The Inscription of Vo-Canh

Project: The Inscription of Vo-Canh
Author: Lem Chuck Moth

Started date: October/01/2011
Last updated: January/01/2012
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Since this paper is still drafted, the readers would be advised to ignore any context errors. The content is not final and subjected to be reviewed. Please kindly notify me of the discrepancies.

The inscription of Vo-Canh is the earliest dated inscription ever found so far in Southeast Asia. The inscription was particularly of historical value since it was inscribed during the early formation of the Khmer Kingdom at Prey-nokor. It represented a change of Southeast Asian history since never before recording in stone was a regional practice. We shall argue that it was the start of Indianization brought by the Gupta Empire. Inscribed in Gupta scripture, the inscription conveys the presence of two rulers, one by the name of Kamratam Chanda and the other as Nandana, father and son, apparently ruling at Prey-nokor.
Historical Background
In 357, indications from Chinese sources show that Funan fell under the domination of foreigner. In the first month of the year, according to the dynastic histories of the Chin and the Liang, "Tien-chu Chan-tan, king of Funan, offered tamed elephants as tribute". As the name "tien-chu Chan-tan" means "The Indian Chan-tan" scholars, Coedes in particular, stated that it was a title of a Koshan king (ISSA: The second Indianization: From the Middle of the fourth century to the Middle of the sixth century). We shall argue that it was not so and that Tien-chu Chanda was actually Chandragupta II (380-413) of the Gupta Empire. There is agreement that the Guptas formed their empire by chasing out the Koshans. By that time, Samudra Gupta (335-380) was already at the end of his reign and his successor Chandragupta II was more likely ready to step up on the throne. As a young heir of the empire, Chandragupta II must to spend his early days at the hot battlefield that was Funan. By then, the Koshans already lost their control in India but through their Cham compatriots were still very much active in Southeast Asia. So the Indian king "Tien-chu Chan-tan" could not be a Koshan and his presence at Southeast Asia was actually in the mission to finish off what the Gupta had started in India, which was to drive out the Koshans. Judging from his title, Chandragupta however might share the Kushan bloodline more than any other Gupta' s family members. The Guptas, as we had argued, included many legacies of the Mauryan clan, itself was originated from the Koshan or Yueh-shis Empire of Central Asia. It was consistent with ancient practices of both Indian and Khmer royal houses. As usually happened, there were close connection between royal lines as the interbreeding was the norm. As to their fighting, evidences show that the winner usually absorbed the loosing party in subordination into their court. Exactly as the Khmer King Prah Thong (kaundinya) had done later, the Chams were left to stay in Champapura and in control of many other places, after he drove off the Cham King from Prey Nokor (Prey Nokor: The Indian arrival: The left-over Cham legacies).
The inscription was inscribed using the Gupa scripture. It is noticeable similar to modern Khmer cursive sripture used until modern day. Notes on the use of the letter 'Cha' of similar form with the modern Khmer charactor 'Cha' of today and was different from other inscriptions of the same ancient time. It could be a later attempt to touch-up to make it look like modern khmer charactor. They were used at two different places, the first at line 9 and the second one at line 10 for the name "Chanda" of the King. As it looks closer to the letter "ba", the original reading was "Banda" instead of "Chanda". This correction allows us to correlate with the Chinese record about an Indian king Tien-chu Chan-tan sending tributes of tamed elephants to the Chinese court. We shall identify King Chanda Meruraja as Chandragupta II and his son Nandana as Kaundinya. Other than the change of "Banda" to "Chanda", we agree with most the original reading. Only some minor changes had to be made.
7- -- PratamVijaya
8- Sukla Divasaya -- Paurana Syam ajnapitam sadasi raja Varena
9- --taddhottrair nnu raajasatvaa gamratam Chanda Sri Mararaja Kulavamsa
10-bhusanena Sri Mara Chanda tanayaa Kula Nandana ajnapitam svajanasam
11-maddhye vaakyam prajahi takaram karinor varena lokasvaya gataagatin vi
12-taa simha san addhyaa sinaa putre bharaatari tantuk sva samikara Chandena
13-ptr su yati kincit rajatam varanama satha vara rajagam kusatha garuka
14-tam priyah ite visya tam may tad etam may anujnatam bhavisaya api raja
15-Anuman ta Pyam vidtam astu ca me bhrttyasya Virasaya

From the start down to line 8, the inscription was unreadable, however some words like "Pratamvijaya" and "Paurana Siam" might relate the two kings to the Menam Valley where many of unearthed vestiges of Gupta legacies had been found. It confirms that Chandragupta II stayed at Sri Dharmaraja when he became king of Funan. According to Chinese source, the inscription was dedicated to king Hu-ta (Cham: Lin Yi Ki: P.22) whose chronology matches that of Chandragupta II. The finding confirms the presence of the first Kaundinya at Pan-pan, identified as Lavo, before he moved to Prey Nokor. The rest of the inscription, from line 8 further was fairly readable. The lines 8 and 10, presents the king Gamratam Chanda that could be identified to the Indian Chan-tan in Chinese text, as the father of Nandana that could also be identify as no other than Kaundinya. It is interesting to note that the title "Kamaratam" became actually the Khmer title of a Cakravatin monarch, found in many Khmer inscriptions.
With more historical facts taken into the account, our translation however differs totally from its previous versions:
7- -- PratamVijaya
8- Sukla Divasaya -- Paurana Syam the decree of raja "Varena
9- taddhottrair nnu rAjasatvA gamratam Chanda Sri Mararaja Kulavamsa"
10-to Sri Mara Chanda' s son "Kula Nandana"
11-the middle court' s decree to offer tamed white (buttermilk color) elephants
12-to the Simha king of the wealthy China in the lineage of "Bharata svasamikara Chandana"
13-requesting the kingdom "varanama satha vara" of "Kusatha Garu"
14-back to me as all those dear kingdoms offered to me by the king
15-"Anuman ta Pya", were also known as belonging to my territory of "Virasaya"

The inscription conveys a decree from the king "Chanda Meruraja" to his son "Nandana Meruraja" regarding the tribute of tamed white elephants to the Chinese court. The purpose of the tribute is mentioned in the rest of the inscription. It was about the claim of a lost territory presumably belonged to Virasaya (Hiong-wang in Chinese text) back from the Chinese control. It is another important historical data to confirm that Indochina was part of the Hiong-wang Kingdom. The invasion of the Han integrated the northern part of the kingdom into the Chinese territory while setting Indochina as vassal under the Cham control. After the formation of Funan, the fight to free Prey-nokor started. By subduing the Cham (Koshan) out off the Gangetic India, the Gupta Empire went deep inside Southeast Asia to continue its fight against the Chams. By then, the Han rulers had already been ousted but the next Chinese emperors of China apparently dit not intend to free Prey-nokor or Yunnan in any time soon. Setting the Khmer control over Prey Nokor, the next mission of the two Kings was to free Yunnan. The inscription conveys that the Chinese ruler of the time was a Simha king of "Bharata Svamikara Chanda" 's lineage indicating that he was also of Kushan root. It shows that in the time of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (304-439), the presence of the Koshan of Simha root was strong the politic of China. It also confirms that the dispute territory "Kusatha Garu" (Kuruksetra ?), was once belonged to Piao-tsiu-ti (Raja Anuman ta Pyam) and was known as a part of the Hiong-wang (Virasaya) Kingdom in the past. In conjunction with the Chinese text, we identify the Lin-yi' s king named Yang-Mah I who claimed the control of Kiao-Tche (Yunnan) against the Chinese court was no other than the prince Nandana of the inscription. The mentioning of line 14 of Kiao-Tche being offered by Piao-tsiu-ti to Chandragupta II indicated the latter' s relationship to Ashoka, thus to the Mauryan lineage.
The Conflict with China
The inscription was inscribed during the Gupta 's expansion to Southeast Asia. Chandragupta II and his son Nandana apparently were controlling Virapura, a locality to be known as a capital of Prey-nokor. They both referred as the Mararaja that is equivalent to Kumeruraja in Khmer tradition. Another account of the inscription was also important to the history of Prey Nokor during the reign of Prah Thong. The inscription is valuable in providing historical data to support the claim of Kiao-Tche by Yang Mah. At first it checks out that the third son of Ashoka, Piao-Siu-Ti was in fact ruling over Yunnan. His son Mang-siu-Ti was also ruling over Prey Nokor and the rest of Southeast Asia. The Han Kings apparently took the opportunity to extend their control over the mainland Indochina, during the decline of the Maurya. Yunnan and the rest of Southeast Asia was then delegated to the Gupta court through inheritance from Piao-Siu-ti of the Maryan Empire. We also argued that the Gupta was just a resuscitation of the Mauryan Empire by the surviving Nandas of the eastern Cholan royal houses. The absorption of the Southeast Asian Naga clan Li-choui (Srasvati) of Prey-Nokor and of Bhagadatta of the Menam Valley to form the Gupta Empire, could also be checked out (The Indianization: The Gupta Empire: The Kamara legacy of the Gupta court). Taking the advantage of the decline of the Han Dynasty, the Guptas started its own campaign to drive down the Koshan control over both Gangetic India and Southeast Asia. According to Chinese sources, the conflicting claim over the Chinese controlled Kiao-Tche soon started after Yang Mah (Kaundinya) taking control of Lin-yi. Kaundinya or Yang Mah had sent petition to the Chinese court requesting to take control of Kiao-Tche (Yunnan) but was answered with retaliation from the latter (Prey Nokor: The Indian arrival: Kaundinya and the Nanda Dynasty).

  1. VOCANH: BEFEO t. 55: L'inscription dite "de Vo-Canh", by Jean Filliozat
  2. ISSA: The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, by G. Coedes
  3. Cham: BEFEO XIV: Georges Maspero: Le Royaume de Champa, by Leonard Aurousseau