Project Hindu dham in Cambodia is not just misinformed: it is a regressive step in the history of India-Southeast Asia relations that could start a dangerous chain of religious disharmony and unrest.
The chief rationale for this project appears to be the grand Vaishnava temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Five hundred acres of land has been acquired and 1,008 Shivalingas established to mark the creation of a fifth dham for Hindus. The project is evidently well-funded. Its chief proponents perceive this enterprise as a ‘cultural investment’, an apt way to promote Hinduism beyond India, to revitalise historical links between South and Southeast Asian nations, and to encourage trans-Asian pilgrim networks.
Brahmins have been serving in the Thai royal court as officials and performing royal ceremonies since the Ayutthaya period. The involvement of Brahmins continued to the Rattanakosin period. During the reign of King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), due to the government’s budgeting reasons, many officials were laid off. Some Brahmins were affected. They returned to their native provinces to take up other professions. Back then, they were not allowed to performed rituals for commoners.
A great change came during the start of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. By royal decree, Brahmins were allowed to conduct ceremonies for the people. Families of Brahmins who relocated during King Rama VII’s reign could now revert to their old profession.
The centre of Brahmin activity in Thailand is at Devasathan, a Hindu temple in Bangkok’s inner city, which was built more than 200 years ago.
In Thailand, Komkrit said there are three types of Brahmins. One is brahm luang or royal Brahmins who mainly perform royal ceremonies like the annual ploughing ceremony. They come from a long family line of Brahmins in Thailand. The recent reopening of the Erawan Shrine was also presided over by the chief of Brahmins from the Devasathan.
Applications are now open for the Alphawood Scholarships in Southeast Asian Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London for the 2015-16 academic year. This is a great opportunity for young Southeast Asian scholars interested in a postgraduate education for the advancement of Hindu and Buddhist art.