According to a local legend, the Funan kingdom was founded by an Indian Brahmana
named Kaundinya (called Hun-tien by the Chinese sources) in the lower valley of
the Mekong in the first century AD. Buddhism and some forms of Brahmanical religion
like Saivism co-existed in the region until the end of the fifth century AD.
Among the kings of the Funan dynasty, Kaundinya Jayavarman (478-514 AD) sent a mission to China under the leadership of a Buddhist monk named Nagasena. During the reign of the same Chinese emperor, two learned monks from Funan came to China in the early years of the sixth century AD to translate the Buddhist scriptures. King Rudravarman (514-539 AD) is said to have claimed that in his country there was a long Hair Relic of the Buddha. The Theravada with Sanskrit language flourished in Funan in the fifth and earlier part of the sixth centuries AD. Around seventh century AD, the popular usage of Pali language in southern region suggested the strong appearance of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia.
The great emperor, Yasovarman (889-900 AD) established a Saugatasrama and elaborated
regulations for the guidance of this asrama or hermitage, at the time, Buddhism,
Brahmanism and Vasnavism flourished in Cambodia. During the reign of Jayavarman
V (968-1001), the successor of Rajendravarman II, Mahayana Buddhism grew in
importance. The king supported Buddhist practices and invoked the three forms
of existence of the Buddha. In this way, up to the tenth century AD Mahayana
Buddhism had become quite prominent.
Sri Lanka-Cambodia Relations with Special Reference to the Period 14th - 20th Centuries
by Dr. Hema Goonatilake
The emergence of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia is conventionally traced back to the 13th century A.C. However, there is emerging epigraphical and sculptural evidence, that Buddhism of both the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri of Sri Lanka had made a strong early impact on the development of Theravada Buddhism in South East Asia when a good part of this region was dominated from about the 5th-6th century A.C. by the Mon Khmer culture, and later became part of the Khmer empire.
The movement of Buddhist monks and teachers from Sri Lanka to the region was
facilitated by advances in navigation technology that witnessed a quantum leap
during the period of the fourth-fifth centuries. This helped the spread of the
Pali language, the lingua franca of Theravada through
The Ramayana dominated Cambodian culture so overwhelmingly that it inspired a Cambodian version of the epic. The story of the Ramayana, and of what is considered its sequel, were written anonymously in the Khmer language between the 16th and 19th centuries (Pou 1979, p.xii), and called the Reamker (or Ramakerti). The two Indian epics represent the most important source of dramatic materials in South-East Asia including Cambodia. Most court dramas derived from these two epics and popular and folks play derived from them as well ( Brandon 1967, Leclère 1911, Thiounn 1956, Pech 1995).
Though the Reamker is taken directly from the Indian Ramayana, various aspects of the story were modified to suit Cambodian culture. The Reamker retained some elements of the Hindu belief system upon which the Ramayana was based, but was adapted to incorporate Buddhism. While in the Ramayana, Ram is believed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, a Hindu god, in the Reamker, Ram is seen as Bodhisatva, or an incarnation of Buddha. (Pou 1979, p. 22) One of the most significant effects of the arrival of the Ramayana in Cambodia was the transmission of the wealth of information it carried, including the wisdom of traditional systems of healing.
The main system of medecine in India, Ayurveda, as well as most of the knowledge
content in the Ramayana, were based on the sacred scriptures, the Vedas (composed
approximately between the 15th and 5th century BC). Ayurveda was practiced in
Cambodia by the elite in the royal court,until it was extended to all strata
of the population in the 12th century AD (Chhem 2000, p.25), and became an integral
part of Cambodian medical practice.