The Truth Behind Suvarnabhumi
Some historians and archaeologists have posited that the region of Southeast Asia referred to in ancient Indian texts as “Suvarnabhumi” most likely applied to the historical kingdom of Funan, an Indianised network of states centred on the Mekong Delta – corresponding to present-day Cambodia, South Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos – that flourished from the first to sixth century CE. Notably, archaeological evidence suggests that Funan had maritime links with India through its port at Oc Eo, now an archaeological site in a southern province of Vietnam.
Chinese historical texts and maps describing the kingdom use the name “Funan”, but the origin of the name is the subject of much discussion among scholars, some arguing
Chinese historical texts and maps describing the kingdom use the name “Funan”, but the origin of the name is the subject of much discussion among scholars
that it was transcribed by the Chinese from a word related to the Khmer word for “mountain”, others suggesting “Funan” was a transcription from the first portion of the name “Suvarnabhumi”. The ethno- linguistic nature of the kingdom’s people is similarly debated, with some hypothesising that the Funanese were Mon–khmer, others that they were a multiethnic society. In 2017, a professor of Cambodian and Southeast Asian history inspected tablets excavated in the province of Kampong Speu adorned with ancient carvings. He concluded that the inscriptions provided compelling evidence that Cambodia was, in fact, the true location of Suvarnabhumi – unsurprisingly, an assertion that other experts are yet to support.
It seems clear that with so many claims to Suvarnabhumi, and such scant and fragmented evidence, we will never piece together a complete understanding of the origin story of this legendary kingdom that will shake the entrenched beliefs of historians, politicians and religious leaders across Southeast Asia. But just as obviously, those disparate groups can surely all agree on the importance of Suvarnabhumi as a conduit for trade, beliefs, and ideas between India and Southeast Asia, and as such this ancient “Golden Land” belongs to us all in some measure, a symbol of what we share rather than what sets us apart.