Ancient Khmer Visions Of Glory In Modern Cambodian Buddhism

by bria4123 on November 18, 2012


On this trip I wanted to be more than a history hound, so I explored as many modern temples as I could.

They gave me many revelations about the richness of Khmer culture in the modern world, which most visitors to Cambodia miss.

The Khmer Rouge tried to stamp out religion in the late 1970’s. Monks were forced to disrobe, pick up hoes and labor in the rice fields. But both Buddhism and folk religions that honor local spirits quickly made comebacks after Pol Pot’s evil doings.


Many modern Cambodian wats have paintings on the walls of the public assembly halls.

Wats all around Battambang, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are enlivened by paintings that invoke the Khmer Empire’s nobility’s elegance. Both of the above scenes are in Wat Phnom Sampeau, which crowns a majestic hill about 12 miles from Battambang. They show the Buddha and his devotees in the regal elegance of the ancient royal court.

The above painting from Phnom Chisor shows the Buddha descending Mt Meru with the kingly splendor of a Khmer monarch promenading down the stairway from the royal palace to the parade ground.


The above painting’s also from Phnom Chisor.



And this one graces Wat Phnom Sampeau. The women in both of these scenes are dressed more decorously than the Apsaras that dance on the walls of Angkor Wat and many other ancient Khmer monuments. But they embody similar visions of heaven–they mix feminine grace and the royal court’s splendor.

Now that Cambodians can publicly aspire for the highest spiritual goals they can envision, many seem to look back to the ancient Khmers’ glory as the greatest good. Its exuberant art fits Cambodia’s awesome natural environment so well that the regal scenes that the Khmers created still resonate. And they represent a time when Cambodia was politically strong.


Sadly, Cambodia’s corrupt political leaders keep its people a million miles from these ideals while they booze and brothel it up in their gated Phnom Penh mansions. But I found the people so warm and gracious, and almost all the other travelers I met did too. They deserve everything they wish for. Let’s spread the word about their great heritage and get more people interested in helping them live up to it.












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