The Great Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos-India Connection

CambodiaThe name Cambodia in the Khmer language of Vietnam is Kampuchea which derives from Sanskrit Kambujadesa. Known first as the kingdom of Funan it was founded in the 1st century and flourished for some 500 years. The Funan kingdom was succeeded by Hindu-Khmer state Chen La till the 9th century. The Hindu and Buddhist influence came to Cambodia from Hindu merchants. From the 2nd century Hinduism became the state religion of the Khmer people. The Khmer kings practiced statecraft, art and sciences as well built extensive canal systems based on Indian expertise After that a king named Jayavarman(about 800-850) established a capital at Angkor in central Cambodia. The empire flourished from 9 to the 13th century under Jayavarman V11.  He built the great temple of Angkor Wat in the 12th century.  It is the largest temple complex in the world. There was a shift away from Hinduism to Buddhism by the beginning of the 13th century  King Jayavarman took part in a Burmese(Myanmar) led mission to Sri Lanka to study the Theravada Buddhist cannon in the Pali language.  The king also sent his son Tamilinda to Sri Lanka to be ordained as a Buddhist monk and to study Theravada Buddhism.  He studied at the famous Mahavihara monastery in Sri Lanka. Theravada monks brought about a social and cultural revolution.  The monasteries became a source of learning. By the 19th century the literacy rate in Cambodia was higher than that of Europe. Hinduism and Buddhism co-existed peacefully all along. The Royal palace in Phnom Penh houses a sword that is said to have been given by God Indira himself.  Reamker or Ramakerti meaning the ‘ Glory of Rama’, is the national epic of Cambodia. According to RSR magazine this adapted version of the Ramayan is an integral part of Cambodian culture. It is the mainstay of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire. It is performed in Khmer dance theatre called, ‘L’Khaon’. The walls of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex depict scenes from the Ramayan dating back nearly a millennium.   

Sanskrit loan words in the Khmer language,

According to Piotr Wozinca in the article, ‘ Remarks on Sanskrit and Pali loan words in Khmer’, Khmer script had descended from the Indian Brahmi script  and the Khmer language has borrowed heavily from Sanskrit and Pali language. Almost 97% of Cambodians remain Buddhist to this day.


In what is now the central and southern part of Vietnam a Champa Hindu kingdom was established around the 4th century.  According to Branon Parker writing in the, ‘India Facts’ the first Champa king was a Tamil by the name Sri Maran. The Champa kingdom was divided into four regions named after regions in India. They were: Amravati(present day Quang Nam), Vijaya(present dayBinhdinh), Kauthara(present day Nha Trang) and Panduranga(present day Pho Phan Rang).  In the Quang Nam area there are many ruined Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. In AD 400Champa was united under the rule of king Bhadravarman. After decades of battles with invading neighbours and counter invasions in the 17th century the Champa kingdom was absorbed into what is today Vietnam.  There are 60,000 Cham Hindus at present in Vietnam. They have kept alive their ancient heritage.  According to Branon Parker the site of ancient Son Tientu pagoda on top of Mount Ba is considered the most spiritual and sacred place in Vietnam. There on a 3 meter high granite rock is the Ban Chan Tien, a huge footprint belonging to God who set his footprint at the dawn of humankind.  The 5th Quang Nam Heritage festival held in 2013 displayed a 3,500 to 4000 year old Lord Vishnu sculpture. That makes it the oldest Hindu artifact found anywhere in the world. Other artifacts that have been found in Vietnam are 320 gold plaques decorated with Garuda the Eagle carrier of Lord Vishnu, Lord Narasimha, Lord Kurma and goddess Durga. The name of the  famous Mekong river that flows through Vietnam and many other countries is derived from, ‘ Mae Nam Khong’.  The word Khong is Sanskrit for Ganges. It is generally just called River Khong.  Buddhism came to Vietnam in the 2nd or 3rd century. During the Dinh dynasty(968-980) Buddhism was recognised as a state religion.  Buddhism reached its zenith during the Ly Dynasty whose founder was Ly Thai.  In 1887 the French colonised Vietnam and called it French Indo China. Catholic missionaries from Spain and Portugal had been to Vietnam in the 16th century on evangelising missions. They were followed by Jesuits from Italy, Portugal and Japan. French missionaries of the Foriegn Missions Society and Spanish missionaries of the Domnican Order also came to Vietnam.  In 1954 Vietnam was divided into two countries by the French. The North part was led by communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. While the North was supported by China the non-communist South was supported by the French and the United States. From 2nd March 1965 to 2nd November 1968 the US carpet bombed north Vietnam.  The US eventually lost its battle against the communist guerrillas and in 1970 the country was reunited. Saigon, the capital of south Vietnam was renamed Ho Chi Minh city. Ho Chi Minh once said: I and others may be revolutionaries but we are disciples of Mahatma Gandhi directly or directly. Nothing more, nothing less. Buddhism remains the largest religion in Vietnam.   

Theravada Buddhism came to Laos during the 7th-8th century.  It came from the ancient kingdom of Dvaravati ruled by the Mon people based in Thailand.  65% of the population is Buddhist at present time. The Lao script is derived from Sanskrit and Pali languages.  The Laotian Ramayan called Phra-Lak Phra-Ram forms an important part of the culture of the country.  Lao Ramayan interprets Lord Rama as the incarnation of Buddha rather than Vishnu as in Indian Ramayan. According to the Royal Theatre newsletter for almost 15 centuries the Ramayan was performed by the Royal Ballet troupe. In 1975 the Ramayan performance was banned. In 2002 the Royal Ballet troupe was revived and performs three times a week at the Royal palace in Luang Prabang and it also undertakes foreign tours. 

Nitin Mehta

19 March 2021

This article follows:

The Great Celtic-India Connection 

The Great Maya-India Connection 

The Great Greek-India Connection, 

The Great Russia-India Connection  

The Great German-India Connection

The Great Japan-India Connection 

The Great Ancient Egypt-India Connection.

The Great Slavic-India Connection

The Great Indonesia-India Connection 
The Great Philippines-India Connection

The Great  Thailand, Burma(Myanmar) – India Connection 

The Great Korea, Tibet, Mongolia and Bhutan – India Connection

The Great China-India Connection                      

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