Khmer Empire (802-1460)

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Bas Reliefs at Angkor
Sambor Prei Kuk sculpture
Angkor Wat/Angkor Thom…
Khmer busts/Jayarvanman VII
Banteay Srei temple/figure
Bayon temple/faces
Khmer mural painting
Bronze artefacts

The Khmer Empire settled across today’s countries of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam; though its highest degree of progress was in Cambodia.

Khmer art was of great beauty and was especially linked to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, with Javanese and Chinese influences. The Khmer civilization experienced , which took place between the ninth century and the fifteenth century. There were nineteen kings (802-1080 CE) and twelve emperors (1135-1460).

António da Madelena, a Portuguese Capuchin friar and missionary, was one of the first Western visitors to Angkor Wat, the monumental and moated 12th c Hindu-Buddhist temple (northern Cambodia). He reported his find to historian Diogo do Couto in 1589, statin it ‘is of such extraordinary construction, that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of’. But this was not pursued. It was left until the 1860s for the French to unveil the glory of Khmer art and its Angkorian capital, though it was still half buried by the jungle.

There are Wat murals in the Silver Pagoda of Phnom Penh, Wat Bo Temple in Siem Reap, and Wat Kompong Tralach Leu. But most of the Khmer paintings were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge period of the late 1970s.

Fortunately then, we are left with statues and bas-reliefs sculpted in stone and the bronze items they produced. These depict gods and goddesses, kings and princes, mythical/legendary figures including Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, animals include lions and smakes and mythological animals like dragons and nagas. Later, Buddha statues were added, and the most stunning were representations of the four faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara carved into 50 towers, perhaps the most familiar of Khmer art.


The Khmer Empire left a superb legacy of bas-relief stone carvings

The top image is of Apsaras at the Angkor Wat temple.

The second image shows Khmer artisans engaged in pottery.

The third and fourth images are from Angkor Thom and shows the Khmer army going to war with the Champa kingdom, this was waged periodically from 950-1220 CE.

Intriguingly there are some excisions within the war scenes, not from the Khmer Rouge iconoclasm. but from Thailand. The Thais invaded and occupied the Siem Reap area, and embarrassed by their depictions as mercenaries to the Khmer, removed these references.

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Sambor Prei Kuk is an archaeological site in Cambodia. 176 km east of Angkor and 206 km north of Phnom Penh. The ruined complex dates back to the Pre-Angkorian Chenla Kingdom (late 6th to 9th c) It was established by king Isanavarman I as the central royal sanctuary and capital, then called Isanapura. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The image is a statue from that period is a sandstone female deity, perhaps Lakshmi or Durga. There is said to be an influence from Funan (today’s Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam), the first Hinduised kingdom in SE Asia active 1st-6th c CE.
Angkor Wat/Angkor Thom: Some believe that the main structure of the temples embodies Mount Meru, a mythical mountain that was home to the gods in Hindu mythology. Other smaller towers symbolize different sacred mountains of the sky, while their courtyards recreate the mountain ranges and the moat to the cosmic ocean. The causeway establishes a bridge that leads men to the presence of the gods.

The top image is Angkor Wat, the only temple at Siem Reap that was never abandoned.

The second image is Angkor Thom, including Bayon temple.

The bottom image is taken at Ta Prohm, often referenced as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, after the sequences filmed here for the movie in the year 2000.

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Image source: Wikimedia commons

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This top image is of the Khmer king Jayavarman VII who reigned from 1181-1218.

He became devoutly Buddhist and built Bayon as a monument to Buddhism. This bust is very similar to the images at Bayon.

Most of the other extant busts are religious, like the two lower images.
Banteay Srei temple (967 CE) remained in use until at least the 14th century. Then was lost until the site was rediscovered in 1914.
Lower image is a seated figure at the temple.

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Image source: grandbayon.com

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The Bayon is a richly decorated Khmer Buddhist temple at at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at Angkor.

Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and stone faces smiling from a multitude of towers, one count puts this at 216 faces.

The similarity of huge faces to other statues of the king has led many to the conclusion that the faces are representations of Brahma, as Khmer leaders saw themselves as king-gods. Others have said that the faces belong to the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara.

The lower image shows the entrance to the site.
Khmer traditional mural paintings that suvived the iconoclasm of the Khmer Rouge. Fortunately, in the 1960s, art historians Guy and Jacqueline Nafilyan photographed the then extant murals, providing a record of this lost cultural heritage.

The top image depicts prince Mahajanaka rescued by a sea goddess it is at wat Botum Wattey Reacheveraram in Phnom Penh.

The second image is of Gautama Buddha gaining nirvana, from Wat Botum.

The third image is a Ramayana mural at Phnom Penh’s Silver Pagoda.

The bottom image is described as a wat mural.

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A selection of Khmer bronze artefacts/

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