Angkor's temples are uniquely Khmer

The Indianization of Southeast Asia was one of the early theories developed in the last century to explain the pervasive presence of Hindu religious sites, sculptures and languages in this region, but the mechanisms of Indianization have always been subject to debate. In the early years of this theory, it almost seemed as if Southeast Asia was a passive recipient for Indian ideas and religion, but today the general consensus is that local rulers used the religious teachings from India as a way to further validate their royal power, leading to many similarities in the ways rulers exerted control over their subjects here (think the traditional Mandala structures of kingdoms), but also to regional distinctiveness. This article shows how the buildings of Angkor reflect that Indian influence, but are also fundamentally Khmer in construction.

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photo credit: jin_soo

Researchers Look Closer at Ancient Angkor
23 June, VOA News

Ancient Khmer art and culture have characteristics distinct from India, though some ideas appear to have been borrowed from the tradition, a Canadian archeologist told guests in Washington last week.

Speaking to a small conference at the Freer-Sackler Art Gallery, Mitch Henderickson, director of the Industries of Angkor Project and researcher at the University of Sydney, said he found no evidence after seven years of research indicating that temples or architectural structures like Angkor Wat had been built in India.

“In the past it was interpreted as a direct diffusion of Indians and Indian ideals into Cambodia,” he said. “It has only been, say, in the last 10 years that we have truly understood how Brahman and Buddhist ideals have been brought into Cambodia and whether the actual Brahman or monks were giving the ideas.”

Some architecture and arts were now thought “uniquely Khmer,” he said, “because there are no temples in India that are built in the same way. They don’t follow the idea of building a ‘baray’ with a ‘mebon’ in the center, which is the representation of Mount Meru in the Sea of Milk [epic]. There’s nothing like that i​n India. So, the idea is that now we realize that Cambodia took the ideas that they wanted and modified them to suit the purpose and goals of the rulers and kings.”


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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