarman (478-514 B.C.) cultivated Buddhism and sent a Buddhist mission complete with Funanese Buddhist images, carved in coral, to the Emperor of China."

 

Vishnu and Lakhsmi (from Wintermeier Collection)

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