This article will be focusing on the early historical development of the Kingdom of Champa up to the peak of its power which ended in 1000 CE and the Hindu traditions that they inherited through Indianization. The article will start at the beginning of the kingdoms history and what started the initial spread of Hinduism in Champa. This is followed by a brief section on some of the practices that the Cham people adopted from India. It will then turn to a brief history of the earliest Hindu dynasties in Champa and the position of Siva in their society. A history of the Gangaraja dynasty is given along with the place of the caste system in Champa society. Finally, there is a brief history of the Bhrgu Dynasty noting only a handful of members from each dynasty leading up to the point where Champa’s power declined.
The region of modern day Vietnam in 214 BCE was conquered by the Chinese Tsin Dynasty (Majumdar 13). It was not until 192 CE that the local Cham named Kiu-Lien killed the local Chinese official and named himself king of Lin-yi, which laid the foundations for the future Kingdom of Champa (Majumdar 18). It was also by the end of the second century that the Kingdom of Champa had become a highly Indianized state in the region. Before the emergence of Champa, traders from India had travelled through Southeast Asia and Europe. Most Indian trade went to the Roman Empire exchanging exotic products for gold. However, by 79 CE Indian trade to Europe declined dramatically due to the ever growing amount of conflict in the Roman Empire. For this reason Indian trade had been slowly going towards Southeast Asia (Cady 25-28). It is due to this ever growing amount of trade to the region that Indianization occurred in Champa. Unlike the previous period a new development occurred in Indian trade patterns, as traders were then being accompanied by “educated elements capable of spreading the religions and arts of India, and the Sanskrit language” (Coedes 15) for the first time (Coedes 15). The traders brought with them Indian colonists which changed the structure of the society through the intermarriage of Indian and Cham peoples. The Cham adopted the new culture, religion and language that the colonists brought, which resulted in a cultural fusion of the Indians and the Chams (Majumdar 21). It should be noted that it was mostly the societal elite of the Chams that took in the new teaching and used the Hindu ceremonies to legitimize their rule (Mabbett 144).
It is clear from this point onward that certain Hindu traditions and cultural practices were used in Champa throughout its history. As in India the cow is considered a sacred animal and beef was not eaten in the Kingdom of Champa (Cady 107). It also appears that the Indian epic called the Ramayana was well known in Champa and in other Indianized states in the region (Marrison 46). Marriage to the Chams is considered a sacred ceremony as it was the foundation of the family. People were also only supposed to marry within their own clan, however, there were no restrictions on marrying into another caste. There is also evidence that when the husband of a high family died the wife joined him in the funeral pyre; this practice is known as sati (Majumdar 226-227). They studied all branches of Sanskrit literature and used the Hindu calendar to determine the dates of special feasts and celebration (Cady 107-108).
The first Hindu dynasty of the Kingdom of the Cham’s was the royal family of Sri Mara which was discovered by translating the Sanskrit Vo-Chanh Rock inscription. The Sri Mara royal family ruled over the Kauthara region located in modern south Vietnam in the second or third century CE. Very little information exists on the early Hindu kings of Champa, save the information provided by Chinese historians (Majumdar 21). In the late second century, a king of the Sri Mara royal family, and those after him, raided and conquered territory belonging to the Chinese Han Dynasty. Kings of Champa moved further into modern Central Vietnam taking control of Quang-nam (Cady 59). In 380 CE, King Dharma-maharaja Sri Bhadravarman ascended to the throne of Champa and is regarded as the important king of early Champa. He ruled over the provinces of Amaravati, Vijaya and Panduranga provinces, which comprise central and south Vietnam (Majumdar 26-28). It is through King Bhadravarman’s efforts that Champa was fully indianized by the early fourth century (Cady 59-60). Bhadravarman constructed the first sanctuary of Siva called Bhadresvara in Myson, which is named to commemorate the founder. Sanskrit inscriptions of Bhadravarman are the first documentation of the religious origins of the Champa. The inscriptions showed that the cult of Siva-Uma along with the other two gods associated with the Trimurti were dominant in Champa (Coedes 47-49). Siva for a vast majority of Champa’s history has been regarded as the supreme god to which all others submit. This was emphasized by the Puranic literature brought from India. However, there were still several temples and shrines that were erected to worship Brahma, Visnu and other deities associated with Siva (Majumdar 168-172). In the period between 380 and 520 CE the “Cham alphabet” (Hartmann 11), based off Sanskrit, became its own distinctive writing style called akhar patau hayap script (Phan 106).
In 529 CE, after the rise and fall of several Hindu dynasties, the Dynasty of Gangaraja emerged with Sri Rudravarman as its head. This is the first recorded distinction of the Hindu caste system, as an inscription at Myson declares Rudravarman a son of a Brahmin and his “mother’s mother was a daughter of Manorathavarman” (Majumdar 35). This meant his father was of the Brahmin class and his mother was of the Ksatriya class. This started a Brahmin- Ksatriya caste in Champa society, however, in Champa it was considered a subdivision of the Ksatriya class. It is also determined that society was theoretically divided into the four classes, but in practice the Brahmin and Ksatriya were the only classes to existed in society only rarely mentioning the Vaisya or Sudra classes (Majumdar 214-216). It is also clear that the Brahmin in Cham society were not regarded as being of higher status then the king and the state as they were in India (Majumdar 216). During Rudravarman’s reign that the temple of Bhadresvara was destroyed in a great fire (Majumdar 36). It is also in the reign of Rudravarman that the Theravada Buddhism that was known for using Sanskrit language began to spread in Champa (Coedes 59-60). Rudravarman’s successor Sambhuvarman once again continued to raid Chinese territory in the north and the Chinese army retaliated and sacked the northern part of the Kingdom of Champa. In his reign he rebuilt the temple of Bhadresvara and gave it the new name Sambhubhadresvara. (Coedes 70-71). In 653 CE, several kings after Sambhuvarman, King Vikrantavarman took the throne of Champa and began to erect multiple religious buildings in Myson, Tra-kieu, and in areas of Quang-nam. Many of the buildings constructed in southern Champa during his reign were connect to the cult of Visnu, which was popular in the region at the time (Coedes 71 – 72).
In 757 CE the Dynasty of Gangaraja is replaced by the Panduranga Dynasty which was plagued by war and raids from the Javanese (Majumdar 49-55). In 875 CE, Indravarman II who was highly praised, was the founder of the new Bhrgu Dynasty. The dynasty was based in the city of Champapura, which was renamed to Indrapura by Indravarman II (Coedes 122-123). Indravarman constructed the Buddhist temple and monastery to the “Mahayana Buddha” (Coedes 123) called Laksmindralokesvara, which has been identified as the ruins of Dong Duong (Coedes 122-123). At this point the Kingdom of Champa is considered to have been a regional power due to its trade routes that run the length of its shores (Lawler 28). The next notable king of the dynasty was Indravarman III who in 918 CE had a golden statue of the goddess Bhagavati at Po Nagar in the Southern region of Champa (Coedes 124). Indravarman III in several Inscriptions found in Po Nagar is described as being a great scholar, knowing Brahmanical philosophy, Panini’s grammar along with the commentary of Kasika, and the Uttarakalpa of the Saivites (Majumdar 65). After the death of Indravarman III, the history of Champa is very limited as it enters a state of anarchy and war due to external threats. This was mainly due to the rise of the Dai Co Viet directly north of Champa, and the Cambodian kingdoms to the west. The history of Champa is one of decline from 1000 CE to 1471 CE as their territory is conquered by foreign powers (Coedes 124-125).
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Article written by: Griffin Brown (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.