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This is Ancient Land of Dinosaurs, Siamoid, Siamese and Thais - Part V

Man’s earliest true ancestor appeared on earth more than 2 million years ago, but it was not until 10,000 to 15,000 years ago that his descendants had peopled almost the entire globe. The first man known to have roamed beyond the continent of Africa was Homo erectus, who appeared about 500,000 years ago. During the 200,000 years of his existence, he moved around through Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman, South Persia, Pakistan, Central Bharata (India), Burma to reach Kanchanaburi and migrated to Baan Chiang that slowly spread to different directions. Sometime, somewhere __ the migration could go back to the same area and changed to the several other directions later on. Migrations depended on several factors __ geography, Climate, environment, food, living conditions, and their intelligence development.

From Pt.IV.... As such, Baan Chiang does more for students of early human history than provide evidence of early civilization in Thailand. The discoveries there, provide a new perspective on the development and prehistory of the Indonesian and Pacific Islands and help resolve the enthnological question of the truly amazing spread of the Austronesian language, originating from Austro-Thai.strong>

The Khorm Peoples

The disappearance of the Baan Chiang civilization, that was discussed last month, in the 3/4th centuries left a void in that part of the country for a few hundred years. Elsewhere in what is now Thailand the period between the 3rd and 13th centuries was characterised by the slow movement of the many peoples of the region. Two of these peoples who were to take a leading role during this time were the Morn (มอญ) and the Khorm ขอม (or Khmer, another new mixed race appeared to be the people of the present-day Cambodia or Kampuchea) as they are known in South East Asia.

The Khorm probably made a greater contribution to this region’s cultural and political development than any other people with the possible exception of the Morn. The two peoples had much in common and in many prehistory references the term Morn-Khorm is used to denote the people who first inhabited mainland South East Asia and institutionalised the agrarian culture, the Sanskrit (สันสกฤต) based languages, the basic religion and the many art form.

We are indebted to records from the Chinese Sui Dynasty for most of the available information about the early Khorm history. At the outset of recorded history the Khorm occupied the land that covers the lower and middle Mae Khong river and this state was known as Chenla (เจนละ) by the Chinese. The name had no meaning in the Khorm language but persisted until the 9th century and the beginning of the Angkor dynasty when the greater Khorm nation adopted the Bharat’s Hindu (ภารตะ) influenced name of Kambuja, or Kampuchea.

Chenla was a feudal vassal state of Funan (ฟูนัน) and, like the Morn people, it took the demise of that kingdom to bring the Khorm out of its shadow. Unlike the Morn who were passive bystanders, however, the Khorm were instrumental in bringing this demise about. Chenla existed from the 3rd until the 9th centuries when the Khorm Angkor Kingdom enveloped it. Like Morn Dvaravati, Chenla consisted of many small kingdoms each with their own capital city, believed to have been 13 in total. They were largely autonomous but shared a common root of a Hindu (Bharat) based religious culture.

Whereas the Morn had welcomed all comers and grew through conversion to their beliefs, the Khorm colonized and forced their belief system on others. Although a vassal of Funan, Chenla infiltrated the Kingdom at all levels and the Khorm became directly instrumental in the rule and administration of their master. After the infiltration came the military conquest and in total the Chenla takeover of Funan took more than 100 years; perhaps a testament to the complexity of the city states that made up each of the two Kingdoms.

Chenla’s takeover of Funan was particularly successful in the lower and middle Mae Khong regions but experienced problems elsewhere allowing states such as Morn Dvaravati (ทวารว"ี) to attain independence. Trying to subjugate the Lao tribes of the upper Mae Khong and the Tai states of southern China weakened Chenla’s ability to hold the old empire together and this was quickly followed by economic decline and political disarray.

Although a great king who ruled Chenla for more than 40 years in the 7th century, the reign of Jayavarman (พระเจ้าชัยวรมัน) (‘the glorious lion of kings, the victorious Jayavarman’ to give him his full title), was marked by unrest. Upon his death the Kingdom fell into two warring factions; ‘land Chenla’ (เจนละบก) in the north and ‘water Chenla’ (เจนละน้ำ) in the south. In reality the whole Kingdom had degenerated into petty states and internal wars raged throughout the 8th century. The question of royal succession had been the root, although not the sole root, of the problem with a solar and lunar dynasty dividing opinion.

At the turn of the 9th century, King Jayavarman II united the two dynasties, brought ‘land’ and ‘water’ Chenla together and initiated the Angkor (Pranakorn พระนคร) Dynasty that was to be the pinnacle of Khorm achievement and was to mark the commencement of their golden era. As the Angkor Kingdom made its rise there was no other power in Asia, including the Chinese, who could contain its expansion.

The period of Jayavarman II’s rule coincided with a period of tremendous growth throughout the South East Asian region in general. He established close ties with the Sallendra Court in Java and there was a constant flow of both Buddhist and Hindu art and culture between the two.

Overivew of Southeast Asia showing Hindu style Khorm Temples in the region.

By the end of the 10th century the Khorm Kingdom had grown considerably and was continuing to do so. The 11th century was a period for solidifying the state and under the rule of King Suryavarman I, a man noted for his prowess in architectural design, the most famous of all Khorm Monuments and temples was constructed; Angkor Wat (นครวั") in present day Cambodia. It was also during this century that the Khorm expanded westwards and occupied the entire Chao Phraya river basin of Dvaravati. We have already credited the Morn with bringing irrigated wet-rice farming to the region but the Khorm of Angkor were to develop this even further into a more exact science. They quickly recognised the potential of the lakes around Angkor for developing rice and fish production to feed their growing population and gave the state a sound economic base. The complex system of reservoirs and water channels proved so successful that they were later adopted by many Tai cities.

Whiet the Morn adopted Theravada Buddhism (พุทธศาสนานิกายเ-รวาท) with a Hindu flavour, the Khorm adhered more strongly to the original Hindu tenets and Mahayana Buddhism (พุทธศาสนานิกายมหายาน) established itself along with elements of ancestor worship and animism. King Jayavarman II had himself initiated as a chakravartin, the living embodiment of devaraja; a God King. He took the phallic lingam as the symbol of his authority and was thus identified with Shiva - the Destroyer from the Hindu trinity.

In the 11th century the Tais from Nanzhao (Naan Jao) Kingdom (ราชอา"าจักรน่านเจ้า) of southern China had settled mini kingdoms in central Thailand but like the Morn at this time they were still subservient to the Khorm. As a demornstration of the power they still wielded in the area, the Khorm built a north western administrative capital at the city of Sukhothai. In the following years the Khorm continued their expansion until they had control of all lands in mainland and peninsula South East Asia, with the exception of Burma. Once again, however, their empire had grown too cumbersome and the first cracks started to appear.

Jayavarman VII (1181-1219) was largely responsible for initiating the downfall of the kingdom. He blindly believed in his destiny as a bodhisattva and God king and built endless religious monuments across his realm. The enormous upkeep requirements of these prolific and grand projects were eventually to bleed the thriving economy dry. Later rulers neglected the irrigation systems that then degenerated into swampland, they turned to the more democratic Theravada Buddhism, undermining the absolute authority of the God kings, and when the Tai peoples arrived in force in the mid-13th century the Angkor Empire was already falling apart. The Tais wanted their own kingdom and the Chinese were only too happy to see an end to the Khorm influence in the region. Ultimately this led to a Khorm retreat into their heartland of Angkor in the area of the great Tonle Sap (ทะเลสาป) lake near the modern city of Siem Reap (เสียมราฐ) in Cambodia.

Images of later Hindu Temples from Khorm

The legacy that the Khorm have left South East Asia should not be overlooked and it reaches far beyond their magnificent temples that are still revered today. The huge rice fields of both Thailand and Cambodia were first controlled as a single massive entity by the Khorm and the religious nature of kingship and rule in the region acquired its character largely from the Khorm. Indeed, much of the culture and tradition that we see today from the east coast of Vietnam to the western borders of Thailand is in large part Khorm.


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