Sanskrit and Tamil Words in Cambodian Language


Compiled by London swaminathan

Article No.1906; Dated 2 June 2015.

Uploaded at London time: 20-39

(All photos are taken by Mr K Natarajan,Sydney,Australia. Thanks for allowing us to use the pictures).

I read two interesting books written by Judith M Jacob who worked Senior Lecturer in Cambodian at SOAS, University of London. The titles of the books are 1)The Traditional Literature of Cambodia and 2) Cambodian Linguistics, Literature and History. I a summarising only the interesting points.

Cambodians or Khmers are a race of people occupying the Mekong (Ma Ganga) River basin what was known as Indo-China but now is South East Asia. The racial and linguistic family to which the Cambodians belong is known as the Mon-Khmer family. Indians came from the second century CE to trade and later to settle on the west coast of Indo China.

RIMG2480 - Copy

Funan= Panavan=Punal: Tamil Connection

1)The first Khmer texts, inscriptions of the 7th and 8th centuries CE gave practical information about religious foundations while Sanskrit was used for composing the panegyrics of Gods and kings. Khmers regarded Sanskrit as the language of literature.

2)From the Chinese annals we learn that there was an indianized state called Funan in south of Cambodia.

(My comments: The word Funan may mean Panavan (Pandya title) or Punal Nadu (water country in Tamil). The reason for my conclusion is the first king of Vietnam (Champa) was Sri Maran, a Pandya king (Tiru maran in Sangam literature)

3)The Indian connection is reflected in the legend which tells how an Indian, the  Brahmin Kaundinya, came to Cambodia and married Soma, the daughter of the king of the Nagas.

(My comments: Tamil and Sanskrit literature describe all lands lying beyond east of India or South of India as Nagalokam. If it is further away from South East Asia they called those lands Patala Lokam (Under world).

RIMG2534 - Copy

Reason for the name Kamboja/Cambodia

4)Another legend relates that the hermit Kambu Swayambuva married the heavenly nymph Mera, a gift of the god Siva. This gave them the name Kambojas for the people.

5)Finally at the end of ninth century CE there was the beginning of the Angkor kingdom which built the world famous monuments including Angkorwat. The earliest dated inscriptions are 611 CE (Khmer) and 613 (Sanskrit) but there were earlier dated Sanskrit inscriptions in Champa/Vietnam

6)We know the names of six poets who wrote in Sanskrit during Angkor period. Indian epics were read even before this period.


New Ramayana

7)The Ramakerti (16th century CE) presents Ram as the Buddha, but lot of Hindu gods are referred to. Like Indians, Cambodians also worshiped the spirits inhabiting the rocks and trees.

8)Apart from writing on stone, the Khmers wrote on palm leaf. The Latania palm leaves were first treated to make them supple. An iron stylus was used to engrave the writing. The oldest manuscripts were preserved at a monastery in Battambang.

9) The Khmers have lively interest in the use of words. They were praised fr their riddles.  The hero of the folk tales and riddles was Thmenh Chey (Sanskrit name Dhananjaya). He was like the great Tenali Rama, court jester of Vijayanagara emperor Krishna Deva raya. Dhanajaya saves Cambodia from the Chinese by answering all the three riddles sent by king of China. There are hundreds of stories about Dhanamjaya.

The names in Ramakerti are Rab for Ravana, Laks for Lakshmana, Hemavant for the Himalayas. The end of Ramayana is changed in this work. Ram asked Lakshmana to execute Sita in the forest. When Lava and kusa went to Rama’s court one was arrested and released later. Sita was asked to go to Ayodhya. She refused and went to the underworld when falsely told that Rama was dead!!!)


Khmer Dictionary

10)The Khmer lexicon includes a large body of fully integrated loan words, principally from Sanskrit and Pali languages of India.

First period covers Pre Angkor and Angkor periods (7th to 14th centuries CE): we find inscriptions on stone in Sanskrit and Pali.

Second period covers the Middle period (16th to 19th centuries CE): Inscriptions on stone are in Pali. Verse novels are in Sanskrit and Pali.

Early modern period covers 19th and early 20th century: Prose and poetry are in Sanskrit, Palai, French , Thai and English.

11.In the inscriptions the first part and the last parts are in Sanskrit. First par contains prayer to Hindu gods. Last part contains warnings of punishment to marauders. All types of hells are mentioned for those who destry the inscriptions or the properties.


Sanskrit Names

12.The educated elite of Cambodia read and wrote Sanskrit. It became the practice of to use Sanskrit for all elevated linguistic activities. Names of dancers, singers, musicians and officials were in Sanskrit. Few examples: Vasantamallika/Spring jasmine, Tanvangi/Slender limbed,Sakhipriya/Beloved lady friend , officer Dharmaraksa/Protector of the Law.

  1. Like Dhananjaya, Vikram and Vetal type stories are also prevalent. Satra kin Kantrai is a collection of legal tales known also in Laos, Thailand and Burma. In each case the dispute cannot be solved by a mere judge and has to be referred to the king. His judgements are wise and fair. When two women claim to be the mother of a child, he settles the case very much as Solomon the wise did.

(My comments: These stories show that even the stories were borrowed from India and improved later. If we compare all the folk tales of Cambodia, it will be a very interesting comparative study.)

14.Indra figures as the helping god in many stories. This shows that the cultural contacts began at a very early date than the inscriptions show.

RIMG2493 - Copy

Tamil Names

15.Dhananjaya goes to China and he dupes even the emperor of China like Tenali Rama duped the Emperor of Vijayanagara. He says to the king that he has an Indri bird (Which is really a toy kite). The emperor heaps handsome presents upon him.  References to Thais and Vietnamese are noticeably lacking in the folk tales. But a proverb explains this

The monkey is constantly occupied with chewing

The Thais with their text books

The Vietnamese with their pretences

The pure Khmers with the truth.

  1. My comments: We already know that the script used in all the South East Asian countries went from South India. All the scripts are based on Pallava Grantha. Even the early architecture looked like Pallava cave temple where from it went to South America. Brahmin Kaundinya must have gone from Tamil Nadu. The famous Tamil Saint Tirunjana Sambandha also belonged to Kaundinya Gotra and we have a few Kaundinya Brahmins in the list of Tamil Sangam poets. In the folk tales we have typical Tamil name Kandhan as the captain of King Brahmadutt. Other names of interest in the stories are Kamaraj, Aruna Raj, Krishnakumar etc. Feminine Saskrit names like Chandra, Chitra, Padma etc are common to both parts of India.

17.The Pre Khmer inscriptions looked exactly similar to South Indian inscriptions; the order of the matter was

  1. a) The date or name of the reigning king
  2. b) The title and name of donors
  3. c) The name of the God

d)Names of the people from whom the donor obtained the land to offer to the religious foundation

e)Details of the price paid to those who relinquished the land

f)The extent, location and the capacity of the donated rice fields

g)The names of the slaves/workers donated with an indication of their duties

h)details of the subsistence to be given to the religious personnel

i)details of other lands given to the religious institution: orchards, gardens etc.

j)The list of the precious objects given to the foundation

k)the statement that the revenues are to be combined with those of another foundation

l)Warning of punishment for anyone using or abusing the belongings of the religious foundation.

RIMG2571 - Copy

More research will bring out more interesting connections.

Sanskrit Inscriptions in South East Asia!


Compiled by London swaminathan

Post No. 1781; Date 6th April 2015

Uploaded from London at   20-15

Over 1250 inscriptions are discovered so far in South East Asian countries. Majority of them are in Sanskrit language. Ancient Cambodia, known as Kingdom of Khmer covered most of the area in South East Asia. Champa, what is now known as Vietnam, has the oldest Sanskrit inscription. Since the name on the inscription is Sri Mara, I have interpreted it as the name of a Pandyan king in my research article “A Tamil king who ruled Vietnam” — posted here on  Sept 13 , 2011. This is what I wrote,

“The inscription is known as Vo-Chanh Inscription. It was inscribed on a rock as two parts. This is about the donation made by the family of the king Sri Maran. We have fifteen lines on one part of the rock and seven more lines on the other side. Of these only nine lines are readable. Scholars who took a copy of the inscription say the poetry part is in Vasantha Thilaka metre in Sanskrit and rest is in prose.

The king donated all his property to the people who were close to him and ordered that it should be honoured by the future kings. The inscription ends abruptly. But we could read the words ‘Sri Mara raja kula’ very clearly. Though we couldn’t get much information about this king from other sources, Chinese historians confirmed that the Hindu empire that existed in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia started with Sri Maran”.

Over 800 Sanskrit inscriptions were found in S.E.Asia until fifty years ago. Now more and more inscriptions are discovered. Even a new underground city is discovered in 2013.


Saivite Sanskrit Inscription

Cambodia has made unique contributions to Sanskrit literature especially in poetry according to Dr M K Charan. He says, “The writers demonstrated full knowledge of various Indian sects. They mastered the rhetorical and literary conventions like puns, alliterations, similes etc. and virtually employed all the varied metres of Sanskrit poetics.

Cambodian epigraphy used both Sanskrit and old Khmer languages. They considered Sanskrit as a sacred language and so used it to record royal genealogies, panegyrics of the founders of monuments and donors, while old Khmer and Cambodian were used for the details which followed. Even in South India writers used Sanskrit and Tamil in the same way. Sanskrit verses praised the king and his Vamsavali (genealogy) whereas the Tamil section gave minute details of the donation, the extension of the land or the gifts to temples or the Brahmins.


298 verses in one inscription!

Since the Cambodian inscriptions covers a vast area covering several modern S. E. Asian countries and period of 800 years from 7th century to 14th century CE, we can’t expect uniformity in the language of the inscriptions.

“We have positive evidence about the flourishing state of Sanskrit language during a span of more than 800 years. Verses composed during the period of Jayavarman and Yasovarman conform to Panini’s rules because the composers had a thorough knowledge of grammar”, says DR MK Charan. Many of the Sanskrit verses are so beautiful that we do not find their parallel in India. A new Kavya style named Manohara has been referred to in the Pre rup inscription.

Inscriptions are in beautiful and flawless Kavya style. They exhibit a thorough knowledge of different metres and most developed rues and conventions of rhetoric and prosody.


Buddhist Inscription

The oldest inscription found in Cambodia is of fifth century CE. Out of the five verses contained in this inscription, four are in sardulavikridita metre and one shows familiarity with Hindu mythology. Some of the inscriptions are very big compositions. The Prasusti of Rajendravarman which contains 298 verses excess all others in size.

J F Stall says, “The Vocañh inscription is written in regular Sanskrit prose, and most of the inscriptions from Cambodia are written in a more correct form of Sanskrit than that which is used in some of the inscriptions from India. The reason for this may be that the Cambodians learned Sanskrit from grammar books and not from native speakers. The Indian grammarian Panini is in fact honoured by being mentioned in these inscriptions; other linguistic works are referred to as well”.

Jean-Michel Filippi, Professor of Linguistics at Royal Phnom Penh University wrote in June 2013, “Cambodian inscriptions make you feel dizzy: new inscriptions are still regularly found and they are very far from having been translated and commented upon.

The implications of this fact are obvious: Cambodian general history may well be known, but there remains very many obscure points which will only be made clear when the inscriptions are deciphered. Thus there is a strong chance that a book about pre-Angkor or Angkor Cambodia written 20 years ago may be simply refuted by the discovery or the deciphering of an inscription”.

budhagupta inscription

Pallava Grantha Script

Lakshminarayana dasa and Bhaktin Kaunteya of Iskcon, Cambodia, are writing about research in this area and add

“In the beginning of Christian era, Khmer language was only a spoken language. In other terms, at that time, the Khmer did not know how to write. The ancient Khmers borrowed the Indic script to record their own language. So the modern Khmer language is written in a script, which is borrowed from India. It is precisely the Grantha Brahmi script, which is the mother of modern Khmer script. Cambodia has also adopted the Devanagari script and Pallava Grantha script in order to develop its actual alphabets. In the present day Cambodian, about seventy percent words are borrowed from Sanskrit. Such common words as dhanagara (bank), durasabda (telephone),bhasa (language), etc are derived from Sanskrit.

Sanskrit was the court language of the Khmer Empire for more than thousand years. All the royal orders, land transactions, temple administration were recorded in Sanskrit. Slowly the Khmer language shared this role in course of centuries. So after seventh century we find inscriptions partly written in Sanskrit and partly in Khmer.


About 1250 inscriptions have been discovered from the Ancient Angkor Empire. The majority is written in Sanskrit. The aim of the present research is to explore various aspects of cultural relations between India and Cambodia as presented in the epigraphic literature of this country”


Studies in Sanskrit Inscriptions of Ancient Cambodia by M K Charan, 1974

Articles by J F Stall, Jean-Michel Filiippi and Iskcon, Cambodia.


Vo Canh Inscription in Vietnam (Champa)