Education in Cambodia in the​ Funan Period

Map of the Funan Kingdom which existed from the first to sixth century CE. Photo credit: histroryonline

Southern Vietnam was a part of Funan, an Indianized Cambodian monarchy noted for its exquisite art and architecture, from the first to the sixth century A.D.

The Funan period lasted from 100 BC to 550 AD. The walled city of Angkor Borei, close to modern-day Takeo, served as the capital of this kingdom, which the Khmer people referred to as Nokor Phnom.

The Funanese built a complex network of canals for transportation and rice cultivation. Archaeological digs at Oc-Eo, Funan's main port city in the Mekong delta, have shown connections between Funan and China, Indonesia, Persia and even the Mediterranean.

In what is now Cambodia, complex polities started to emerge after the first century AD. The strongest of them, called Funan by the Chinese, may have lived in the southern Vietnamese region between Ba Phnom in Prey Veng province and Oc-Eo in Kien Giang province. Funan lived in the same era as lesser-known fiefdoms like Kuruksetra in southern Laos and Champasak.

The earliest significant Southeast Asian civilization was Funan. The lower Mekong delta, which is present-day Cambodia and Vietnam, served as its epicenter, and it perhaps extended into Thailand and maybe Malaysia.

Where the Funanese capital was can still not be determined by archaeologists. They believe it may have been at a site being excavated at Angkor Borei in Cambodia.

An old Khmer term called Bnam may have been transliterated into the Chinese name Funan (mountain). Yet it is unknown what the Funanese named themselves.

Even though relatively little is known about Funan, its significance as an early Southeast Asian center of power has received much attention.

Even the Chinese, who regarded the majority of their neighbors as barbarians, were in awe of Funan's gold and jewel riches. Hindu traders traveling to China had a handy place to halt at Funan. Southeast Asia first encountered Hinduism and Buddhism while the Funanese were in charge.

Most Cambodians believe that Funan, the first of Southeast Asia's Indianized empires, was the first Khmer monarchy in the region.

 Vyadhapura, its capital, was most likely near the modern town of Phumi Banam in Prey Veng province. Funan is first mentioned in history in a Chinese account of a mission that traveled there in the third century AD.

In the fifth century AD, Funan was at its height. Funan's stability was weakened by civil warfare and dynastic conflict beginning in the early sixth century, making it a relatively simple target for invasions by hostile neighbors. Finally, the Funan Empire fell as a result of pressure from Kambuja, a tributary kingdom.

How education was practiced

At first, the education during the Funan period was similar to that of the prehistory of Cambodia, e.g. obeying the elderly, listening to others and getting experiences, going to fish or hunt, picking fruits and vegetables to eat, worshiping Nakta (the sacred stone), animism, the land, and ancestors, and moving shelters. The children in society usually repeated these activities and passed them on to the next generations.  

However, due to the presence of Indians and their customs, beliefs, dialects, faiths, and commercial acumen to supplement the already-existing ones, it was remarked that the second half of the period was comparable to those in India.

The population at that time was educated in Sanskrit, and they also transmitted Brahmanism, Buddhism, local structural beliefs, and customs to the subsequent generations. The inhabitants of that time were also said to have dealt with India and China, and they even traveled to Persia, Greece and Rome to do business.

Disāpāmokkha schools were the places for education offering all levels and degrees, and they were designed by the Royal Family. Even though students might pursue whatever degree or talent they desired in a Disapamokkha school, the Khmer martial arts, reading Sanskrit scripts, and building skills were the best-liked majors and abilities throughout the Nokor Phnom age.

Teachers or instructors in Disāpāmokkha schools were notably hermits or monks, while most of the students were members of the Royal Family and sons of the elite. Schools run by Disāpāmokkha also welcomed students from nearby nations.

Girls were not encouraged to study, however, due to traditional Khmer conventions that dictated that they should stay at home and take care of the family's needs rather than interact with many people.

In the same vein, it was observed that monks who were proficient in Sanskrit were elevated to higher posts. Two monks, named Sangkha Bal and Montrak Sen, were dispatched to China to translate The God of Trinity.

Their devotion at the time satisfied the Chinese king, who then built them a magnificent pagoda where they might remain. Their work was then preserved for all time by the Chinese God of the Trinity. These two monks spread awareness of Cambodian culture around the world and were well-known among Mahayana Buddhists.

A brief remark

Finally, it can be briefly concluded that education during the Funan (Nokor Phnom) period was divided into two stages. The first stage was almost the same thing as that of the prehistoric period of Cambodia. When the Indians arrived in the Kingdom, they brought along their culture, beliefs, knowledge of doing business, and other such things to add to the existing ways of life of the inhabitants.

Education was then developed, and the place where the students went to study was called Disāpāmokkha schools. It should also be noted that Disāpāmokkha schools provided all the skills and majors the students needed. However, learning the Sanskrit language, building skills, and Khmer martial arts (Kun Khmer) were the popular courses.

Sereyrath Em is a Cambodian government teacher of English with a higher education degree, a visiting lecturer at the National University of Cheasim Kamchaymear, and an associate managing editor of the Cambodian Journal of Educational Research. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Educational Science at Khemarak University, Phnom Penh.

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