Sunday, February 18, 2007

Challenging Keng Vansak's version of history. (Installment I)

By Bora Touch

In a Radio Free Asia interview with Mr. Sam Borin of 26/1/07, Lok Keng Vansak (KVS) made the following assertions which he said were based on Aeksar Mahaboroh Khmaer (1969) by Eng Sot.

1. According to KVS, King Jayavarman VII ceded Sukhodaya to Pnhea Rong in 1220. Although the chronicles do not say that King Jayvarman VII was King Botum Soryavong who ceded Sukhadaya to Siam, according to KVS, Botum Soryavong was Jayavarman VII because Sukhodaya declared its independence in 1220 which was during the reign of Jayavarman VII who "died in 1220".

2. The year 1350 was not the year of the founding of the State of Siam, but according to Keng Vansak, it was the year the Siamese first attacked Angkor;

3. Having had enough of the former kings' unopposed caprice including treating Cambodia as their own and doing whatever they wanted with it, Ta Trasok Pha-em (Pnhea Chey, or the Sweet cucumber man) dared to oppose this and "eliminated all the Varman royals".

4. When pressed for sources for these assertions and other assertions about King Jayavarman VII being a Cham, a destroyer of Cambodia etc, he claimed that [the French scholar George Coedes'] documents critical of Jayavarman VII (which would have supported his assertions) were removed from the Buddhist Institute Library and destroyed by his former student Mr. Leang Ap An:

My comments are set out below.

I propose to reply to each of the above assertions in order.

1. The so-called Angkor period was A.D. 800-1400. In the preface of his Aeksar Mahaboroh Khmaer (AMK) , a Khmer chronicles compilation, Eng Sot advised his reader that his AMK (totaling 76 volumes) only covered post-Angkor period. Khmer Chronicles relating to pre-Angkor and Angkor periods are unreliable and "were largely mixed with reoung preng, legends." He is correct. However, the starting dates (AD 998) of the description of post-Angkor kings are incorrect (as this obviously was during the Angkor period) , but again Eng Sot warned his readers when he started his AMK with the legend of Ta Trasok Phaem, the sweet cucumber man legend which is incorrectly situated in the Angkor period .
Did Eng Sot mention Butom Soryavong as having ceded Sukhodaya to Phnea Rong as Keng Vansak claimed.? The Answer is "yes". Eng Sot, while discussing the post-Angkorian reign of King Lompongraja (AD 1346-1351), briefly states that "because Pnhea Rong was [Buton Soryavong's] Cheastha (older brother), King Preah Bath Botum Soryavong allowed this vassal country to be independent and to have capital called Sukhodaya": (see Volume II of AMK, p.20). Nowhere in AMK did Eng Sot say who Botum Soryavong was and when he reigned. Eng Sot might have presumed that Botum Soryvong was an Angkorian king which is not covered by the AMK.

So, basing his assertions on AMK as he claims, can KVS assume that this Botum Soryavong was, in fact, Jayavarman VII who ceded Sukhodaya to Siam?. The answer is "no".

It is unclear where Eng Sot got his Botum Soryavong-Rong story from. There are a few slightly different legends relating to Butom Soryavong-Pnhea Rong story, one of which appears in King Norodom's Chronicle of 1903. According to this chronicle, Rong was hatched out of a dragon's egg with supernatural powers, enabling him to do wonderful things such as carrying water in baskets without leaking. Fearful of his supernatural powers, Botum Soryavong attempted to have him killed, but failed. Rong fled to Sukhadaya and became a monk. When the King of Sukhodaya died, he claimed the throne with the name of Sri Chandrthipadi. According to this legend, Sukhodaya was already independent by the time Rong became king. The Thais too have the same legend/fiction of Pra Ruang-Botum Soyravong: (see Manich Jumsai, History of Thailand & Cambodia, 1970, p18). According to the Thai version, Ruang, who was also identified as King Ramakamhaeng, became independent under the reign King Indravarman III (1295-1308), which is 77 years Jayavarman VII (1181-1218(?)) died. Other Thai legendary versions stated that King Ruang died in A.D. 956, (which was way before King Jayavarman VII came to power) and Sukhodaya became independent via overthrowing the "Khmer yoke": (See Charnit Kasetsirit, The Rise of Ayudhya, 1976)

That said, George Coedes believed that Sri Indradiya was the founder of Sukhodaya dynasty: (Coedses, "The Origins of the Sukhodaya Dynasty", JSS, 1921). According Wyatt, Ruang or Sri Indradiya reigned from about 1240-1270:( Wyatt, Thailand: A short History (1984), p.309). Most accounts, if not all, suggested Sukhodaya became independent long after the death of Jayavarman VII.

Therefore, Keng Vansak's assertion that Botum Soryavong was Jayavarman VII who ceded Sukhodaya to Siam is completely baseless.

Jayavarman VII reigned from 1181-1218 or 1220. However, no one knows when King Jayavarman VII actually died. The Khmer chronicles did not mention the year of his death or about the King at all. Working from inscriptions and Chinese Dynasty documents, Khmer and foreign scholars/historians accepted two alternative dates: 1218 or 1220: 1218 by Truong Ngai, Pravatisastr Khmaer (1973); Ian Mabbet, "Kingship in Angkor, (1978), and Miriam Stark, "Pre-Angkor and Angkorian Cambodia", (2003); and "1220(?)" by Michael Vickery, Cambodia and its Neighbors in 15 th Century, (2004); and according to George Coedes, Les peuples de la Peninsule Indochinoise, (1962), the Jayavarman died in "c.1218". There is no source to show that Sukhodaya declared independence in 1220. There is, however, a 15th century inscription (whose authenticity is still to be determined) of Sukhodaya which mentions its independence declaration of 1400 from Ayudya: (see Griswold & Nagara, "A Declaration of Independence and its Consequences" (JSS, 1968), p221). Ayudya was still under Khmer, see more below.

Keng Vansak therefore is wrong to say that Sukhodaya declared independence in 1220.
2. Did "Siamese" attack Angkor in 1350?.
Perhaps relying on the traditional Thai and chronicle theories, KVS claimed that "Siamese," presumedly from Ayuthia, attacked on Angkor in 1350.

In fact, there was no "Siamese"/Thai rule in Ayuthia by then, no Siamese attack in the Angkor in 1350. Taking the Thai chronicles at face value, Ayudya was founded in 1351, it thus could not have attacked Angkor before it was founded. However, strong evidence suggested that Angkor may have been attacked in 1430 or 1431 by a Khmer ruler from Ayuthia or Suphanburi, probably a combined forces of Khmer and Mon. If it is correct that the Thai ruled Ayuthia by this time, there would be some inscriptions in Thai or Thai words in those Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions. None has been found: (see Michael Vickery, "A new Tamanan About Ayudya".( JSS, July 1979 P A review, p 143)

There are about 37 Khmer chronicles altogether and most, of not all, stories in them before 16 th century are legendary, if not fictional. The oldest one is the so-called King Ang Eng's chronicle of 1796 published in Asiatique Journal 1898. The second oldest one is of King Ang Chan 1813. It was composed/"rewritten" by his official Okha Samphea (Nong). The rest of them are of newer composition, such as the so-called Chuon Vang's (or Chuon of the royal palace's) fragments.

Ang Eng's fragment did not give a date of the "Siamese" attack, but it happened during King Lompong II, in about 1370. According to Ang Chan's chronicle, the attack took place in 1352 and according Udong Palace's fragment, the so called Chronological List of Khmer kings obtained by De Lagree in 1865, (published in Journal Asiatique, 1871), the attack took place in 1408.

In 1883, Jean Moura, the then French Resident-General in Cambodia, had all the khmer chronicles revised. The according to the revised version and Moura himself, Siam attacked Angkor in 1351: ( Le royaume du cambodge, 1883)

That said in 1904, two Khmer histories were written by French historians. According to E. Aymonier, Le Cambodge (1904), Siam first attacked Angkor in 1461, but according to G. Masparo (1904), Angkor was not attacked before 1420.

As mentioned above, Thai chronicles do not say "Siamese" attacked on Angkor in 1350. Most of them state that Ayuthia was founded in 1351. According the so-called Luong Praseot Chronicle (re-copied in 18 th century from Pali (Khmer scripts) text claiming in its Preface that it copied from the original of 1681), the Siamese attack occurred in 1431, and according to the three Ayuthyan chronicles "composed" during the 19 th century, the first attacks took place in 1352, 1354 and 1421, respectively.

It is not certain what KVS relied on as his source for his assertion of the Siam attack of 1350.
Those attacked on Angkor were not Siamese.
For Thai traditional historians, relying on Thai chronicles and legends have regarded A.D.1351 as the founding date for Ayudya by King U-Thong. For them, the date is, to use Michael Vickery's words, a "sacred dogma". From the Thai Ayudya, Angkor empire was attacked and subdued. For them, any new contradictory discoveries must be forced to fit into this Thai theme.

Frank Vincent, who visited Angkor and was overwhelmed by the civilization and had been previously told of the Thai theme was curious. How could the timid "Lao and Siamese tribes" who "really have no fight in them at all" have swept away such a massive civilization?: (see Vincent, "The Wonderful Ruins of Cambodia, Journal of Am. Geogr. Soc, NY (1878, p. 231). Frank Vincent was right to be suspicious of the Thai theme. It was not, in fact, the Thai who attacked Angkor. It was Khmer royal family of Ayudya or Suphahburi who attacked Angkor. Up until the 16 th century, Ayudya was still under a Khmer royal family rule, not to mention that Khmer was still an official language in Phathalung region (near Malaysia) in 17th century: (M. Vickery, "The Khmer Inscriptions of Tenasserim. A Reinterpretation", JSS, 1973, p.51) Proof of this assertion is that all the Ayudyan inscriptions (corpus) are in Khmer. Additionally, Prince Damorng, a top Thai historian was forced to admit that Ayudya "was founded by the Khmer who were ruling at Lopburi": Damrong, Royal Autograph Chronicle, (1968 p.222).

Furthermore, if the famous King Narai of Ayudya was to be believed when he told the French envoy of King Louis XIV of France that the King was "a Prince of the Royal Blood of Camboya": (see, De La Louberse, Kingdom of Siam, 1688, p.102), and that, according to Louberse, the Ayudyan people's complexion was "gross, red and brown", then even in the 17th century, Ayudya was still quite Khmer, although the Khmer scripts had then been modified into basically what Thai scripts today are: ( Id, p170).

A final nail in the coffin against the Thai theme comes from a seasoned scholar/historian David Wyatt, whom Thai historians have called him "the most faithful defender of Thai history". Having defended the Thai theme for over 30 years, in an article in Nation 8/02/1990, Wyatt admitted that "the early Ayudya period (U-Thong [1351]) might have been ruled by Khmers". He hoped "one day, to see some Thai historians with courage enough to say". He was right, archaeological proof is solid on this. Ayudya was NOT founded by U-Thong/Ramathipadei in 1351 or ever.

It is worth mentioning about the U-Thong story in Thai chronicles. When he was a commander-in-chief of the Thai Army in 1870s, J. D'Abrian was given access to a Thai chronicle, Pongsavada-Muangau. From it, he learned that there were two versions of how U-Thong founded Ayudya. First, U-Thong was from Cambodia and having married into the Khmer royal house, he went west to govern Ayudya. In the second story, U-Thong was not from Cambodia but from the north of now Thailand: D'Brian, "Ruins of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Siam", J.A.G.S.NY (1875, p.22).
How then did Ayudya become Thailand.?
A strong possible scenario was that it happened the same way as a part of Kampuchea Krom became Vietnam under the Chinese migrant Mac Cuu family whom the Khmer king at Udong allowed to govern Banteymeas/Hatien, Basak. Kompong Som provinces. Mac Cuu late on in 1715 shifted his alliance from Udong to Hue annexing these provinces to Vietnam when Cambodia was too weak to defend itself. In return, the Vietnamese emperor allowed him to govern Hatien until 1818: (see Willmott, "History and Sociology of the Chinese in Cambodia Prior the French Protectorate" , Jnl. S.E.A Hist. 1966, p.26); and Cotter, "Toward a Social History of the Vietnamese Southward Movement", Jnl of S.E.A History, 1968.

KVS is incorrect to say that the Thai or the "Siamese" who attacked Angkor .
3. Phnea Chey or Ta Trasok Phaem's elimination of the Varman royals.
Here Keng Vabsak either selectively used the Khmer Chronicles or Aeksar Mahaboroh Khmaer or did not read his literature carefully. As mentioned above, in Aeksar Mahaboroh Khmaer, Eng Sot warned that Ta Trasok Phaem story is a legend, roeung preng: (see the Preface, p. k. ). The warning also came from Venerable Chuon Nath, and Chea Oum etc, Praetisastr ney Prades Kampuchea (Feb 1970, note this book was still under Sangkum).

In Volume I, Sot provides two versions of Ta Trasok Phaem/Pnhea Chey. Version one pp1-9: a sweet cucumber gardener killed king Sinok when the King trespassed his cucumber farm at night, although he did not know it was the King. Ta Trasok phaem then was invited to become king at the age 450 years old. After a brief reluctance, he agreed. He then married one of the dead King's daughter.

(Of note, Burma too has a similar cucumber legend (10th century) in its chronicle, In the Burmese case, the cucumber man killed the Burmese king intentionally with a spade when the king took his cucumber with permission.: (see the Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma, as translated by P. M Tin (1923, pp 58-60). In the Khmer case, the cucumber man killed the King with a spear.)

Version Two p. 9: King Sihanou reign was usurped by Dambang krabhuong. King Sihanou had a ascetic son, Preah Botum Taboh who fled to a mountain and remained as a hermit. Wanting to continue his royal dynasty, he left hermitage and married, had a son by the name of Chau Ta. When Chau Ta grew up, Botum Taboh told the son about their royal bone, gave him three cucumber seeds. Chau Ta left his father to become the sweat cucumber gardener. From here, the story is same as Version one.

In both versions in Aeksar Mahaboroh Khmaer , both Pnhea Chey and Chau Ta were of royal bone: (see p 4 Volume I). It is, therefore, wrong for Keng Vansak to claim that Pnhea Chey eliminated all Varman royals. In fact, there is nothing in the Khmer chronicles to allow to assert as such. He simply distorted the chronicles.
4. Removal and the destruction of Coedes's critical documents by KVS' former student.
George Coedes wrote a lot of books on Cambodian history. He was the grand pioneer of Angkor studies. Among those books, in 1935 he wrote, Un Grand Roi du Cambodge. Jayavarman VII. In the same year, this book was officially translated by the Khmer Kongsei senapadei, the Council of Ministers, and was widely circulated. Copies were kept at various libraries including the Buddhist Institute Library. If Keng Vansak visited now the National Library, or National archives and the Buddhist Institute library, he would know Coedes's books, some of them, are still there. The Buddhist Institute Library still today holds an original translated copy of Un Grand Roi du Cambodge of 1935.

Therefore KVS' assertion that his student destroyed documents critical of Jayavarman VII is irrelevant, if true, because the documents are widely held.

Furthermore, none of the Coedes' and other French scholars' state that Javarvarman VII was of Cham descent. According to Coedes, The Indianized States of Southeast Asia (1964), Javarman VII was the son of Khmer King Dharanindravarman II (c1160) and Queen Jayarajachudamani. Jayavarman VII was the second cousin of the builder of Angkor Wat, Suryavarman II: (see id, p 169; and also Coedes, The Making of South East Asia, 1966, pp 106-109). However, Khmer inscriptions do say the King spent sometime in Vijaya, a Champa capital, which was probably under Khmer rule then. When the throne at Angkor was usurped and Chams invaded, Jayavarman VII returned home, expelled the Chams and eventually invaded Champa. No scholar ever mentioned that Jayavarman VII was somewhat a Cham or ceded Sokhodaya to Siam: (Coedes, Id)

It is also incorrect for KVS to claim that people were angry with King and destroyed his statues. According to him, none of them remained in intact—head and hand were smashed. Some of his statues remain intact in Laos: Michelle Tranet, Sangkum Khmaer knung Samay Preah Bat Jayavarman VII (2003, p 170). No one knows why and when majority of his statues were ruined. It may have been the work of King Mongkut or 19 th century. (More this late).

KVS also should know that massive construction did not end with the death of King Jayavarman VII. The reclining Buddha (biggest in the world) built on top the Preah Kant temple was a later work. Phnom broh and phnom srey mounts in Kampog Cham were built later too. Some of the long canals in Takeo were too were dug later. My point here is that the claim that Jayavarman VII overworked his people and as a revenge they destroyed his statues etc is a dated one.

Of note, the general claim that the post Jayavarman VII' introduction of Theravada/Hinayana Buddhism contributed to the downfall of the Khmer empire is also absolutely false. The Theravada Jataka sculptures, especially the Vassantara Jataka (Preah Vessondor cheadok) were carved on all important temples, including the famous Angkor wat, Bayon, Thoamanon, Chausay, Bati temples to name a few. It is a proof that Theravada Buddhism co-existed in Cambodia since at least "Funan" times. These Jataka sculptures are proof that Theravada was so popular during Angkor periods, as well as today in Cambodia.
Bora Touch.
February 2007.


Anonymous said...

Dear Touch Bora,
You made a good sum up with your research about Jayavarman VII, reflecting to what Prof. Keng Vannsak's openion. It is good that you used 'Indianized State of Southeast Asia' and 'the making of Mainland Southeast Asia' to elaborate the events and situations as well as origin of King Jayavarman VII. However, I wonder which cannal in Takeo and which Preah Khan temple (Preah Khan-Angkor,or Preah Khan-Kampong Svay) that you referred to in your writing.
With my appreciation,
A Khmer Student

Anonymous said...

A religious scholar wrote of KVS: "Cambodian academics appear to join the trolls in condemning him out of hand, but that is to be expected in a society with a limited scholarly tradition and great national pride - after all look at Turkey... To my mind (n.b. I'm undertaking research on the situation of the Cham community in contemporary Cambodia), it would be great for inter-ethnic relations in Cambodia if the great J7 did turn out to have Cham blood."

Anonymous said...

There is no proof stating that J7 has Cham blood the only thing is he is the true khmer King. Pls Read Khmer Royal Family.....