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The Kingdom of Chenla

  • The borders of the Kingdom of Chenla are not precise today nor were they ever constant but at its peak Chenla must have included the lower Menam Valley and the Mun Valley in present day Thailand (I 'san) plus what today is Southern Laos and parts of present day North Eastern Cambodia and perhaps at times, stretching to the Annamite Coast (now Vietnam). Chenla was an Empire of the Khmer people distinct from the Cham and the tribes of Funan. Chenla was the precursor to the Khmer Empire. The Khmer came from the Upper Menam Valley and then came down the Mun Valley and then the Mekong to supplant the Cham. In that process they absorbed the Hindu religion and the cult of Shiva as then worshiped by the Cham, such as at Mount Wat Phu in present day Champassak in what is now Southern Laos.
  • The early Khmer were probably animist but the Kings of Chenla embraced Shivaism which provided the religion for control of political power and the minds of their subjects. The Shivite religion connected them to the mythical couple Kambu and Mera and to the sun dynasty descended from Rama, another re-incarnation of the God Vishnu. Even today in the 21st C in the region we see the trappings of such concepts still apparent in the support of Kings (or Kings in exile) and the political apparatus.
  • The principal written sources of history about Chenla comes from the Chinese chronicles which call Chenla the land of the Khmer. These chronicles refer to Land Chenla, the traditional Chenla Kingdom and Water Chenla which later developed from the conquest and absorption of parts of Funan and what is now the Mekong Delta. Water Chenla was later absorbed by the Malays of the Srivijaya Empire and the Javanese of the Shailandra Empire.