Sunday, November 21, 2010

Museum Of Cambodia

III. Summary of Cambodian Archaeological History
1- Fou-nan[1]: Ist - VIth  Century

The Khmers are the inhabitants of Cambodia. The ancient name for this country  was Nokor Phnom, which means mountainous country. The Chinese transformed this name into the appellation Fou-nan. The country was heavily influenced by Indian civilization, probably dating from the Christian era.

The Venerable Pang Khat wrote, "The Kingdom of Nokor Phnom is situated on the sea. It is a large delta that stretches to the east to Lin-yi or Champa (land of the Chams) and the Indian Ocean and the Kingdom of 'Kin-lin' (Gold Frontier) to the west"[2].

There are two legends associated with the name Nokor Phnom:

The tale of Houen-Tien or Kaun dinya and Queen Liou-Yi:

There once was a Brahman named Houen-Tien who, after receiving a bow form a Devatā (god), left India and made his way to Nokor Phnom on a junk. Liou-Yi, Queen of Cambodia, was as elegant as a man as she set off on a crusade against the Brahman but she was vanquished and agreed to marry him.

The Tale of Preah Thong Neang Neak:

Preah Thong was married to a woman named Somā, daughter of the King of the Nāga. In order to be able to offer a kingdom to his son, the king swallowed the sea that covered Cambodia and named the exposed land Nokor Kok Thlok (Land of the Thlok Tree) or Nokor Phnom. Various kings reigned over Nokor Phnom and the capital of the country was moved a number of times. Certain writers indicated that the capital of Fou-nan as located at Bā Phnom (in Prey Veng Province) and was called V yādharapura or City of the Hunters. According to Various studies, the last capital of Nokor Phnom was situated at Angkor Borei, in today's province of Takeo.

In Angkor Borei there is a hill called Phnom Dā. On the side of the hill one of the most ancient temples of Cambodia can be found. The temple is called (Prāsād) Asran Mahā Rsī.

2- Chen-lā : (VIIth - VIIIth Century)

At the beginning of the VIIth Century, Fou-nan was conquered by one of its vassal states, the Kingdom of Chen-lā.

One of the very powrful kings of Chen-lā erected the city of lśānapura at Smabor Prei Kuk in current-day Kompong Thom Province. there today we can find many brick temples that have been classified in to three groups, accoding to their geographic situation (the north, center and south).
Many isolated temples dating from the second half of the VIIth Century to the VIIIth Century have also been found. The most remarkable ones are:

            - Prei Khmeng (Siem Reap Province)
            - Prasat Andet (Kompong Thom Province)
            - Prasat Śrī Krup Leak (Phnom Prasith(i), Kompong Speu Province)

During the IXth Century, Chen-lā was divided in to parts, Chen-lā of the Earth (to the north) and Chen-lā of the Water (to the south).

The art of Fou-nan and Chen-lā date to the pre-Angkorian era.

3- The Angkor Period (IXth - XIIIth Century)

Many prominent kings reigned during this period. The dynasty of Angkor is considered to start from the reign of Jayavarman II. However, here we will only describe the kings whose feats influenced the Khmer art of the Angkorian period.

Jayavarman II (802-850)

Jayavarman II was an intellectual. His main goal was to reunify the two realms of Chen-lā, whose capital cipital cities were relocated various times. The last capital was established at Mahendra-parvata (Phnom Kulen) where he established the cult of devarāja or 'god-king'.

Most of the important temples of his reign are situated at Phnom Kulen: Prasat Damrei Krap, Rūp Arak, Neak Tā, Prasat Kraham, Khting Slāp, O Phaong, Krous Arām Rong Chen and the C1 temple[3] of the central group of Sambor Prei Kuk, knows as the temple of lions.

The art of this period is distinguished by the Kulen style, a transitional style between the pre-Angkorian and the Angkorian eras.

Indravarman (877-889)

This monarch completed the reunification of the country, whose capital was situated at Hariharālaya (Roluos, Siem Reap). One of his most important achievements was the construction of the Bārāy Indratatāka reservoir, which served both religious and agricultural purposes. To pay homage to his ancestors, he erected the monuments of Preah Kô and Bakong which was the first temple constructed of stone. He erected a Śiva linga on it.
The art of this period is in the Preah Kô style. 
Yaśovarman (889-900)

To maintain the political stability of the country, King Yaśodharapura (Phnom Bakheng). He constructed the Bakheng temple with its 109 towers, the temple of Lolei located at the center of the Indratatāka basin, and the temples of Phnom Bok and Phnom Krom.

The art of this period is in the Bakheng style.

Jayavarman IV (921-941)

This monarch abandoned the city of Angkor and founded a new capital at Koh Ker. There he constructed a number of large-scale temples as well as the tower of Prasat Kraham (Today the Koh Ker site is located in Preah vihear province).

The art of this period in the Koh Ker style.

Rajendravarman II  (944-968)

This king abandoned the capital of Koh Ker and reestablished it at Angkor. There he built two temples on the hills to the wets: Prasat Mebon and Prasat Pre Rup. At the end of his reign construction began on the temple of Banteay śrī, which was completed during the reign of Jayavarman V.

The art of this period is in the pre Rup style.

Jayavarman V (968-1001)

Jayavarman V acceded the throne at a very young age. His most important achievements were the Banteay śrī temple, constructed by his famous spiritual master Yajñavaraha at Iśvarapura in 967, Prasat Sra lauv, Prasat Kampuh, and prasat Preah Inkosey.

The art of this period is in the Banteay śrī style.

Sūryavarman I (1001-1050)

This king erected various temples including Prasat Takeo, Khleang North and South, and Phimean Akā. His other constructions are found in the province: Phnom Chisor, Preah Vihear, Chauv śrī Vibol, Phnom Prasith(i), Wat Ek, and Phimai (Vimāyā) etc.

The art of this period is in the Khleang style.

Udayādityāvarman II (1050-1066)

Son of Sūryavarman I, this king dug the western Barāy (reservoir). His most important works include the western Mebon temple and prasat Baphuon.
The art of this preiod is in the Baphuon style.

Sūryavarman II (1113-1145)

Sūryavarman II constructed the temple of Angkor Wat that is admired throughout the world. But he also constructed other temples in the Angkor region and in other provinces such as Beng Mealea, Chauv Sāy).

He lead an expedition against Champa and occupied a portion of that country. After his death, the Chams invaded and burned the capital of Angkor in 1177.

The art of this period is in the Angkor Wat style and represents the era in which khmer art reached its zenith.

Jayavarman VII (1181-1218)

Jayavarman VII was a very powerful king in the history of Cambodia. Under his reign, Khmer civilization knew its finest hour. He constructed the temple of Angkor Thom as well as many other monuments on the Angkor site and in various provinces. Among the most important temples we can cite those of Banteay Kdei, Banteay Chmar, Preah Khan, Neak Porn, wat Nokor (Kompong Cham Province) and Ta Prum (Tonlé Batī, Takéo Province).

In order to assure the health of his people, he constructed 102 hospitals. He also ordered the construction of shelters along the road for travelers to take refuge. Regarding foreign politics, he conquered Champa, which remained a province of the Khmer Empire for 17 years (1203-1220)

The art of this period is in the Bayon style.

4. The post-Angkorian Period.

The city of Angkor was abandoned in 1431. King Ang Chan (late XVth Century to 1566) returned to Angkor and succeeded to the throne. On various occasions the capital was relocated, often due to aggressive action by the Siamese. The most important capitals were Longvek and Uddong.

Despite these problems, for five centuries (XIVth - XVIIIth) the Khmer kings enabled Cambodia to live a glorious epoch that was later termed the Middle Era[4].

Post-Angkorian art is composed of works dating from the reign of King Ang Chan and the kings that succeeded him. They include the bas-reliefs of the temples, the vihāra (temples situated in the pagoda), statues and objects for daily use.

Note that the art of this period propagates the tradition of Angkorian art despite foreign artistic influences.
 IV. Khmer Art

Under the influence of the two most important religions of India (Hinduism and Buddhism), the Khmer artist created innumerable works of art, most of them representing divinities, symbolic objects, temples and other artic used during religious ceremonies.

The Khmer artisans did not copy Indian art but created a completely original art of their own. This innovation resulted in a transformation from simplicity to complexity in art, with a profound symbolism being integrated with marvelous beauty.

Studies of the inscriptions and other documents allow us to date the monuments. By Comparing the monuments to statues and other elements of architectural design, these last can also be dated.

Monuments that have typical or original statues attributed to them lend their names to particular styles. We distinguish three main eras in Khmer art:

1. Pre-Angkorian (VIth - VIIth Century)
             1. Phnom Dā                (≈540-600)
             2. Sambor Prei Kuk     (≈600-650)
             3. Prei Khméng            (≈635-700)
             4. Kompong Preah       (≈706-800)

2. Angkorian
             1. Kulen                        (≈ 825 - 875)
             2. Preah Kô                  (≈ 875 - 893)
             3. Bakheng                    (≈ 893 - 925)
             4. Koh Ker                   (≈ 921 - 925)
          5. Pre Rup                    (≈ 947 - 965)
             6. Banteay ś              (≈ 967 - 1000)
             7. Khleang                    (≈ 965 - 1010)
             8. Baphuon                   (≈ 1010 - 1080)
             9. Angkor Wat              (≈ 1100 - 1175)
             10. Bayon                     (≈ 1177 ≈ 965)

3. Post-Angkorian
             The art of the XVth century
             The art of the XVIIth - XVIIIth century
             The art of the XIXth - XXth century
The main characteristics of the pieces in each style are described in Chapter VI.

The collection of the National Museum provides a comprehensive overview of Khmer statuary, but the essence of the architectural achievements can only be found in Cambodia's temples. In order to better understand the evolution of  Khmer art, it is preferable to study statuary and architecture together.

V. Religion and Reliefs

Khmer works of art reflect various religious influences present in Cambodia. To better understand them, it is important to be familiar with the principal them, it is important to be familiar with the principal divinities of the religions of ancient Cambodia, Hinduism and Buddhism. These two important religions were adopted by Cambodia with very specific characteristic. Today the official religion of Cambodia is Theravāda Buddhism (also known as śrī Lankan Buddhism).


The main figures of  Hinduism are the gods. To preserve the world, they have special powers and each has its own particular function. For this reason Hinduism is divided into two sects, Visnuism and śivaism.

The Khmer kings were thus either śivaïsts or Visnuists śiva and Visnu are the two main gods of the trinity (Trimūrti) comprised of Brahma, Visnu and śiva. their roles  are different: Brahma is the creator of the world, Visnu is the preserver and śiva is the destroyer.

Each god possesses its own special characteristics: attributes and mont:

Preah Prum (Brahma) has four faces on his head and four arms that carry the sacred Hindu Vedic scriptures. His main attributes are the disk, the spoon (?), the rosary and the vase. His wife (śakti) is named Sarasvati.

Preah Nareay (Narāyana, Visnu in Sanskrit):  according to the representation, this divinity can have two, four or eight arms. His attributes include the disk, the conch shell, the mace and the earth.

His principal incarnations or avatārs are: Matsya (fish), Kūrma (turtle) Varaha (boar), Narasimha (human with lion head), Vāmana (dwarf), Paraśurāma (man with axe), Rāma (from the Reamkerti epic), Krsna, Buddha and Kalkin (man with horse head).

This divinity is known by several names: Hari, Bhagavanta, Ananta, ect. His wife is Laksmīs attributes include lotus buds.

Preah Eiso, or Śiva in Sanskrit, is sometimes represented as long bearded ascetic with various symbolic objects (avyakta-mūrti). He sometimes appears under different human forms (vyakta-mūrti).

The different symbolic objects inga (phallic symbol), the trident and the footprints. His mount is the Nandin dull.

Many tales refer to his physical characteristics such as a third eye on his forehead, a crescent moon on his chignon or his attributes.
Śiva's most important attributes include a drum, a flask, a rosary, a human skull, a trident and a string. He is known as Hara, Maheśvara and Rudra, among others.

Śiva is represented in human form with four or eight arms (for example on the pediment of Banteay Śrī temple), ten arms (on the bas-reliefs of the temples) or in sculpture (Prasat Kraham, Kor Ker).

His wife also bears different names, such as Durgā (the inaccessible) or Umā (the favored one). Śiva and Umā are represented in the same sculpture, know as Ardhanārīśvara, with Śiva to the right and Umā to the left. Durgā carries the same attributes as Visnu.

Skanda and Ganeśa[1] are the sons of Śiva and Parvatī (daughter of the mountain). Skanda's mount is the peacock and Ganeśa's mount is the rat. Ganeśa's mount is the rat. Ganeśa was born of Parvatī alone. She gave him life from her own skin scales with the help of a few magic words. 

There are many secondary divinities:

Indra is the god of rain. His mount is the three-headed elephant named Airavanta.

Agnī is the god of fire. His mount is the rhinoceros.

Varuna is the god of water. His mount is the Hamsa or sacred goose.

Yama is the god of death. His mount is the buffalo.

Sūrya sitting on a chariot drawn by horses, is the sun god.

Candra, god of vegetation, is seated on a pedestal.


To teach morality and respect for Buddhist precepts to humans, the Buddha divided the cosmic world in to three realms. Nirvāna is the realm of the gods and is reserved for those who have accomplished good deeds. In this world there is no tranmigration.

Second is the earthly realm, composed of living beings who experience passion, desire, and ambition. Those here who do good deeds will be reborn in Nivāna. However, those who committed sins will go to the tower realm, hell, where there is nothing but suffering. One of the Buddhist precepts forbids the taking of any life.

According to the legend, the Buddha line is made up of the five Buddha of Kalpa (universe): Kakusandha (Sanskrit Krakucchana), Konagāmana (Konakamuni), Kassapa (Kaśyapa). Gotama (Gautama), and Metteyya (Maitreya). These Buddha are historical Buddha. Each Buddha has been represented in the incarnation of his previous life, such as the rooster, the nāga (mythical multi-headed serpent), the turtle, the ox and the rājasimha (mythical lion).

Four Buddha have already reached Enlightenment. Only Mettreya has not reached this goal.

At the time of the writing of this guidebook, we are in year 2545 of the era of Buddha Gautama, an era that is expected to last 5000 years.

In ancient Cambodia, there were two branches of Buddhism: Hīnayāna "Lesser Vehicle" and Mahāyāna "Greater Vehicl".  Hīnayāna Buddhism believes in a single Buddha and its precepts are strict. The term Hīnayāna was coined by the Mahāyanists who criticized all those who were Hīnayānists.

Mahāyāna believes in the existence of many Bodhisatva who have not yet reached Enlightenment, and its precepts are less rigorous.

Mahāyāna Buddhism was predominant during the reign of Jayavarman VII (1181-1218). The predominant religion in Cambodia today is Theravāda Buddhism, based on the Pālī text of the Tripītaka (the three gems of the Buddha).

In the Mahāyāna tradition, there is another form of Buddhism called Tantric Buddhism, which is seldom practiced. The book entitled Angkor and Ten Centuries of Khmer Art indicates on p. 328 that, "The (Khmer) inscription on stele at Sdok Kak Thom (dated 1052), in (Prachinbui) Thailand, mentions four texts on Tantric Buddhism during the reign of Jayavarman II (802-850)."
According to this tradition there is only one way to reach Nirvāna and that is samādhi meditation. Believers render  homage to the Bodhisatva Vajrapāni, Vajrassatva and Vajradhara. They have the same attributes: the Vajra (diamond or lightining) and the bell. They can be recognized by the position of their arms. G. Coedés explains on p. 43 of Khmer Bronzes that "The Bodhisatva Vajrasatva and Vajrasatva have always been refered to as Vajrapāni, because no inscriptions refer to them using those two names". At the National Museum, many bronze objects, as well as sandstone statues from the reign of Sūryavarman I (1002-1050) and Jayavarman VII, represent these figures.

Khmer artists have left a number of masterpieces depicting the most important personalities and scenes of the two religions. In Hīnayāna Buddhism examples include statues of the Buddha and important scenes from his life such as Buddha on Nāga, the Assault of the Māra and the Enlightenment.

Statues of the Buddha are readily identified by a few typical traits such as the usnīsa (cranial bulge), the curls in the hair, the cakra (disks) in the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet, the position of the hands and the monastic robes.
Mahāyāna Buddhism is represented by Lokeśvara (supreme god) and Prājñāpāramitā (knowledge). The Bodhisatva Lokeśvara, or Avalokeśvara, or Avalokeśvara, has an amitābha on his chignon, symbolizing the eternal radiance). This god has alternnately two, four, six, eight or ten arms (as in the bas-relief of Banteay Chmār).

Lokeśvara's attributes are the lotus bud, rosary, vase with water of immortality (amrta) and book. Those of Prāñāpāramitā include the book and the lotus bud. She also has an amitābha.

Syncretism of Śivaism and Visnuism

In ancient Cambodia, there were two tendencies towards syncretism (the fusion of different religions): the first is the mixing of Śivaism and Visnuism and the second is a combination of Hinduism and Buddhism.[3]

Illustration of the first type include Harihara and the Hindu triads (K.1183, vitrine No 15: Śiva, Visnu et Laksmī).

Unfortunately, there are no examples of the second type in the Museum's collection.

We also observe a syncretism of the Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna sects in the triads of Lokeśvara, Buddha Seated on Nāga, and Prājñāpāramitā
(see K.4417 et K.2424) and of Lokeśvara, Buddha Seated on Nāga,
Lokeśvara, (see K 5354)

This syncretism permitted the unification of the country's religion.

Cult of the Individual

King Jayavarman II (802-850) lived by the principle that the living should pay homage to the dead and revere them as gods.

Under the reign of Jayavarman VII (1181-1218) the physical traits of those who had passed away were reproduced in statues of the gods as a way of paying honor to the ancestors.

According to an inscription of Prasat Preah Khan, Jayavarman VII erected a statue of  Lokeśvara to represent his father and named it Jayavarameśvar.[4]

[1]  See National Museum catalogue "The Ganeśa of the National Museum"
[2]  See National Museum Catalogue A summary of the Buddha's biography.
[3]  Hindu Religions in Ancient Cambodia, K Bhattacharya, P.51
[4]  History of Buddhism in the Khmer Country, p. 93

[1]  According to the findings of excavations by the University of  Hawaii at Angkor Borei,
   the period lasted around 500 years B.C.

[2]  History of Buddhism in the Khmer Country, p.38.
[3]  The temples of Sambor Prei Kuk are classified into three groups: North, Central and South.
[4]  According to Dr. Pou Saveros' research. 

No comments:

Post a Comment