Jayavarman VII’s hospitals and the Angkorian healthcare system

Bas-relief of Angkorian medical care. Source: Cambodia Daily 20150822

Cambodia Daily’s interview with Dr Rethy Chhem about his work in radiology and archaeological investigations in Jayavarman VII’s hospitals.

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Bas-relief of Angkorian medical care. Source: Cambodia Daily 20150822
Bas-relief of Angkorian medical care. Source: Cambodia Daily 20150822
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Uncovering the Healthcare System of Angkor
Cambodia Daily, 22 August 2015

By the time Jayavarman VII came to the throne, the kingdom already had a long medical tradition, according to Dr. Chhem.

In the 7th century, there had been a small dynasty of doctors at the Khmer court: one family of doctors spanning four generations, he said. Also during that century, Chinese chronicles mention that a Chinese Buddhist monk was sent to Cambodia for two years to study herbal medicine.

“Globalization existed before today,” Dr. Chhem said. “There was a circulation of knowledge across the region…. The profession that allowed this diffusion of knowledge is the Buddhist monks: They were diplomats.”

In addition to traditional medicine, which is still practiced in the country, there was a tradition during Angkor of Brahmin priests being doctors and caring for the king using Ayurvedic medicine of Hindu origin.

When Mr. Pottier and Dr. Chhem excavated the hospital site at Angkor, Dr. Chhem had hoped to find medical instruments of the time and a statue of Bhaisajyaguru—a sitting Buddha holding a jar of medicine or a plant.

They did not find a statue, but unearthed numerous jars probably used for medicine that will eventually be studied by paleobot­anists, Dr. Chhem said, adding that he hopes to resume excavation in the near future.

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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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