This research is on the coastal states of Champa between 750 and 875 AD, examining the importance of Buddhist connections and of maritime trade networks with insular Southeast Asia, in particular with Java and Sumatra. The research is also intended to provide a geographic focus for a more general re-evaluation of the cultural, economic and political changes that transformed Southeast Asia during this period.
From the 3rd to early 8th centuries AD, Chinese authors referred to the north-central coastline of modern Vietnam by the name of Linyi or ‘Forest City'. According to the Xin Tangshu or New History of the Tang dynasty, the name of Linyi was changed to Huan or Huanwang after the Zhide period (756-758). The origin and meaning of this name is unknown, and it is found only in the Chinese histories. Two important kingdoms are also known from Sanskrit and Cham epigraphy during the same period. The first is Kauthara, a coastal state based on the modern port of Nha Trang in the Khanh Hoa Province of south-central Vietnam. This kingdom is first mentioned in an inscription on the main shrine of Po Nagar at Nha Trang dated to 706 œaka (c. 786 AD). The name of Panduranga also appears for the first time during this period. This kingdom survived as a separate political entity until the early 19th century (Po Dharma 1987) and was based near Phan Rang in modern Ninh Thuan Province, to the south of Nha Trang. The earliest mention of Panduranga is again from an inscription on the main shrine of Po Nagar at Nha Trang dated to 739 œaka (c. 817 AD). It is clear from these inscriptions that particularly powerful kings were sometimes able to gain control of both kingdoms, but that they nevertheless retained an independent identity.
In the standard history of Champa by Georges Maspero (1928: 95-108), Huanwang and Panduranga are treated as a single political entity, and the evidence from both Chinese sources and inscriptions are combined into a single historical narrative. However, I have argued that this unity is deceptive, and that Huanwang existed as an entirely separate kingdom in the Thu Bon valley of Quang Nam province. This valley had been the center of a powerful kingdom during the 7th and early 8th centuries, as evidenced by a series of sixteen Sanskrit inscriptions found at the main political settlement at Tra Kieu and at the religious site of My Son. However, between 731 and 875 AD there is a complete hiatus in the epigraphic sequence from this area. A similar hiatus in the epigraphic sequence is also evident in Cambodia. While a total of roughly 200 inscriptions can be dated to the 7th century in Cambodia, Michael Vickery has recently noted that, ‘with one exception in 803, there is a complete break in the Cambodian epigraphic corpus from 791 to 877, and only 16 inscriptions, 11 in Khmer, for the entire 8th century' (1998: 84). This period is nevertheless vital for our understanding of the transition of economic and political power to the region of Angkor, a process that Vickery has suggested may be linked to the growth of Panduranga in central Vietnam during the late 8th century.
The sudden economic significance of Panduranga at this time is itself perplexing. The area it occupied is the most arid region of Vietnam, where water and efficient agricultural land is scarce. This is also true for the port of Nha Trang, which commands only a small area of agricultural hinterland and depended almost exclusively on international trade for surplus wealth. However, the record of trade embassies to China during this period suggests a major depression in maritime trade in the South China Sea. From a total of 17 embassies recorded by sea from Southeast Asia during the first half of the 8th century, only 5 were received in the second (Wang Gungwu 1958: 123), including the only embassy from Huanwang in 793 AD. It is notable however that two of the five embassies received between 750 and 800, and six of the eight embassies recorded between 800 and 875, were from Heling or Shepo, both identified with Java. Both Kauthara and Panduranga stand on the natural maritime trade route from the north coast of Java to northern Vietnam and southern China, and it seems probable that their wealth was largely derived from this connection.
Of particular interest are contacts made through the international Buddhist network. Statues and votive tablets of the historical Buddha, and of the Boddhisattvas Avalokiteœvara, Padmapani and Maitreya have been found in Champa-culture sites along the coastline of what is now central Vietnam, and have been compared to similar items found in Java and Sumatra, and across mainland Southeast Asia as a whole. The importance of Buddhism during this period may in fact account for the paucity of inscriptions from Cambodia and north-central Vietnam during the late 8th and early 9th centuries, and may be culturally and intellectually connected to the patronage of Buddhism under the Œailendra dynasty in central Java. It is these possible Buddhist connections that I will be studying during the course of the fellowship in Leiden. In particular, I will be making an inventory of Buddhist sites and finds listed in the archaeological reports and photographic archives housed in the Kern Institute, with the aim of comparing this material to similar finds in Vietnam, and ultimately to the wider historical changes manifest during this period.