Photo – Angkor Wat Temple (Khmer Kingdom)
Hinduism in Cambodia (Khmer Kingdom) :
Cambodia was first influenced by Hinduism during the beginning of the Funan kingdom. Hinduism was one of the Khmer Kingdom (Empire) official religions. Cambodia is the home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma in the world. Angkor Wat of Cambodia is one of the largest Hindu temple in the world.
Laos used to be part of Khmer Kingdom (Empire). The Wat Phou is one of the last influences of that period. The Laotian adaptation of the Ramayana is called Phra Lak Phra Lam.
Hinduism was the most dominant religion of the Khmer Kingdom (Empire) of Cambodia. The ancient Hindu Khmer kings adopted a successful monarchy system of Indian Hindus as replica. Being revered as the “God-King” or Devaraja (a manifestation of the Hindu God Shiva or Vishnu) the Khmer kings were able to rule over the empire with divine kingship and absolute power. The monarchs being regarded as the god-king were able to motivate the dedication of their people to serve the throne as a divine service.
In the late 12th century, king Jayavarman VII changed the state religion to Mahayana Buddhism. Jayavarman VIIth successors changed the state religion back to Hinduism, and angry Hindu priests destroyed Buddha statues and replaced them with Hindu deities, as for example the Buddha statue which was situated in the central shrine of the Bayon.
Then, the introduction of the Theravada Buddhism religion in the 13th century by a Burmese monk with the name Shin Tamalinda, who came to Angkor claiming he were a descendant of a former Khmer king, sparked a controversial disagreement throughout the monarchy. The religion basically out ruled the “God-King” system as it encouraged people to seek their own beliefs and abandon worldly things and discourage any superstitious beliefs of Hinduism. As a result of that people started to be less willing to work for the King as a holy service, as they once did. The Pali canon replaced the Sanskrit texts and hence the downfall of Hinduism in Cambodia. Even now we can still see the the strong influence of Hinduism in Cambodia.
Tamil Kingdom of India influence Angkor Wat :
One legend mentions a handsome South Indian prince traveling to Cambodia, marrying a beautiful Cambodian princess and becoming king of Cambodia. Another legend says that a Brahmin by name, Kauninya, from India sailed to the kingdom of Funan in Cambodia around 1st century. He defeated the ruler of Funan, a princess by name Soma of the Naga dynasty, then married her and became the king of Funan. The last of the legend is another Brahmin by the same name reached Cambodia around 5th century and was elected as king of Funan. The historical fact though is that Khmer kingdom whose capital was around Angkor Wat was founded in 802 by Jayavarman II. This kingdom was ruled by many dynasty till around 1431 when the story goes that Angkor was abandoned by Khmer due to constant threats from Thailand (Siam) and moved their capital south to Phnomh Penh.
The cultural and commercial interactions between South India and Cambodia dates back to a few centuries before Christ. During those times a major maritime highway linking India, China, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Africa and Rome. Spices and gemstones from SE Asia reached east coast of India (Andhra and Tamil Nadu), from where they were shipped to the Red Sea ports of Africa and from there sent to Rome. Archeaologists have discovered ancient Roman coins, ceramics, etc. in the Thai-Cambodian region. It is suspected that the Mahabalipuram, Arikamedu, Kaveripattinam are major ports in India trading with Cambodia.
South Indian influence on Cambodian art and culture was prolific during the rule of Pallavas (3rd – 9th AD) and Cholas (9-13th AD) in South India. Among the Pallava kings, it is very well known that the title Varman was honorific and so was borrowed by the Cambodian kings. You will find almost all of them having the suffix ‘Varman’ starting with Bhadravarman in 4th AD. He happened to be a scholar and well versed in Vedas and author of several inscription in Sanskrit.
The Grantha called Pallava Grantha script traveled to Cambodia from Pallava. Some of the birudas (titles) of Pallava kings including Mahendravarman I appear to be in the Khmer language. Nandivarman Pallavamalla, one of the later pallava rulers, is believed to have lived in Cambodia before he travelled to Kanchi and then ascended Pallava throne.
Pallavas contributed the cult of Ashtabhuja Vishnu (eight-armed Vishnu) to Cambodia. This cult originated around Mathura region in North India, spread to Nagarjunakonda (Andhra) and from there to south to Kanchipuram. You will find this form of diety enshrined in many temples in and around Kanchi especially at Ashtabhuja Perumal Temple. You will find a similar eight armed Vishnu huge monolithic figure in Angkor Wat. This was the main diety in the sanctum of Angkor Wat uppermost tier of the temple. After Buddhism was embraced this diety was moved out to the entrance where it still stands. It is said that this statue is identical to the one in Ashtabhuja Perumal temple of Kanchi.
Another parallel is the ubiquitous presence of depiction of the Hindu mythology of churning of cosmic ocean by the gods and demons. In Angkor you will find this depiction every where including Bayon and Angkor Wat. You will see the entrance to many temples having this. In India you will hardly see this mythology depicted in any of the temples except at Virupaksha temple at Pattadakkal in Karnataka.
One uncommon feature is the depiction of an incident in Mahabharata war. The bas-relief of this war shows Bishma lying on the bed of arrows. Such representation of Bishma is uncommon in South Indian art. Overall there is a strong influence of Indian Hinduism in Cambodia specially on their art and temple designs.
More photos of Angkor Wat Temple here.
Our group trip photos in Instagram.