via The Print, 25 August 2022: India’s influence on Cambodia from an Indian perspective.
It is in this context that we now turn to Cambodia. Around this time, Cambodia, like the Deccan, was home to several warring principalities. The general region — including sites in Laos — already had some centres of Shiva worship, particularly centred around mountains and natural stone columns believed to be self-manifestations (svayambhu) of the Shiva linga. In Cambodia, stones were already believed to be the dwellings of ancestral spirits associated with the land; it seems to have been a natural transition to see stone Shiva linga as representing a primordial, ancestral deity of the land as well. Pashupatas may have arrived on these shores as early as the fifth century, with the earliest epigraphic evidence dating to the seventh century.
The Cambodian embrace of Pashupata missionaries was also tied also to their beliefs about rulership. David Chandler in his History of Cambodia says that those who could lead men and win battles were also believed to be spiritually gifted, and vice versa. This idea that worked well with Pashupata concepts of gaining magical power through Shaivite ritual. Cambodian chiefs, seeking to attract and use Pashupata ritual knowledge, rapidly commissioned dozens of Shaivite temples along the length of the Mekong River and in various urban, political, and pre-existing sacred centres. Many of these were named after existing Pashupata Shiva centres in India (Siddheshvara, Amratakeshvara, Amareshvara), writes Shaivism scholar Alexis Sanderson in The Saiva Religion Among the Khmers. The objective behind these constructions was not an ‘imitation’ of India, but to make Shiva a Cambodian god and Cambodia a Shaivite land, as was being done by temple-building royals in South India at the same time.