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Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia


Canasapura (Pre-Angkor Cambodia & Thailand)
c.AD 600s? - 937?

Coastal areas of South-East Asia had already emerged into early regional history by the time the Sa Huỳnh culture of central and southern Vietnam was fading, around the beginning of the third century AD. To the south, the Óc Eo culture flourished as the archaeological expression of the kingdom of Funan.

The history of this early state is extremely patchy but in its late stages - in the early sixth century AD - its dominance was confirmed in the provinces of the middle Mekong. It may have been the usurpation of the Funanese throne by Rudravarman in AD 514 which resulted in discontent becoming apparent here. A movement was led by Bhavavarman and Chitrasena in which they managed to form a principality of their own which was known to the Chinese as Chen-La.

The last vestiges of Funan were removed in 627 during this pre-Angkor period of South-East Asian history. North-eastern Funan territory was gradually absorbed into the growing Cham domains. The remainder was absorbed into Chen-La. However, Chen-La experienced its own internal problems towards the end of the 600s and into the early 700s. By 713 it can be seen that the state had become divided into Upper Chen-La and Lower Chen-La. Each of these two regions had their own king or queen.

Chen-La's cities also had their own governors during the early seventh century under Isanavarman, as attested by the Sui history of the region. Later holders of such offices most likely became princes during Chen-La's troubles at the start of the 700s.

Indeed, something which becomes entirely apparent in the eighth century is the existence of several city-state principalities within the two Chen-Las, and seemingly mainly (or completely) within Lower Chen-La. These city states seem to have possessed a level of local independence while still most likely acknowledging Chen-La as an overlord.

Canasapura (or Śri Canāśa, or even Śri Cānāśapura) was one such principality during a period within the seventh to ninth centuries AD. The city was located in the upper valley of the Mae Nam Mun (the River Mun) in today's Isan in Thailand's north-eastern region. This was to the west of the middle Mekong which formed the heartland of Chen-La at its height. The city also seems to have had its own rulers prior to Chen-La's later divisions, suggesting that it was a later attachment to Chen-La.

An inscription which dates to the seventh century was discovered in the excavated city of Mueang Sema. This refers to the donation of water buffalo, cattle, and slaves of both sexes by a king of Canasapura. The principality probably existed parallel to the Dvaravati culture of the Mons people, but was a vassal of the kings of Chen-La whose later reach extended far into Thailand.

A late ruler of Lower Chen-La, Jayavarman II, asserted his independence between 802-809. He united his territory with the Upper Chen-La which was ruled by his wife, Jayendrabha. He also swiftly incorporated other rival fiefdoms into this new state which may have included Canasapura (although perhaps not immediately in this case) and the other semi-independent states. His new state would emerge as the Khmer empire.

Cambodia's historic past

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopaedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Keat Gin Ooi (ABC-Clio, 2004), from Early Mainland Southeast Asia, C Higham (River Books Co, 2014), from Encyclopaedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations, Charles F W Higham (Facts on File, 2004), from The Khmer Empire (National Geographic supplement, July 2009), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from The Birth of Vietnam, Keith Weller Taylor (California, 1983), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, George Coedès (Walter F Vella (Ed), Susan Brown Cowing (Trans), University of Hawaii Press, 1968, and available online via the Internet Archive), and The Elusive Kingdom of Sri Canasa (South-East Asian Kingdoms, 2016).)


Already an independent state in this century, Canasapura would seem to be a Mahayana Buddhist city state, similar to Dvaravati in central Thailand. The legitimacy of its ruler is based partially on his support of the sangha (Buddhist monks). The city's economy is based partially on slave labour, with the slaves having been captured from unnamed weaker polities.

Dress costumes from Funan
Dress costumes from Funan, a kingdom in southern mainland South-East Asia which, by the early sixth century AD, seemed ripe for internal discontent and self-destruction

It appears likely that Canasapura is operating as a form of buffer zone between the central and north-eastern part of the Mon world, while also absorbing strong influences from its eastern neighbours in the form of Funan and then Chen-La.


In the early eighth century, Chen-La is apparently divided into Upper Chen-La ('Land' Chen-La) and Lower Chen-La ('Water' Chen-La). They appear to be equal in rank and without a boundary, suggesting that they are still under a single ruler, or at least are somehow federated.

Queen Jayadevi's reign is reputed to be opposed. She is known to reign until 713, but her fate is not known and the state is certainly divided by the end of her reign.

It is also increasingly being threatened by the Shailendra dynasty of Java, and appears to fragment to an extent, allowing individual principalities to emerge (especially in Lower Chen-La). Placed farther to the west than the cities of the middle Mekong, Canasapura's position is unclear in relation to these events. Its independent existence pre-dates this period.

Mekong Delta
Now due to disappear beneath the sea by about 2100, the Mekong delta played an important part in the development of early Cambodia and Vietnam

802 - 809

Jayavarman II, ruler of Lower Chen-La, is a vassal of the Sumatran state of Sri Vijaya. He asserts his independence in 802, unites his state with the Upper Chen-La which is ruled by his wife, Jayendrabha and, on the plain near the site of the future Angkor, builds his capital of Harlharalaya.

With strong support from Aninditapura, he is declared the universal monarch, chakravartin ('supreme king of kings' - effectively high king over many minor kings) on the Kulen Hills.

Chen-La retains its identity until at least 809 but the other principalities within the region are quickly incorporated into his new state, no doubt including Ampil Rolum and Vyadhapura. Canasapura appears to retain a ruler until at least 937, probably as a Khmer vassal.

Mahabalipuram Temple
Between about 802-809 Jayavarman II of Lower Chen-La unified the region, shrugged off his overlords on Sumatra, and established his capital at Harlharalaya (shown here) to found the beginnings of the Khmer empire

fl c.850s?


Independent king. Khmer vassal?


Relationship unknown.





fl 937


Brother. Ruled? The city disappears from history.


An inscription in Sanskrit and Khmer which archaeologists uncover in Ayutthaya in 1939 is dated to 937. It is created by Mangalavarman, brother of King Narapatisimhavarman. It mentions a King Bhagadatta of Canasapura and his successors all belonging to the same family and, presumably, the same city.

By now the city has been thoroughly Khmerised and Indianised, losing its former dominating Buddhist influences, with Shiva worship being practiced and Khmer language being used in the inscriptions of the city's governing elite.

Tai people (of which Thais form a sub-group) first arrived in the region of today's Thailand around 600 BC, but heavy inwards migration only took place between the eighth to tenth centuries AD

Following the reign of Narapatisimhavarman and perhaps also that of Mangalavarman (if he rules at all), the city soon disappears from history, seemingly around the same time that Thais are migrating heavily into the region. Its territory is probably absorbed by the Khmers but today it lies in Thailand.

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