Religious Development under Suryavarman I – Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Hin Phimai


 

The focus of the previous post, was on the Khmer expansion in North-East Thailand (today’s Isan), in light of inclusion of the sculpture of the pioneer Tamil Saivite Saint – Karaikkal Ammai , in a three-fold view-

  1. Political Extension
  2. Economic Expansion
  3. Religious Development.

Political Extension and Economic Expansion have been discussed already. This post explores the Religious Development under Suryavarman I, the King who is attributed with maximum political and economic expansion of the Khmer territory towards north-east Thailand and beyond.

Political and Economic facets play a significant role in a King’s victorious expansion. Religion provides exclusive facts of culture and civilisation of that particular era.  Epigraphy and Literature are main evidences of a King’s political and economic successes, in terms of wars, accessions and trade, and religious inclinations; Temples and Sculptures remain Pinnacle proof of Cultural Heritage and Civilisational Refinement. An interesting aspect of temples is that, the rulers have also used them as store houses of history through Epigraphy.

Culture is a very broad term that aids in studies of specific communities. Religion and Culture are co-related concepts that help in understanding the growth and advent of civilisation within and beyond the geographic boundaries of a particular kingdom.

That is why, a research on the Religious Development under Suryavarman I, might provide critical and culminating evidences on culture and civilization that belonged to the Khmers and the reciprocal cultural factors that influenced the Khmers through political and economic relations with neighbouring and far kingdoms beyond the seas.

Religious Development in North-East Thailand under Suryavarman I

Religious Development under Suryavarman I, that provides clues for the inclusion of the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai would be discussed in this post.

This search for evidences on Tamil Influence, seems like an adventurous journey of ancient ruins and long lost culture. Having transformed into Buddhist Kingdoms, Cambodia and Thailand facilitate easy access to Heritage Hindu sites, unlike heritage sites back in India, where strong Hindu rituals are still practised. This access enables an independent approach to the sculpted Gods and Goddesses, and provides a direct route to ancient history through epigraphy, archeology, iconography and temple architecture.

Whether existing religion alongside practicing rituals, aids or hinders historical researches is certainly a matter of debate. But, non-practising religious sites like those in Cambodia and Thailand, classified as historical monuments seem to preserve History in a comparatively better way, no doubt.

I intend to analyse, four temples of North-East Thailand, where the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai is included in the panel of Dancing Shiva, another evidence of her inseparable stature while the Lord is dancing.

இறவாத இன்ப அன்பு வேண்டிப்பின் வேண்டு கின்றார்
பிறவாமை வேண்டும், மீண்டும் பிறப்புண்டேல் உன்னை என்றும்
மறவாமை வேண்டும், இன்னும் வேண்டும்நான் மகிழ்ந்து பாடி
அறவாநீ ஆடும் போதுஉன் அடியின்கீழ் இருக்க என்றார்.

 

“I pray for the infinite happiness of Your love; I do not want to be born again; if I do, I do not want to forget You forever; if I do, I want to be happily singing in Your praise under Your feet as You are dancing”.

http://tamilnation.co/sathyam/east/periyapuranam.htm

 

The temples included for this Research are –

  • Prasat Hin Phimai
  • Prasat Phanom Rung
  • Wat Pra That Narai Jaeng Waeng
  • Prasat Sa Kampaeng Yai

Whether this analysis would lead to facts pertaining to the inclusion of Ammai in different temples during Suryavarman I’s reign or would retrace new paths of other Kings might be an interesting wait. But, the Tamil influence through Traders, spread across centuries and under various Kings beyond seas, is certainly evident through the most influential devotee of Shiva – Karaikkal Ammai.

Reconstruction of Temples

Angkor’s countless temples were hidden for centuries under jungle bushes, rubbles and wreckage, until the French in the early twentieth century, recreated the magic of the magnificent temples.

We see a Khmer monument in its 20th century version after several phases of initiation, construction, innovatory inclusions, restoration, disappearance, wreckage, and finally new-age restoration, in a span of around 1200 years.

a. phase 1- (Angkor Era – 7th century ACE to 13th century ACE ) the temples were initiated and constructed by a King – a continuous process of constant upgradation and innovation by successive Angkorian rulers is seen. Each ruler has made his own impression, which is identified through pediments and lintels, iconographic and inscriptional evidences. All of these provide important inputs to history.

b. phase 2 – Though many temples remained worship places among locals, several others were lost to human negligence. Natural calamities created havoc in pushing many temples under rubbles. Such temples had remained unknown for centuries. This silence inside the jungles and the rubbles had made the temples possibly unrecognisable from the original monuments.

c. phase 3 – later and the latest-  After the French colonisation of Cambodia in 1887, the French found these hidden treasures under rubbles. Active restoration started. While few temples needed restoration, many others needed reconstruction. The French Researchers made the best use of technology to restore the lost glory and convert the yesteryear marvels into heritage monuments that the world views today in awestruck admiration.

While we review the architecture of any khmer temple, we should also keep in mind the enormous amount of restoration process that the temple has gone through, after an interval of more or less 800 to 1000 years. That too, by researchers from the other end of the world, with no or very little knowledge of the local culture including temple building expertise, which the original inhabitants themselves could have moved away from, during centuries of war and calamities.

When one notices a flash of medieval link from another heritage in a place geographically far and culturally different, it is with great interest and inquisitiveness, one travels in search of missing clues for the distinct connect.  

This flash was the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer temples. This isn’t a flash anymore. It seems to be a huge ray of light, which inspires to probe the economic, cultural and spiritual link between two distant Empires – Khmer and Tamil. The inclusion of the sculpture of Ammai with Adalvallan – Dancing Shiva in several temples, reiterates the magnitude of the Tamil Links in the Southeast Asian Kingdoms during the Angkor Era (specifically from 11th century ACE).

Finding historic evidences to the date of inclusion of the sculpture is a strenuous task. Epigraphy here doesn’t directly contribute any evidence for the inclusion of the sculpture. But the clues that we have are :-

  1. Karaikkal Ammai, who hailed from Thamizhagam and sang devotional hymns on the Dancing Shiva was introduced in Tamil temples – in the Chola country in the 10th century ACE by Chembian Madevi (refer post: https://glorioustamils.com/2016/04/07/chembiyan-madevi-pioneer-who-introduced-ammai-in-chola-temples/ ). She is portrayed as a skeletal female figure enthralled in Shiva’s Ananda Thandavam.  Continuing the tradition of placing Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva along with his mesmerised devotee Ammai in Mugamandapam or the Front corridor of the temples, Rajaraja I and son Rajendra I, placed her in their master piece temples – Thanjavur Brihadeesvara Temple (in the final years of the 10th century) and Gangai Konda Cholapuram Temple (in the first decades of 11th century) respectively.

2. With Suryavarman I’s intentions to politically and economically reign supreme in the neighbouring territories along the Isthmas of Kra, his brave diplomatic move was to claim friendly relations with the maritime giants of the southern sea – The Great Cholas. Father Rajaraja I already ruling strong with unbeaten political grip in Srilanka and beyond, Rajendra I had a smooth entry into a stable Empire, unlike Suryavarman I, who had to claim his throne after long years of war and destruction over throwing two competitors- Udayadityavarman I and Jayaviravarman.

Suryavarman I was an ambitious King with an aim to conquer the political as well as the economic arena of the kingdoms alongside his own Khmer. In order to reign supreme over the Sri Vijaya’s in the peninsula, Suryavarman I sought friendship of Rajendra I. Rajendra’s Karandhai Copper Plates of 1020 ACE refers to the chariot presented by a Kamboja King, in order to protect his sovereignty. This Kamboja king in 1020, undoubtedly was Suryavarman I. Rajendra I’s Thirukkadaiyur Inscription of 1027 ACE,  lists his conquests and victories across the rolling sea, capturing different places in Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra, Nicobar Islands and the Isthmas of Kra.

3. Rajendra I did not take this political victory too far, he made use of this victory for his Kingdom’s economic enhancement across seas, beyond vast territories. This was completely utilised by the Traders of Thamizhagam, inland and overseas. The overseas Trader settlements could make use of this giant leap in the positive diplomatic ties between Tamil and Khmer Rulers, in strengthening their already well established influences. One of the exclusive influences that the Tamil settlers could propagate, was the sculpture of Ammai, a representative of the Trader community as well as a symbol of continuous assertion of Saivism.

4. Dr. Vittorio Roveda, researcher and author of various books on Khmer Architecture, suggests that the credit of building narrative reliefs in Khmer temples should be given to Suryavarman I. Specific temples he mentions are the dancing shiva and reclining vishnu in Phnom Chissor and the reliefs of Preah Vihear.

5. Apart from the above mentioned temples of Phnom Chissor and Preah Vihear, in temples at Vat Baset, Vat Ek and Banteay Srei in Cambodia that Suryavarman I had undertaken restoration, the sculpture of Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai has occupied an important place.

6. The strongest political expansion of a Khmer King into Isan – today’s northeast Thailand, was initiated and successfully accomplished by Suryavarman I. Like his contemporary Tamil King Rajendra I, Suryavarman I made the best use of his politically gained territories for economic stability of his reign. Temples are huge evidential storehouses of a King’s political victories and religious alignments. The temples in the territories won over by Suryavarman I, stand as proof of his religious tolerance and hold glimpses of the influential foreign communities settled in Khmer, one among them being the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai with Dancing Shiva.

7. Suryavarman I is hailed by historians for being one of the key restorers of various temples built by his predecessors. Most Khmer temples are testimony to continuous restoration works and innovative inclusions by successive rulers. But, temples like Banteay Srei, Vat Ek and Phnom Chisor were greatly expanded with elaborate and ornate architectural innovations. Among his temples, Preah Vihear stands monumental in its grace and grandeur on top of the Dangrek mountains. This shows his sustained will to crown his temples as culmination of his political, economic and religious excellence.

Are the above discussed points valid enough evidences to claim that the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai was erected in temples of Isan, during the reign of Suryavarman I? Certainly not.

The religion specific inscriptions of Suryavarman I might provide few more assertive interpretations.

Religious Tolerance of Suryavarman I

Suryavarman I, a Mahayana Buddhist, has shown keen interest in restoring various Saivite temples, constructing ornate entrance pavilions, establishment of Shiva Lingas and also reconstructing earlier temples on mountains with the most splendid of all monuments being Preah Vihear. He continues the existing pattern of Saivite and Vaishnavite sculptures in temples, at the same time makes Buddhism hold key position in his territory. His religious tolerance is noteworthy and his inscriptions exhibit this special virtue.

i. Lopburi inscription of Suryavarman I

  1. 944 śaka caturdaśī ket bhadrapa
  2. da ādityavāra nu vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtva
  3. n añ śrī sūryyavarmmadeva pandval vraḥ ni
  4. yama ru samācāra ta tapra pi bhūvana phoṅ
  5. dval pi thve toy onā sthāna ta pasvi pho
  6. ṅ nu vraḥ paṃ nvas bhikṣu mahāyān a stha
  7. vira O nau ru ta pvas vyat pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  8. vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtvan añ śrī
  9. sūryyavarmmadeva o nau ruv anak ta cval sāṃ
  10. pi tamaḥ tapovanāvāsa noḥpi thve
  11. kaṅval pi vvaṃaṃ pān pi tapasvi yogi
  12. phoṅ svat mantra pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  13. vraḥ pāda kaṃrateṅ kaṃtvan añśrī sū
  14. ryyavarmmadeva ti pre cāp pi nāṃ cuñ ta
  15. sabhā stap vyavahāra nirṇṇaya toy

http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/en/inscribe_detail.php?id=381

This inscription of Suryavarman I from Lopburi, mentions that the Buddhist monks belonging to two sects – Mahayana and Sthavira and the Brahmins – Tapasvi Yogi lived together in Lava.

ii. Preah Khan of Kompong Svai inscription of Suryavarman I

Preah Khan of Kompong Svai was one of the earliest temples built by Suryavarman I. The inscription which dates back 924 Saka era – 1003 ACE is of 9 Sanskrit verses.

The first verse starts with invoking Dancing Shiva-

‘Natyam Brahmadisevyam sukayathu dayithanandanam chandramauleh’ – roughly translates as – ‘The Dance of Shiva, who adorns the moon, the Dance to which all the Gods bow in respect.’

The second verse is an invocation to Buddha.

Notes d’épigraphie by M.L. Finot, L’Inscription de Prah Khan

Click to access befeo_0336-1519_1904_num_4_1_1361.pdf

This inscription is not only significant in terms of Suryavarman I’s religious harmonious path invoking both Shiva and Buddha, but in invoking Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer.

iii. Takeo Inscription of Suryavarman I

Suryavarman’s awe for the Dance of the Lord doesn’t stop here. His Takeo inscription is specific about the sculpture of Dancing Shiva – Natakeswara Dasabhuja.

One of the Takeo inscriptions of Suryavarman I, starts with an invocation to Shiva in one line in Sanskrit. Rest of the inscription is in Khmer language. It talks about donations made by Yogisvara Pandita of Vyadharapura, at Lingapura, Jayakshetra, Hemasruga, Sri Campesvara and Sri Narendragrama of Bhimapura. It mentions that some golden images of Shiva were installed in the names – Tripuradahanesvara, Sri Natakesvaradasabhuja and Vishnu as Tribhuvananjeya and his consort Bhagavati Sri. (from R.C. Majumdar in ‘Inscriptions of Kambuja’)

The Khmer text reads –

ek śivikā mvāy ti sthāpanā vraḥ kamrateṅ ‘añ śrīnātakeśvara daśabhuja

This Natakesvara Dasabhuja or the Ten armed Dancing Shiva is sculpted in the already discussed Cambodian Temples like – a) Vat Basset, where the pediment is a hugely reconstructed one – with only Shiva’s three arms on the left visible; b) Battambang Museum, where there are three sculptures of Shiva Nataraja- all with ten arms; and c) Banteay Srei and Preah Vihear displaying ten armed Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. Adalvallan in Phnom Chissor is not ten armed/dasabhuja. He has two arms and plays the string instrument.

Interestingly, in all the above mentioned temples, Karaikkal Ammai is sculpted at the foot of Dancing Shiva, which has been discussed in the previous posts.

Prasat Hin Phimai

photo courtesy: http://www.sundial.thai-isan-lao.com/dharmasalaroute.html

In the previous post, under the sub-title ‘political extension’ of Suryavarman I, the extent of Khmer expansion towards north-west of Cambodia during the 11th century ACE was discussed. The Khmer territory stretched its giant hold as far as Lobpuri, including the  area of this paper’s focus- Phimai.

The Phimai Temple or Prasat Hin Phimai was built in the city of Phimai, located in the present day north-eastern Thai Province Nakhon Ratchasima.

A few historical facts of the city Phimai and the temple Prasat Hin Phimai are listed below-

  1. The city of Phimai as scholars believe might be the ancient ‘Bhimapura’, which has been mentioned in an inscription during the reign of Isanavarman I of Chenla in the 7th century.

The Vat Chakret inscription of Isanavarman I was noticed by Aymonier, the French linguist and archeologist and edited by Auguste Barth, the French researcher in Oriental studies. The inscription, dated 529 Saka Era- 627 ACE – records Isanavarman installing the image of Siva-Vishnu through the vassal chief of Tamrapura, who possessed in addition the towns of Cakrankapura, Amoghapura and Bhimapura.

Inscriptions od Kambuja: R.C. Majumdar https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.181497/page/n67

2. During the first half of the 11th century ACE, with Suryavarman’s conquests stretching towards Isan region (north east Thailand), Phimai rose to limelight. It became the seat of Khmer supremacy. (refer previous post on Suryavarman’s conquests)

3. Usual Khmer temples are oriented towards east, but Phimai faces south. According to Lunet de Lajonquiere, the French soldier and archeologist, “the monument may have been intended to face the great capital Yasodharapura” also known as Angkor. Lawrence Palmer Briggs, author, in his ‘The Ancient Khmer Empire’ states this may be partly due to the river on the east side.

(pg.180, Briggs: The Ancient Khmer Empire)

4. Prasat Phimai is the largest temple in Isan region and is the farthest from Angkor.

5. Suryavarman’s roots are believed to be from Tambralinga (from 15th century Pali chronicles, which is still not fully accepted by several researchers). He was a Buddhist – inclined to Mahayana Buddhism by faith. With revival and restoration of various previous temples, he is also credited to have introduced Mahayana Buddhism into Khmer territory through Prasat Phimai. Phimai is the first and the biggest premises in time, devoted to the Mahayana Path.

6. An inscription in the temple, carved on the pillar of the south gopura of the second enclosure was edited by Prof. Coedes. The date of inscription was deciphered as 1112, during the reign of Dharanindravarman I (1107-1113) .

The inscription says –

1030 śaka ‘aṣṭamī roc puṣya ‘ādityavāra nu vraḥ kaṃmrateṅ ‘añ śrīvīrendrādhipativarmma sruk chok vakula sthāpanā kaṃmrateṅ jagat senāpati trailokyavijaya
senāpati kaṃmrateṅ jagat vimāya xxx jvan khñuṃ ta roḥh noḥh tai pandān kvan tai chke si mūla si kamvṛk tai kantū kvan tai

………………………………………………………………………….

………………………………………………………………………….

pāda kaṃmrateṅ ‘añ śrīdharaṇīndravarmmadeva

Sri Virendradhipativarman, a General to Dharanindravarman I, dedicated an image of a Mahayanist Buddhist deity Trailokyavijaya- who is called Senapati or General, to serve Lord Vimaya- mentioned as ‘Kamrateng Jagata Vimaya’ – a form of Buddha. 

This Lord Vimaya is presumed to be the principal deity of Prasat Phimai. On the basis of the inscription and the decorations in the monument, few researchers believe Prasat Phimai was built during the reign of Dharanindravarman I or earlier in the last decades of the 11th century.

7. During the reign of Jayavarman VII (1182-1218), a road system with rest houses connecting Angkor and  Phimai was established. A stele in Preah Khan dated 1191 ACE, describes rest houses and dharamshalas connecting Angkor to other cities. It mentions the temples along the route from Angkor to Phimai. Hence, the complete credit of connecting Phimai and Angkor and transforming Prasat Phimai into a Buddhism temple is given to Jayavarman VII. But, Mitch Hendrickson (pg.482/483, Historic routes to Angkor: development of the Khmer road system (ninth to thirteenth centuries AD) in mainland Southeast Asia), argues that ‘the strict temporal association ignores the achievements and regional communication history of Jayavarman VII’s predecessors and their successors within the 600 years of Angkorian period’.

Click to access Hendrickson–angkor%20roads-Antiquity.pdf

8. Jayavarman VII is not only credited for his road route from Angkor to Phimai, but is also hailed for bringing a strong religious shift in Angkor towards Mahayana Buddhism. After the end of Angkor era, Theravada Buddhism continued and is still the major religion of present day Cambodia.

The Preah Khan stele mentions that Jayavarman VII, distributed 23 statues of ‘JAYABUDDHAMAHANATHA’ to different temples. Some researchers feel, Jayabuddhamahanatha was the depiction of the King himself as the Buddha- Jayabuddha- the Victorious King, who conquered the Chams. One such statue of Jayavarman VII is seated in Prasat Hin Phimai.

Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Hin Phimai

Ammai at the feet of Phimai

 

Prasat Hin Phimai, was visited by Etienne Aymonier and the first inventory of the ruins was presented by him in 1901. Most of the restorations were done from 1964 to 1969 as a joint Thai-French project. The historical park, now managed by the Fine Arts Department (of the Royal Thai Government), was officially opened by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on April 12, 1989.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phimai_Historical_Park

In the year 1963 to 1966, Bernard Philippe Groslier, the French scholar and conservator of Angkor temples, advised the government of Thailand on reconstruction of Prasat Hin Phimai. https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/16949/AP-v27n2-obit2.pdf

As discussed above, The Phimai Temple- constructed and restored by several Angkor kings and then re-restored with modern technology in the 20th century ACE, stands tall with loads of unanswered mysteries.

A Mahayana Buddhist by belief, Suryavarman I is credited to bringing Buddhism into Khmer territory in a dominant form.

According to L.P. Briggs,

Suryavarman I’s interest in the north and the ancient representations of the Buddha found at Phimai lead to the opinion that the transformation  from a Saivite Prasat to a Mahayanist sanctuary may have taken place during his reign.

pg.182, Briggs: The Ancient Khmer Empire

After the Phimai inscription of Dharanindravarman found in the door jamb of Prasat Phimai, owing to the inscription and pattern of decorative elements in the temple, authors and researchers have concluded the temple to be of later 11th century. However, with several other clues that the temple has provided, it is not easy to come to an affirmative conclusion.

One more inscription found at Prasat Hin Phimai – dating to 1042, that of Suryavarman I, displays the same religious tolerance that the King is hailed for.

The inscribed stone has two faces written in old Khmer and Sanskrit, one face invoking Shiva and the other side invoking Buddha.

Inscription invoking BuddhaInvoking Buddha

 

Inscription invoking Shivainvoking Shiva

This inscription, which is earlier to that of Dharanindravarman, leaves enough evidence that the temple already existed before his inscription on dedication of the deity Lord Vimaya in 1108 ACE .  Suryavarman I’s inscription on religious tolerance and the repeated pattern of invocation of Shiva and Buddha in the same premises, shows his relentless interest in Shiva, beyond being a staunch Mahayanist, who gloriously attained his posthumous name Paramanirvanapada.

Meanwhile, Suryavarman I seeking Rajendra Chola’s aid in curtailing the Srivijaya’s political and economic aspirations and Rajendra’s naval victory over Srivijaya Empire, thereby giving Suryavarman I an upper hand to expand his territory and stabilise his economic control in the region, are important milestones for the Chola influence in Khmer Empire during the first half of the 11th century ACE. As such, the glory of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva being well recognised by Suryavarman I’s Natakesvara Dasabhuja must’ve become an important part of Khmer architecture.

Ammai in Rajaraja I’s Thirupugalur Temple

 

Ammai in Rajendra I’s Gangai Konda Cholapuram

 


 

Ammai in Prasat Hin Phimai

 

The same pattern of iconographical representation of Ammai, in the already seen Cambodian temples built by Suryavarman I, as one of the Ganas,  below the feet of Dancing Shiva, like that of the Thiruppugalur temple built by Rajaraja I, and that of Gangai Konda Cholapuram built by son Rajendra I, is not to be ignored. In the light of this fact, the Cambodian Temples and the Angkorian temples of north-east Thailand, where Suryavarman I claims political and economic victory dominating previous Khmer rulers, also display the same iconographic pattern of Rajendra I, the new friend of the Khmer Emperor.

The influence of the Tamil community, inland traders and the maritimers in particular, which was at the highest of the times, with their mighty Emperor’s Naval victory, could’ve resulted in their symbol of Saivism- Karaikkal Ammai be represented in the country they had settled in.

Therefore, with the above available clues, it can be safely concluded that Suryavarman I was the first Khmer King to have initiated the portrayal of Dancing Shiva, in the most imposing visual grandeur, with Karaikkal Ammai sitting at his feet, in the Khmer temples in Cambodia and North-East Thailand, he built and restored, until we get any new evidence to the contrary.

The role of Sivacharya’s, who have always been part of temple construction and dedication of deities as per several inscriptions, will also to be studied in the subsequent posts.

 

Bibliography

  1. Charles Higham – The Civilization of Angkor
  2. Lawrence Palmer Briggs – The Ancient Khmer Empires
  3. Vittorio Roveda – The Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos
  4. George Coedes – The Indianized States of Southeast Asia
  5. C. Sivaramamurthi – Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature

 

Web Links

  1. Vittorio Roveda,  The Archeology of Khmer Images – pg 12 –  www.persee.fr/doc/asean_0859_9009_2004_num_13_1_1809#
  2. Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.
  3. Chirapat Prapandvidya, Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute, Academy of Arts;
    http://www.royin.go.th/royin2014/upload/246/FileUpload/2553_4454.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khmer Political and Economic Expansions in Northeast Thailand under Suryavarman I (1010-1050 ACE)

The friendly diplomatic relations maintained by Rajaraja I and the subsequent military conquests of his son Rajendra Chola I in connection with the Kingdoms of Southeast Asia and the consequential increase in the influence of the Tamil Trader community in Khmer temple architecture has been discussed in the previous post.  The impact of the influence of Maritime Tamil Traders through the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai – an innovative introduction along with Dancing Shiva in Khmer temples, which was the pioneer architectural excellence of Chembian Madevi in Chola Temples in Thamizhagam/Thamilagam from mid 10th century ACE is the focus point of this series of posts – ‘Ammai in Southeast Asian Temples’.

In this post, we continue to concentrate on the Khmer temples with the sculpture of Ammai, but with a shift from today’s Cambodia towards the north-east region of today’s Thailand, which is presently called Isan. The Isan region falls to the north west of today’s Cambodia and shares borders with both Laos and Cambodia.

Several provinces that constitute today’s north-east Thailand formed an important historical part in the Khmer expansion of geographical territory, specifically during the reign of Suryavarman I.  This author proposes to view the inclusion of Ammai in Khmer temples in the light of Khmer expansion towards north-eastern regions of Thailand in three ways-

  1. Political Extension
  2. Economic Expansion
  3. Religious Development

The facts pertaining to the above mentioned three faceted Khmer Expansion during the reign of Suryavarman I, are dealt in an attempt to search evidences, which are epigraphic and non-epigraphic in nature, for the inclusion of the sculpture of the Tamil Saiva Saint, Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples.

Political Extension

The Khmer focus on today’s north-east Thailand or beyond and north of Dangrek Range is believed to have gained momentum during the reign of Rajendravarman II (944-968 ACE). However, it was only after Suryavarman I claimed the Khmer throne in the first decade of the 11th century ACE, that the Khmer expansion took a giant leap, occupying several provinces in today’s Isan and even beyond.

Mitch Hendrickson (currently Asst. Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Chicago) holds a Doctorate in Archeology. He focuses his research on communication systems and expansion mechanisms of the Khmer Empire between 9th to 15th centuries ACE. His 2012 publication – Connecting the Dots: Investigating the issue of transportation between the temple complexes of the medieval Khmer (9th to 14th centuries AD), examines the transport routes established as links between various Khmer temples. His paper brings out important geographic and political dimensions of the reigns of various Khmer Kings combined with religion. The research reveals the road routes established by Khmer Kings along the important temples they built and also provides a different interpretation on the connectivity of these temples after the inclusion of several provinces of Dvaravati region (north western region of today’s Cambodia) into the Khmer territory. It also provides us additional details on Suryavarman I and his geographic expansion and the efforts made by him to increase mobility to and from the temple sites built and renovated by him, in Cambodia and northeast Thailand.

If, as assumed, the Khmer temples are part of a greater cultural landscape under politico-religious control, an examination of connections at the regional and supra-regional scales will provide insight into the internal dynamics of the Khmer empire and its geographic history.

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

This analytical paper on the communication corridors of Khmer Kings gives us fascinating details on the expansion of the Empire and the far flung regions controlled by different Kings, in specific context of this paper, Suryavarman I.

The second significant feature is the restricted size of royal territories until the reign of Suryavarman I in the early 11th century. At this time the focus expands significantly to the northwest and south of the Tonle Sap Lake. Interestingly, the areas influenced by subsequent kings largely mirror the 11th century occupation, which suggests that regional communication was formally established at this time.

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

In the picture below, the author shows the communication corridors of Kings, necessarily used to develop transport routes between temple sites.  Additionally the picture also throws light on the comparative mapping of the geographic/political Khmer expansion through their religious entities and storehouses of cultural refinement – ‘Temples’.

 

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

After Udayadityavarman I, the sites influenced by Suryavarman I in the first decade of the 11th century ACE show his sturdy grip as far as the western regions of Cambodia, forging into Dvaravati region. The significant geographic expansion aided in the creation of culturo-religious institutions in form of temples in the newly extended territory.

Pali Chronicles – the Chamadevivamsa and the Jinakalamali (both belonging to the 15th century ACE) and Mulasasana, talk of the story of the Khmer expansion in the Menam Basin and also mention the name of ‘Kambojaraja’. Even if the chronicles can be brushed aside as imaginary, Coedes clarifies that – ‘ we nonetheless have clear manifestations of Cambodian expansion in the era of Suryavarman I in the region west of the Great Lake, where his inscriptions are particularly numerous’.  (George Coedes, pg.137, Three Great Kings, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia).

 

Lopburi inscription of Suryavarman I

  1. 944 śaka caturdaśī ket bhadrapa
  2. da ādityavāra nu vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtva
  3. n añ śrī sūryyavarmmadeva pandval vraḥ ni
  4. yama ru samācāra ta tapra pi bhūvana phoṅ
  5. dval pi thve toy onā sthāna ta pasvi pho
  6. ṅ nu vraḥ paṃ nvas bhikṣu mahāyān a stha
  7. vira O nau ru ta pvas vyat pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  8. vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtvan añ śrī
  9. sūryyavarmmadeva o nau ruv anak ta cval sāṃ
  10. pi tamaḥ tapovanāvāsa noḥpi thve
  11. kaṅval pi vvaṃaṃ pān pi tapasvi yogi
  12. phoṅ svat mantra pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  13. vraḥ pāda kaṃrateṅ kaṃtvan añśrī sū
  14. ryyavarmmadeva ti pre cāp pi nāṃ cuñ ta
  15. sabhā stap vyavahāra nirṇṇaya toy

http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/en/inscribe_detail.php?id=381

This inscription of Suryavarman I from Lopburi, mentions that the Buddhist monks belonging to two sects – Mahayana and Sthavira and the Brahmins – Tapasvi Yogi lived together in Lavo. This is not only a proof of Suryavarman I’s Khmer expansion in the Dvaravati region but also a proof of religious secularism encouraged under him.

Where is Lopburi?

 

Map courtesy: By Hdamm – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4141418

Above map shows Lopburi and Nakhon Ratchasima in arrows. The extent of Suryavarman I’s expansion beyond the Dangkrek Mountains, with Prasat Hin Phimai, which falls under the province of Nakhon Ratchasima and reaching as far as Lopburi was only a beginning to his commercial and architectural expansion – bringing economy and religion under a single umbrella of political conquests…. much similar to Rajendra Chola I, his contemporary Tamil Emperor, whose political conquests resulted in economic and religious expansion of Tamil culture as far as China – beyond Southeast Asia.

Economic Expansion

The geographic expansion of Khmers under Suryavarman I has been briefly discussed above. What would seem most important in the study of the inclusion of iconography of Karaikkal Ammai in Cambodia and north east Thailand is the religious expansion during the first half of the eleventh century. But, there is one more important theory that makes the powerful chain of geographic and religious expansions stronger – that is Economic Expansion. The economic expansion or commercial development of Khmer Kings is a topic of separate, in-depth analysis- already done by several scholars and researchers. The economy aspect of any King’s rule occupies a significant place in his political and religious influences taken from and spread towards other friendly and non-friendly nations. Significantly, economic relations might be more expansive than political, as it additionally aids in cultural and religious give and take.

With the focal point on Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer temples, the economic expansion of Khmer Kings needs to be explored. The political and economic expansions of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I of the Chola Empire in Thamizhagam were discussed in the previous post. The maritime Tamil merchants and their stronghold in Southeast Asian economies had led to various cultural reciprocities, the most beautiful among them being the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai, the demon devotee of Lord Shiva in Khmer Temples.

As written previously, the Tamil Economic upheaval was at its apex during the reign of the father-son duo – Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. Inscriptions on Rajendra I’s Southeast Asia conquests are proof to the political and economic might of the Tamils in the early 11th century ACE, the period corresponding to the reign of Suryavarman I in Khmerland.

Inscriptions in Thamizhagam show an uninterrupted process of maritime trade and political stronghold of the Tamils in Southeast Asia, from Rajaraja I’s successful friendly relations, followed by a new policy of political conquests by son Rajendra I. A century later to Rajaraja I’s reign, Kulottunga Chola’s inscriptions in 1114 ACE, talk of friendly relations sought by Suryavarman II with the Tamil Kings.

Inscription of Kulottunga I  that a stone was provided by Suryavarman II to the Shiva temple of Chidambaram (Chittrambalam or Thillai being its original Tamil name).

 

Photo clicked from Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions by Noburu Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu

Researchers and Scholars have analysed the evidences of the glorious commercial expansions under the rule of Suryavarman I, who incorporated the west of the core Angkor area extending till Lopburi (Lavapura) into the then existing Khmer territory. The corresponding cultural and religious networks he created within and beyond his territory might bring in clues to the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Architecture.

The interest that Suryavarman I showed in his political expansion, continued with the immense emphasis he laid upon administrative and commercial activities internally and internationally.  He focused on enhancing trade and commerce of his kingdom by integrating markets of his then existing territory and newly captured provinces. One of his primary concerns was to dominate the economic scene among the neighboring states, by extending friendly relations with the South Indian Cholas.

Kenneth R Hall’s extensive research on Khmer commercial development during the reign of Suryavarman I has indeed left behind ample references that relate to the Tamil maritime links in and around the Khmer territory.

Epigraphy suggests that prior to Suryavarman’s reign, goods of Chinese origin had entered the Khmer core through the eastern part of the domain, as the inscriptions concentrate on commercial activities in that direction (Coedes: IC,v6; 183-86; Aymonier: 1900-1904, 443). Inscriptions from Suryavarman’s reign reverse this eastern focus, being concentrated in the western region. While the proliferation of inscriptions in the newly integrated areas is a reflection of the period’s administrative expansion, there are strong commercial implications as well.  Once the Khmer had established control in Lobpuri and areas to the south, goods brought from China to say Phanom Wan no longer needed to cross the mountains to the east. Instead, they could reach Lopburi and Phanom Wan via the Chaophraya River system, the same route being used for goods that were coming from India, Persia, and Arabia via Tambralinga. Such a direct interaction with the international routes no doubt was viewed as an asset to the internal development of the Khmer economy in Suryavarman’s time.

Pg. 182, Hall, Kenneth R., A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500

These economic strong points of the Khmer Empire during the rule of Suryavarman I, could be seen in light of the economic stronghold of Rajendra Chola I across Southeast Asia. While Suryavarman I opened new trade entry points through Phimai and Lopburi, west of Angkor, one of his prime motives as the reigning Khmer Emperor was to surpass the Srivijayas and hail supreme in Southeast Asian Economic Arena. Despite two powerful trade economies – China to the north and Tamil Cholas to the far west of the Khmer Empire of the day, Suryavarman I was very active in establishing a hugely successful Khmer Commercial Presence among the immediate neighboring kingdoms of Southeast Asia, thereby dominating the trade routes of Isthmus of Kra.

The economic empowerment during his reign is also attested by the ‘large scale urbanisation’ –

epigraphy mentions only twelve place names ending in –pura, a Sanskrit term used to identify urban areas, during the reign of Jayavarman IV (928-942), twenty-four in the period of Rajendravarman II, twenty under Jayavarman V, but forty-seven – more than double those of his immediate predecessors – in the reign of Suryavarman I

Pg.320,  Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336.  JSTOR link : www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

Khlon Jnval Vanik

Another interesting phrase that might need additional analysis is ‘khlon jnval vanik’, mentioned in Khmer epigraphy. Coedes deciphers in his Inscriptions du Cambodge vol.3 (inscriptions in Prasat Prav) – the various words that refer to merchants. A few special words decoded by Coedes –

Khlon Jnval – residing vendor/local merchant

Khlon Jnval Vanik – Travelling merchant

Travan Vanik – Merchant Quarter

Vap Champa – Cham merchant

Vap China – China Trader

Pg. 321, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link : www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

As deciphered by Coedes,  ‘Vap’ could refer to a trader from a foreign country, and  ‘Vanik’ might indicate a merchant traveling throughout the territory of the Khmer ruler . According to Hall, among the inscriptions found at Vat Baset and Svay Chek (Bantay Prav), ‘Khlon Jnval’ denoting the local merchants in khmer language seem to dominate in Vat Baset, proving it to be an important local communication center; whereas Bantay Prav inscriptions show that ‘khlon jnval vanik’ denoting traveling merchant, occupies a greater place. Hence, Bantay Prav could have been an important center of communication and exchange between the Khmer core and its western provinces, with Lopburi becoming part of Khmer Land after Suryavarman I’s expansion.

Six of seven inscriptions of a commercial nature from these two temples date to Suryavarman’s reign, while the seventh, an inscription from the reign of Harshavarman III (1071), is the latest inscription examined.

Pg. 327, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

These terms regarding inland merchants during the period from mid 10th century ACE until last few decades of 11th century ACE, signify the extensive trade within the extended Khmer Territory.

According to George Coedes –

Vanik est un mot d’emprunt Sanskrit significant ‘commercant’ that translates as –

‘Vanik’ is a borrowed word from Sanskrit which means Trader.

George Coedes, Pg. Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol III

This comment by Coedes has made more number of scholars and researchers believe the word ‘vanik’ to be of Sanskrit origin and this fact gets repeatedly mentioned in several later research papers and articles.

Historian K.N. Shastri, in his article on the Tamil Inscriptions of 9th Century ACE, talking of merchant guild ‘Manigramam’ found in Takuapa says –

‘The Manikkiramam deriving its name ultimately from Sanskrit Vanik-gramam (guild of merchants) is a powerful mercantile corporation often mentioned in South Indian Inscriptions

Pg. 29-30, K.A.Nilakanta Sastri,Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, Journal Malayan Branch, Vol, XXII, Pt. I

There are two points to be discussed here –

  1. Is ‘Manikkiramam’ derived from Vanik-gramam?
  2. Does the word ‘vanik’ have its root in Sanskrit as both these scholars say?

Coedes’ Inscriptions du Cambodge was published in the year 1937 and Sastri’s Takuapa article was published in Journal of Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society in the year 1949, though written in 1948. K.A.N. Sastri’s previous and first article on Takuapa, prior to 1949 – ‘The Takuapa Tamil Inscription’ was published in the The Journal Of Oriental Research Madras Vol. Vi, in the year 1932. It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit connection is mentioned only in the 1949 article, after the publication of Coedes’ ‘Inscriptions du Cambodge Vol. III’.

On ‘Manikkiramam’ being derived from Vanik-Gramam, and the root word of ‘Vanik’ to be from Sanskrit,  Dr. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre, Thiruchirapalli opined through a telephonic conversation in May 2017-

“If the Tamil traders wanted to name their overseas merchant guild based on the word ‘Vanikar’, meaning traders/merchants in Tamil, why should they re-phrase it as Manikkiramam? They might as well have had their guild’s name ‘Vanika Gramam’, which directly specifies the term – Merchant Village. Manikkiramam could have got its name from the product that was traded – pearl or other precious stones/beads.”

This stands true from the fact that Tamizhagam had been a Buzzing Economic Centre since centuries before Common Era. Also, glassware and beads that have been excavated from Southeast Asian coastal towns especially from Malaya and Thailand testify the gem trade between the Tamils and Southeast Asian friends that flourished from Tamil Ports. It is additionally well proven from available Tamil literary sources and travelogues by foreign authors from the early centuries of the 1st millennia that the Tamil Coastal Line was a busy business haven enjoying imports and exports between the Arabs and Southeast Asians.

Trade with Southeast Asia already existed in the early historical period, the focus now (after mid 6th century ACE) shifted towards Southeast Asia, Srilanka and China. Thus the trading activities survived in the later periods. Thirdly not only the luxury goods but even the beads, either of semiprecious stones or glass, were a valuable item of trade. The central role of South India, especially Tamil Nadu, in the international gem trade has led Peter Francis (‘Early Historic South India and the International Maritime Trade’ by Peter Francis Jr.)  to call the region the “Treasure Chest of the Ancient World”.

Pg.132, Vikas Kumar Verma, Maritime Trade Between Early Historic Tamil Nadu and Southeast Asia; URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/44145830

Hence, the ambiguity regarding the word ‘Manikkiramam or Manigramam’ could be viewed wider with the merchandise of the traders  – possibly gem trade and pearl fishery which has been much prevalent between the Malayan Peninsular States and Thamizhagam.

Poetic references of ‘Vanigar’ in Early Tamil Literature

In this case, the root of the word ‘vanik’ needs more scrutiny.  A search for ‘vanik’ in early Tamil Literature gives new light to the belief of scholars. Before making its place in 11th century Khmer epigraphy, ‘vanik’ has found powerful usages in Literary Tamil Language. Before entering into ‘Bhakti Ilakkiyam’  (Saivite Devotional Hymns by Nayanmars and Vaishnavite Hymns by Alwars) which dominates 6th century ACE until 12th century ACE of Tamil Literary Scene, the Tamil Epic Silappadhikaram written in approximately the 2nd century ACE, mentions ‘Vanikar’.

1.Silappadhikaram, (first half of 2nd century ACE – according to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, pg.67 Kala Araichi) the epic written by Ilangovadigal has several mentions of ‘Vanikar’  for example, ‘Aruvai Vanikar Veedhi’  denotes the Textile Merchant Street.  The protagonist of Silappadhikaram, Kovalan himself is introduced as – ‘Kovalan enbaan or vaanigan’ –  ‘A merchant named Kovalan’

‘கோவலன் என்பான் ஓர் வாணிகன்’

Additionally, Silappadhikaram mentions ‘vaniga marabu’, ‘vaanigar’, ‘vaanigan’ and ‘vaaniga peedigai’ – all these words referring to merchants. (pg.1382, Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne, vol.III, Institut Francais D’Indologie)

2.Moving backward in time, Thirukkural – (appr. 1st Century ACE to 3rd century ACE according to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, pg.47, Kala Araichi) mentions –

வாணிகம் செய்வார்க்கு வாணிகம் பேணிப்
பிறவும் தமபோல் செயின்.

Thirukkural- 120

Naduvu Nilaimai

Vaanigam seivarkku vaanigam peni
Piravum thamapol seyin

Translation:

A thriving trader is the trader known,
Who guards another’s interests as his own.

http://www.thirukkural.com

3.Puranaanuru (3rd century BCE -3rd century ACE) mentions vanigan and vaanigan in a few poems.

i. Aravilai vanigan ai allan……. (Puram 134)

புறநானூறு 134, பாடியவர்: உறையூர் ஏணிச்சேரி முடமோசியார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: ஆய் அண்டிரன், திணை: பாடாண், துறை: இயன் மொழி
இம்மைச் செய்தது மறுமைக்கு ஆம் எனும்
அறவிலை வணிகன் ஆஅய் அல்லன்
பிறரும் சான்றோர் சென்ற நெறியென
ஆங்குப் பட்டன்று அவன் கைவண்மையே.

Puranānūru 134, Poet Uraiyūr Ēnichēri Mudamōsiyār sang for Āy Andiran, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Iyan Moli
Āy is not like a businessman with fair
prices who thinks that the good done in
this birth will help the next one.
His generosity is because of other noble
men before him who followed the right path!

ii.  Yaanor Vaaniga Parisilan Allen ….(Puram 208)

புறநானூறு 208, பாடியவர்: பெருஞ்சித்திரனார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: அதியமான் நெடுமான் அஞ்சி, திணை: பாடாண், துறை: பரிசில்

குன்றும் மலையும் பல பின் ஒழிய
வந்தனென் பரிசில் கொண்டனென் செலற்கு என
நின்ற என் நயந்து அருளி ஈது கொண்டு
ஈங்கனம் செல்க தான் என என்னை
யாங்கு அறிந்தனனோ தாங்க அருங் காவலன்
காணாது ஈத்த இப்பொருட்கு யானோர்
வாணிகப் பரிசிலன் அல்லேன் பேணித்
தினை அனைத்து ஆயினும் இனிது அவர்
துணை அளவு அறிந்து நல்கினர் விடினே.

Puranānūru 208, Poet: Perunchitharanār sang for Athiyamān Nedumān Anji, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Parisil
When I stood there and said that I have crossed many
hills and mountains to come to him for a reward, he
showed me great kindness and asked me to take what
I wanted, this king who is difficult to withstand
by his enemies.

I am not like a merchant who considers these gifts
as merchandise
, to take gifts which are given without
being seen.  It would be sweet if he knows my worth
and gives me a gift, even if it were tiny like millet!

https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-purananuru-201-300/

4.Paripadal Thirattu (3rd century BCE – 3rd century ACE) mentions ‘Vanigar’/merchants – the plural of vanigan/merchant –

ஆங்கு ஒரு சார் உண்ணுவ பூசுவ பூண்ப உடுப்பவை
மண்ணுவ மணி பொன் மலைய கடல்
பண்ணியம் மாசு அறு பயம் தரு காருகப்
புண்ணிய வணிகர் புனை மறுகு ஒருசார் . . . 25

on one side, there are decorated streets with shops
where faultless, honest merchants sell food,
fragrant smearing pastes, ornaments, clothes, bright
gems and gold brought from the mountains and ocean.

sangamtamil/paripadal

5.The earliest mention till today is from the earliest Grammar Work available in Tamil Language – Tolkappiyam (3rd – 4th century BCE)

Vaisiyar perume vaniga vaazhkkai (tholkappiyam, poruladhikaram, 622)

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/77849/8/08_chapter2.pdf

The term ‘vanik’ that denotes merchants is available in Tamil Literary texts as early as 3rd Century BCE. This literary evidence that proves the usage of a particular word in a particular language, earlier than other languages, especially before Common Era and its continuous usage through several centuries across the next millenium- proves the root word of ‘Vanik’ need not be Sanskrit but most probably Tamil. The word ‘vanik’ seen in Khmer epigraphy from 10th to 11th Century ACE, also proves the continuity of the well established links of the Tamil traders which is known from travel notes of foreign authors-  from as early as the last few centuries Before Common Era (Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar on Periplus notes (70-100 ACE)  on Chola Trade, pg. 106,  Cholar Varalaaru) and literary evidences (Tamil Epics Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai that speak of Chola Maritime Trade with Western and Eastern countries in 2nd century ACE). The Takuapa Tamil Inscriptions in Thailand, the earliest epigraphic evidence of maritime tamil traders guild in Southeast Asia,  provide clues to the continuous link of Tamil Vanigars/Traders from early centuries to the final centuries of the millennium. The Khmer Rulers, who have used the same word to denote the same group, which is merchants in their epigraphy, is yet again a proof of the powerful commercial activities of the Tamil Merchants, especially during the reign of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I, contemporary Tamil Empires of Suryavarman I.

Names of poets prefixed with Vanigar in Early Tamil Literature

The usages of ‘vanigan’ in Sangam Tamil Literature were seen above.  Additionally, the huge collection of poems of the Sangam Tamil Age mentions the community to which few of the several poets belonged to. Among those, in the context of ‘vanigar- merchant’, in Purananuru, Agananuru and Mullaipaatu – below mentioned poets have their specific trades/merchandises prefixed to their names:

Purananuru-

Poem  59 – written by Madurai Koola vaanigan Seethalai Saathanar – Seethalai Saathanar – Grain merchant of Madurai

Poem 264 – written by Uraiyur Ilampon Vaniganar – Gold merchant of Uraiyur

Poem 329 – written by Madurai Aruvai Vaanigar Ilavettanar – Ilavettanar – Textile merchant of Madurai

Agananuru-

Poem 298 – written by Madurai Panda Vaanigan Ilanthevanar – Ilanthevanar – Grocery merchant of Madurai

Mullaippaattu written by Kaviripoom pattinathu Ponvaniganaar maganaar nappoodhanar – Nappoodhanar – son of Gold merchant of Kaviripoom pattinam

‘Vanigan’ in Early Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in Tamilnadu

Apart from these names, one of the earliest of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions found at Madurai Azhagar/Alagar Malai and Pugalur also finds mention of ‘vanikan’.

1.Madurai Azhagarmalai inscriptions – early Tamil Brahmi Script, that dates between 3rd century BCE and 1st century ACE (acc. to Iravatham Mahadevan)

refer – பழந்தமிழ்க் கல்வெட்டுகள் – மா. இலாவண்யா

(Pazhanthamizh Kalvettukkal –www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866)

Upu vanigan viyagan – salt merchant

Panitha vanigan nedumalan – sugarmerchant (according to Iravatham Mahadevan) or edible camphor merchant (according to Mayilai Cheeni Venkatasamy)

Kolu vanigan elasanthan – plough merchant (according to Iravatham Mahadevan) or Iron merchant (according to Ra. Nagasamy)

Refer –தமிழ் பிராமி கல்வெட்டுகள் காட்டும் தமிழகச் சமூகப் பொருளாதார நிலை’- தி. ஸ்ரீ. ஸ்ரீதர்  – (‘The Socio-Economic Life of the Tamils through Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions by Sridhar)

2.Inscriptions from Pugalur Jain Temple –  later Tamil-Brahmi Script that dates between 2nd century ACE and 4th century ACE (acc. to Iravatham Mahadevan)  (www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866)

Karuvur Pon vanigan nathi adhittanam – Gold merchant from Karuvur

Ennai Vanigan veni aadhan adhittanam – Oil merchant

www.tamilvu.org/tdb/titles_cont/inscription/html/pukalur.htm

These early Commom Era inscriptions again refer to traders of different commodities.

These literary and epigraphic evidences in Tamil that show the usage of ‘vanikar’ and that dates from a time span extending from 4th century BCE (tolkappiyam) to 3rd century ACE, are enough proof for the roots of the word to have originated from Tamil Language. With no available literary/epigraphic evidence earlier than these, until a proven evidence of its usage is available in any other contemporary language – it is logical and indeed valid to claim the word could have its roots in Tamil.

With both the terms, ‘vanigar’ and ‘vanika’ denoting merchants or traders been found mentioned in Sangam Tamil Literature and in Tolkappiyam – the oldest Tamil Grammar text found till today, ‘vanik’ could not possibly have its roots in Sanskrit. Apart from the root of the word, its usage in Tamil Literature associated with Tamil Economic activities, that is similar to denote economic activities in Khmer Land, a millenium later, when the Tamil Cholas were at their ‘Vanik’ best in Southeast Asia is certainly an element for further critical research.

Literature centuries before Common Era, systematic Grammar of the language to produce such mature literature and a well established civilisation to cultivate long routed economic activities and strong rooted cultural reciprocities, the Tamils have left behind enough and abundant documentation through literature and epigraphy, the proof of their influences far and wide. It is for the learned scholarly world to recognise or wait for search of more evidences.

Hundreds of centuries with limited evidences – literary, epigraphic and sculptural, History finds its decisions mostly in Probability. As mentioned in the previous posts, with an open-mind to accept new discoveries that would answer satisfactorily various ambiguities in history, with the same theory of Probability as per available evidences till today, this is an honest view on the Tamil and Khmer connection of the word ‘vanikar’ (available in khmer epigraphy as ‘vanik’) which means traders/merchants.

Now, we come back to usage of the same word ‘vanik’ meaning traders/merchants in Khmer epigraphy during the reign of Suryavarman I. The terms ‘khlon vanik’ and ‘khlon jnval vanik’ meaning resident merchants and travelling merchants respectively as quoted by Kenneth Hall from George Coedes, should be seen in the light of Khmer economic development at its expansive best and political and economic stronghold of the Cholas in Southeast Asia under Rajendra I at all time high sidelining Srivijayas. Additionally, a wider view of the Tamil word ‘vanikan’ available in early Tamil Literary sources, would provide evidences of the comfortable positions enjoyed by Tamil Trader Settlements across centuries, not to ignore the Pallava influences seen in ancient provinces of today’s Thailand.

The chart below provides information on the mention of the word ‘vanik’ in khmer epigraphy-

 

pg.177, Eileen Lustig, Money doesn’t make the world go round: Angkor’s non-monetisation, Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – edited by Donald C. Wood

It can also be seen that Vat Baset inscriptions under Suryavarman I leads in numbers. It is also to be noted that the term ‘vanijam’ inscribed previously in 8th century ACE undergoes a change in ‘vanik’ from the 10th and 11th century ACE inscriptions – a closer similarity to ‘vanikar’ of Tamil Language.

Using services of merchants towards temple donations is a prevalent norm even today. Kings have always had close links with merchants and their community for religious and cultural innovations through Temples, which could be done easily with the wealth accumulated by and from the traders. Khmer rulers couldn’t have chosen a different path and Khmer epigraphy provides abundant evidences to this.

Elaborating on the chariot sent by Suryavarman I to Rajendra Chola I, and the Chola raids on Srivijaya, Kenneth Hall reiterates Coedes’ words –

Coedes stated that the Chola expedition led to the reintroduction of Khmer influence in the isthmian region during the second quarter of the century

Pg. 332, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

He adds,

It is the author’s belief that the gifts given to Rajendra by Suryavarman were not intended to “save his own kingdom”, but to establish a friendly trade relationship between Cambodia and Chola ports.

Pg. 334, Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

This core emphasis on victorious trade accomplishments of the Khmer Empire under Suryavarman I along the Isthmus of Kra, with the cordial relations of Tamil Cholas could well have contributed to the upsurge and higher influential positions of the Tamil Traders or ‘Vanik’ settled in Khmer territory. This upsurge in the positions of Tamil Traders could have further proved as a catalystic aid in the inclusion of the sculpture of Tamil Saint Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples in Cambodia and north-east Thailand. An important fact here – Karaikkal Ammai, the demon devotee of Lord Shiva from the Tamil country, also belonged to the same ‘Vanigar’(tamil) – trader – ‘vanik’ (khmer) community in 6th century Thamizhagam.

It can be stated rather unambiguously that Karaikkal Ammai – the Pioneer Tamil Saint and Poetess of the Saivite Bhakti Movement in Tamil Land, who belonged to the Vanigar/Vanik/Trader community, would have been the star religious Ambassador for the Tamil Trader Settlements living in far eastern countries – including the land of focus of this research – Khmer Land under Suryavarman I.

References

  1. Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches – Interpreting Ancient Sites in Southeast Asia
  2. George Coedes, Three Great Kings, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia
  3. Noburu Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu, Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions
  4. Hall, Kenneth R. “A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500”
  5. Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975JSTOR.
  6. George Coedes, Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol III
  7. K.A.Nilakanta Sastri,Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, Journal Malayan Branch, Vol, XXII, Pt. I
  8. Vikas Kumar Verma, Maritime Trade Between Early Historic Tamil Nadu and Southeast Asia
  9. Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne, vol.III, Institut Francais D’Indologie
  10. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Kala Araichi
  11. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Cholar Varalaaru
  12. மா. இலாவண்யா , பழந்தமிழ்க் கல்வெட்டுகள்
    Ma. Lavanya, Article : Pazhanthamizh Kalvettukkal, Varalaaru.com
  13. தி. ஸ்ரீ. ஸ்ரீதர் , தமிழ் பிராமி கல்வெட்டுகள் காட்டும் தமிழகச் சமூகப் பொருளாதார நிலை in Keetru.com – (‘The Socio-Economic Life of the Tamils through Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions by Sridhar)
  14. Eileen Lustig, Money doesn’t make the world go round: Angkor’s non-monetisation, Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – edited by Donald C. Wood
  15. Recueil des inscriptions du Siam, Part II, Inscriptions of Dvaravati, Srivijaya and Lavo by Coedes
  16. Mohamed Nazar, M , Arab trade and traders in the Pandya country – thesis submitted to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
  17. Dr. S. Sivasankaran, “State of Handloom Weavers, Weaving and Fabric in Tamilnadu Through the Ages”, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Humanities, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page Number 95-103, 2016.

 

Web links

  1. Old Myths and New Approaches Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia
  2. http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/
  3. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4141418
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14719726
  5. www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.
  6. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44145830
  7. http://sangam.tamilnlp.com/cilappatikaaram
  8. https://learnsangamtamil.com/
  9. http://www.thirukkural.com/
  10. https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-purananuru-201-300/
  11. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/77849/8/08_chapter2.pdf
  12. www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866
  13. Keetru.com/index.php/2014-03-08-04-39-26/2014-03-14-11-17-85/19346-2012
  14. www.tamilvu.org/tdb/titles_cont/inscription/html/pukalur.htm
  15. http://www.persee.fr/docAsPDF/befeo_0336-1519_1929_num_29_1_3297.pdf
  16. http://hdl.handle.net/10603/61422
  17. Link to Takuapa and Tamil Inscription by KAN. Shastri in the Journal of Oriental Research, Madras Vol Vi, 1932 – https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.283291/2015.283291.The-Journal#page/n357/mode/2up