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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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More research will bring out more interesting connections.