Kambuja-desa, or An Ancient Hindu Colony in Cambodia

by R. C. Majumdar

An India-centered approach of Cambodia, Champa and the "Indian colonization" of Southeast Asia".

Kambuja Desa Majumdar

Type: e-book

Publisher: Sir William Meyer Lectures 1942-1943 | University of Madras

Edition: National Library of India Digital

Published: 1944

Author: R. C. Majumdar

Pages: 185

Language : English

ADB Library Catalog ID: e-HISIND23

I propose to review, in a course of six lectures, the history of the Indian colony of Kambuja-desa (modern Cambodia) and some aspects of the civilisation that the Hindus, using this term in its broadest sense, had introduced in this distant land. I shall try to describe how the small isolated Hindu kingdoms in different parts of Cambodia were welded into a mighty kingdom that stretched from the Bay of Bengal to the sea of China, how the essential spirit of Hindu culture was transplanted to this distant corner of Asia, how the Hindu religion inspired it to build monuments whose massive grandeur still excites the wonder of the world and far surpasses anything known so far in India, how art and institutions, created on Indian models, grew and developed a unique character, how this mighty colonial kingdom flourished for more than a thousand years fed by constant streams of civilisation flowing from the motherland, and at last met with inevitable decline when this perennial source itself decayed and ceased to flow.”

Based on a somewhat biased reading of then available inscriptions, the author’s main thesis is that Southeast Asian polities, Angkor in particular, were basically the work of Indian colonization’, with this quite provocative historical explanation:

It is to be noted that the Indian colonisation in the Far West was not an imperialism in any form, political or economic. It transfused new blood, in the shape of the cultural heritage of India, to create new life and spirit on alien soils. It transformed the weakest and the more backward by fresh vitality. and so long as this life giving force was there the people were quickened by new impulses and did not merely imitate but developed healthy lives of their own on the foundations well and truly laid by the Indians. What the Indian element meant in their life and civilisation is best seen when this perennial fountain-source ceased to flow. In proportion to the lack of fresh vitalising forces from India the culture and civilisation of Kambuja showed signs of decline, and then came the inevitable end. It is not perhaps a mere coincidence that the two Indian colonies of Champa and Kambuja were overwhelmed by two branches of the Thais in the 13th century A.D. when India herself lay prostrate under the foreign invaders. The same phenomena are also noticed in Java. This sudden collapse of the culture and civilisation in these Indian colonies at the very moment when India herself lost her independence and was submerged in darkness constitutes the most important testimony to the influence she excercised over their growth and development.”

The author founds his argument on ethnological assertions that have been contested or refuted: 

The great German scholar Schmidt who first established the existence of the linguistic family called Austro-Asiatic, has proposed further to connect with it also the Austronesian and establishing a larger linguistic unity which he calls Austric. He also indicates the possibility of an ethnic unity among the peoples whose linguistic unity is thus assumed. In other words, Schmidt regards the peoples of Inda-China and Indonesia such as the Mons, Khmers, Chams and the Malays as belonging to the same race as the Munda and allied tribes of Central India and the Khasis of North-eastern India. He regards India as the original home of all these peoples who, starting from India towards the east, at first spread themselves over the whole length of the Indo-Chlnese Peninsula and then over all the islands of the Pacific Ocean up to its eastern extremity. This theory, we must remember, has not yet found general acceptance among scholars, but we must not lose sight of the possibility that the Aryanised India, in establishing colonies in the Far East, was merely repeating or continuing the work which had been inaugurated long long ago by many other peoples inhabiting the same land before the advent of the Aryans.”

ADB Input: In 1906 the German anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt classified Austroasiatic together with the Austronesian family (formerly called Malayo-Polynesian) to form a larger family called Austric. Paul K. Benedict, an American scholar, extended the Austric theory to include the Tai-Kadai family of Southeast Asia and the Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) family of China, together forming an Austro-Tai” superfamily. 

Read The Austronesian Languages Encyclopaedia Britannica article.

It seems the material presented in these lectures was initially to constitute the third volume of R.C. Majumdar’s ambitious Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East. In the second volume, Suvarnadvipa (Part I, Dacca, 1937), the author noted in his preface: As at present planned, the Second Part of this volume, referred to above, will be published before the end of 1937. The Third Volume, dealing with Kamboja (Cambodia and Siam), will be published in two separate parts, one containing the history, and the other the collection of inscriptions. I hope these will be out before the end of 1939. Volume IV, forming the sixth book of the series, and containing a general review of Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, will, I hope, be published by 1941.” Moreover, that second volume was initially supposed to deal with Kamboja”, the first volume studying Champa in 1927. Again in the preface: Various causes have delayed the publication of the second volume. One of them is a change in the planning of the different volumes. Originally I had intended to deal with the history of Kamboja (Cambodia) in the second volume. As the wonderful monuments of this kingdom were to constitute an important part of the volume, I paid a visit to Cambodia in order to obtain a first-hand knowledge of them. There, in my conversation with the Archaeological authorities, I came to learn for the first time that many novel theories were being advanced regarding the age and chronological sequence of the monuments of Angkor Thorn. I was advised to put off the publication of my book until these had been fully explored. Acting upon this advice I took up the history of Malayasia which was to have formed the third volume.”

Tags: India, Hinduism, Austroasiatic, colonization, Indianization, Khmer history, Thai, Champa, linguistics, Austric, ethnology

About the Author

R C Majumdar

R. C. Majumdar

Dr. Ramesh Chandra (R.C) Majumdar (4 Dec. 1884, Khandarpara, Faridpur, Bengal [now in Bangladesh] — 11 Feb.1980, Kolkata, West Bengal, India) was a groundbreaking Indian historian and professor whose 1919 book Corporate Life in Ancient India’ drew new perspective on ancient India, and was one of the first Indian scholars who extensively explored India’s role in the political and cultural development of South-East Asia, writing on Hindu kingdoms in South-east Asia and Hindu colonies in the Far East.

A noted historian and academic, Acharyia’ Majumdar served as the Vice-President of the International Committee for publishing History of Mankind : Cultural and S9cientific Development, teached at Calcutta University, Rabindra Bharati University and Jadavpur University, and published the 11 vols. History and Culture of the Indian People.

Modern Hindu nationalists have claimed — and sometimes instrumentalized — his legacy. The fact is the historian challenged Nehru’s policy regarding the Hindu-Muslim bipolarity of India, refuting the commonly held view that the Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony before the advent of the British rule and that the Hindu-Muslim tension was the outcome of the British policy to divide and rule. These two communities, the author holds, lived as two separate communities with distinct cultures and different mental, and moral characteristics.”

As a free-spirited researcher, Majumdar published in 1957 an exhaustive and highly controversial history of the Freedom Movement in a three volume series titled the History of Freedom Movement of India’, challenging many prevalent notion on various topics like Hindu Muslim relationship, Swadeshi Movement, Gandhi’s role, and militant nationalism. His academic positions include Vice Chancellor of the University of Dacca, First Principal at the College of Indology, Benares Hindu University (BHU) and Nagpur University, Visiting Professor of Indian History at the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and Bombay, president of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, Honorary Member of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona. He also served as president of the Indian History Congress and the All India Oriental Conference.

While sticking to his convictions and his strong feelings towards the specificity of Bengal, he relentlessly explored the Indian influences in Southeast Asia, publishing Champa, Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, Vol.I, Lahore, 1927, studies on Burma (Myanmar) and Java, and Kambuja Desa or An Ancient Hindu Colony In Cambodia, Madras, 1944.

For an assessment of R.C. Majumdar’s contribution to Indian historiography, read The Pursuits of the Past: A problematic passage to the national soul”, Open The Magazine, 13 Aug. 2021.

R.C. Majumdar