A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chuon Nath's Biography

Shared by S K MONOHA of Cambodia, France

Samdech Sangha Raja Jhotañano Chuon Nath (March 11, 1883 – September 25, 1969) is the late Supreme Patriarch Kana Mahanikaya of Cambodia. Amongst his achievements is his effort in conservation of the Khmer language in the form of the Chuon Nath Khmer dictionary. His protection of Khmer identity and history in the form of the national anthem, Nokor Reach and Savada Khmer are also amongst his contribution to the country.

Conserving the Khmer Language
Nath was the head of a reformist movement in the Khmer Buddhist Sangha which developed a rationalist-scholastic model of Buddhism, rooted in linguistic studies of the Pali Canon. This new movement, known as Dhammayuttika Nikaya, influenced young Khmer monks in the early 20th century. The new movmenet also cultivated Khmer-language identity and culture, giving rise to the notion of Cambodian nationalism.

Nath pushed for a series of innovations in the Khmer Sangha beginning in the early twentieth century: the use of print for sacred texts (rather than traditional methods of hand-inscribing palm-leaf manuscripts); a higher degree of expertise in Pali and Sanskrit studies among monks; a vision of orthodoxy based on teaching of Vinaya texts for both monks and lay-people; and modernization of teaching methods for Buddhist studies.

He also oversaw the translation of the entire Buddhist Pali cannon into Khmer language; and the creation of the Khmer language dictionary.

The French set up its protectorate over Cambodia and intended to replace the Khmer language with its own through the so-called "pseudo-French intellectuals." This intention rallied many Cambodian scholars to the course of conserving the Khmer language; one such scholar was Nath. A son of farmers who later became a monk, Nath dedicated his life to upholding Buddhism and the conservation of Khmer language in the country that was highly influenced by French colonialism. He had an extensive knowledge of the Khmer language. He was probably the most famous and most knowledgeable monk Cambodia had ever had. A master in Buddha’s teaching, he was very well known around the Buddhism circle as well as very adept at languages. Throughout his life he encouraged the use of "Khmerization" in both public education and religions. What Nath meant by "Khmerization" was he wanted to derive new Khmer words from its ancestral roots, the Pali and Sanskrit languages. For example, when the train arrived first in Cambodia, there was no Khmer word for the train. Nath thus derived the word for train from Sanskrit and Pali word of Ayomoyo which means something that is made of metal. Together with the word Yana which means vehicle, came the Khmer word for train which we know today as Ayaksmeyana, pronounced Ayak-smey-yean ot "Rot Pleung" meaning "fired vehicle", a vehicle run by a wood-fired engine.

However, Nath’s Khmerization was not overall accepted by all Khmers. ther scholars such as Keng Vannsak who were pro-French did not find the kind of Khmer words derived from Pali and Sanskrit to be convenient. They revolutionized another kind of derivation which they want to adopt normalized French word into Khmer vocabulary. The only major change was to use Khmer alphabet to write the word rather than using the Roman alphabets used by the French. But despite opposition, Nath’s Khmerization succeeded. He was a member of the original committee granted royal order to compile a Khmer dictionary in 1915 and was credited as the founder of the dictionary as he pushed for and finally succeeded in printing the first edition of the current Khmer dictionary in 1967.

Nath’s other contribution to Cambodia include the current national anthem, Nokoreach. Nokoreach was written to correspond to the motto of the nation, "Nation, Religion, King" as well as demonstrate the grandeur and the mighty past of the Khmer nation.

Verification of the national khmer song:

Pong Savada Khmer
A ballad Savada Khmer to call for all Khmer to unite, to remember and to uphold the great history of the Khmer people was written by Mr Nuon Kan on 12/09/1958. It was not written by Samdach Chuon Nath though our Samdach Chuon Nath was giving a lot of support and encouragement to publicize khmer nationalistic nature of this song.

English Translation
All Khmers, please remember the root and history of our great country
Our boundary was wide and well known
Others always thought highly of our race
And always placed our race as the elders.
We have great heritage and culture
Which has spread far and wide in the Far East.
Religion, arts and education,
Music, philosophy and strategies are all that we have spread.
All Khmers, please remember our roots and history
Which speaks of the grandeur of our great race
Make up your mind and body and try hard to rebuild
In order to lift the value of our nation
To once again rise to the greatness that we once had.
P.N : My name MONOHA was given by Samdech CHUON NATH . Up until now, I still don't know the meaning of this word.


Anonymous said...

many thanks for sharing this valuable part of great history

Anonymous said...

Samdech Chuon Nath was our most invaluable scholar and linguist. He is irreplaceable, even 41 years after his death.

Anonymous said...

it's nice to know our Pong Savada Khmer,thank you S K MONOHA

Anonymous said...

Thank for share this great history of Samdech Choun Nat.share us more S K MONOHA

Anonymous said...

Samdech Choun Nat was a great Khmer language dictionary maker,all young generation should know about his history ,and a great Khmer monk .
Thank for sharing us his history SK MONOHA ,hope his soul always with Khmer people,with Khmer country.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Mr. Monoha. Your articles are very informative as usual. Samdech Chuon Nath was and still is very inspiring

Anonymous said...

Thank all Anonymous beloved, for your kind comment on Samdech Chuon Nat , it is a great pleasure to have your sweet comment on him,my beloved guru in Khmer's language,at wat Ounalorm.
S K MONOHA of Cambodia.france

Anonymous said...

I believe Samdach Chuon Nat and Prof. KengVanSak were our honorable and admirable linguistic scholars and Khmer cultural nationalists. However, Samdach Chuon Not was conservative with expansion of Sanskrit and Pali languages in Khmer literature. Prof. KengVanSak was liberal in imperative of Khmer Common language rather than Sanskrit-Pali that a small group of people were legible and able to acquire these ancient Indian languages.
KengVansak was one of prominent anti-French colonialist politicians, and vigorous opponent to pro-French elements as mostly royalist clans including King Sihanouk.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the publishers. It's kinda helpful for me to make researches about khmer general knowledge. Thanks again.