Siem Reap Vistior Guide 59th


A ngkor literally means ‘Capital City’ or ‘Holy City’. ‘Khmer’ refers to the dominant ethnic group in modern and ancient Cambodia. In its modern usage, ‘Angkor’ has come to refer to the capital city of the Khmer Empire that existed in the area of Cambodia between the 9th and 12th centuries AD, as well as to the empire itself. The temple ruins in the area of Siem Reap are the remnants of the Angkorian capitals, and represent the pinnacle of the ancient Khmer architec- ture, art and civilization. At its height the age of Angkor the capital area con- tained more than a million people, when Khmer kings constructed vast waterworks and grand temples, and when Angkor’s military, economic and cultural domi- nance held sway over the area of modern Cambodia as well as much of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The First Century: Indianisation Southeast Asia has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, but the seeds of Angkorian civilization were sown in the 1st century AD. At the turn of the millennium, Southeast Asia was becoming a hub in a vast commercial trading network that stretched from the Mediterranean to China. Indian and Chinese traders began arriving in the region in greater num- bers, exposing the indigenous people to their cul- tures, though it was Indian culture that took hold, perhaps through the efforts of Brahman priests. Indian culture, religion (Hinduism and Buddhism), law, political theory, science and writing spread through the region over a period of several cen- turies, gradually being adopted by existing states and giving rise to new Indianised princedoms.

Khmer, strongly indicating a connection to later Angkorian and Cambodian civilization. Funan was predominate over its smaller neighboring states, including the state of Chendla in northern Cambodia. Over the latter half of the 6th century, Funan began to decline, losing its western territo- ries. Chendla, already in the ascendant, conquered the Khmer sections of western Funan, while the Mon people won the extreme western section of Funan in present day Thailand. Later, Chendla seems to have gone on to conquer the remainder of Funan, signal- ing the beginning of the ‘pre-Angkorian’ period. Chendla flourished for but a short time. The third and last king of a unified Chendla, Isanavarman I, constructed the pre-Angkorian temples of Sambor Prei Kuk near modern Kampong Thom city. (If you come to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh by road, you will pass through Kampong Thom. With a few spare hours, it is possible to make a side trip to these pre- Angkorian ruins.) Under Isanavarman I’s successor, Chendla disintegrated into smaller warring states. It was briefly reunited under Jayavarman I in the mid-7 th century, only to fall apart again after his death. On traditional accounts, Chendla finally broke into two rival states or alliances, ‘Land Chendla’ in northern Cambodia/ southern Laos, and ‘Water Chendla’ centered further south in Kampong Thom. 802AD: The Beginning

Jayavarman II was the first king of the Angkorian era, though his origins are recorded in history that bor- ders on legend. He is reput- ed to have been a Khmer prince, returned to Cambodia around 790AD

Funan and Chendla: Pre-Angkor Though the newly Indianised princely states sometimes encompassed large areas, they were often no larger than a single fortified city. They warred among themselves, coalescing over time into a shifting set of larger states. According to 3rd century Chinese chronicles, one of China’s princi- pal trading partners and a domi- nant power in the region was the Indianised state of Funan cen-

‘River of 1000 Lingas,’ Phnom Kulen

after a lengthy, perhaps forced stay in the royal court in ‘Java.’ Regardless of his origin, he was a warrior who, upon returning to Cambodia, subdued enough of the competing Khmer states to declare a sovereign and uni- fied ‘Kambuja’ under a single ruler. He made this decla- ration in 802AD in a ceremony on Kulen Mountain ( Phnom Kulen ) north of Siem Reap, where he held a ‘god-king’ rite that solidified his ‘universal kingship’ through the establishment of a royal linga-worshiping cult. The linga-cult would remain central toAngkorian kingship, religion, art and architecture for centuries to come.

Prasat at Sambor Prei Kuk - The pre-Angkorian capital of Chendla in Kampong Thom

tered in today’s southern Vietnam and Cambodia. There is evidence that the Funanese spoke Mon-

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