The focus of the previous post, was on the Khmer expansion in North-East Thailand (today’s Isan), in light of inclusion of the sculpture of the pioneer Tamil Saivite Saint – Karaikkal Ammai , in a three-fold view-
- Political Extension
- Economic Expansion
- Religious Development.
Political Extension and Economic Expansion have been discussed already. This post explores the Religious Development under Suryavarman I, the King who is attributed with maximum political and economic expansion of the Khmer territory towards north-east Thailand and beyond.
Political and Economic facets play a significant role in a King’s victorious expansion. Religion provides exclusive facts of culture and civilisation of that particular era. Epigraphy and Literature are main evidences of a King’s political and economic successes, in terms of wars, accessions and trade, and religious inclinations; Temples and Sculptures remain Pinnacle proof of Cultural Heritage and Civilisational Refinement. An interesting aspect of temples is that, the rulers have also used them as store houses of history through Epigraphy.
Culture is a very broad term that aids in studies of specific communities. Religion and Culture are co-related concepts that help in understanding the growth and advent of civilisation within and beyond the geographic boundaries of a particular kingdom.
That is why, a research on the Religious Development under Suryavarman I, might provide critical and culminating evidences on culture and civilization that belonged to the Khmers and the reciprocal cultural factors that influenced the Khmers through political and economic relations with neighbouring and far kingdoms beyond the seas.
Religious Development in North-East Thailand under Suryavarman I
Religious Development under Suryavarman I, that provides clues for the inclusion of the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai would be discussed in this post.
This search for evidences on Tamil Influence, seems like an adventurous journey of ancient ruins and long lost culture. Having transformed into Buddhist Kingdoms, Cambodia and Thailand facilitate easy access to Heritage Hindu sites, unlike heritage sites back in India, where strong Hindu rituals are still practised. This access enables an independent approach to the sculpted Gods and Goddesses, and provides a direct route to ancient history through epigraphy, archeology, iconography and temple architecture.
Whether existing religion alongside practicing rituals, aids or hinders historical researches is certainly a matter of debate. But, non-practising religious sites like those in Cambodia and Thailand, classified as historical monuments seem to preserve History in a comparatively better way, no doubt.
I intend to analyse, four temples of North-East Thailand, where the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai is included in the panel of Dancing Shiva, another evidence of her inseparable stature while the Lord is dancing.
இறவாத இன்ப அன்பு வேண்டிப்பின் வேண்டு கின்றார்
பிறவாமை வேண்டும், மீண்டும் பிறப்புண்டேல் உன்னை என்றும்
மறவாமை வேண்டும், இன்னும் வேண்டும்நான் மகிழ்ந்து பாடி
அறவாநீ ஆடும் போதுஉன் அடியின்கீழ் இருக்க என்றார்.
“I pray for the infinite happiness of Your love; I do not want to be born again; if I do, I do not want to forget You forever; if I do, I want to be happily singing in Your praise under Your feet as You are dancing”.
The temples included for this Research are –
- Prasat Hin Phimai
- Prasat Phanom Rung
- Wat Pra That Narai Jaeng Waeng
- Prasat Sa Kampaeng Yai
Whether this analysis would lead to facts pertaining to the inclusion of Ammai in different temples during Suryavarman I’s reign or would retrace new paths of other Kings might be an interesting wait. But, the Tamil influence through Traders, spread across centuries and under various Kings beyond seas, is certainly evident through the most influential devotee of Shiva – Karaikkal Ammai.
Reconstruction of Temples
Angkor’s countless temples were hidden for centuries under jungle bushes, rubbles and wreckage, until the French in the early twentieth century, recreated the magic of the magnificent temples.
We see a Khmer monument in its 20th century version after several phases of initiation, construction, innovatory inclusions, restoration, disappearance, wreckage, and finally new-age restoration, in a span of around 1200 years.
a. phase 1- (Angkor Era – 7th century ACE to 13th century ACE ) the temples were initiated and constructed by a King – a continuous process of constant upgradation and innovation by successive Angkorian rulers is seen. Each ruler has made his own impression, which is identified through pediments and lintels, iconographic and inscriptional evidences. All of these provide important inputs to history.
b. phase 2 – Though many temples remained worship places among locals, several others were lost to human negligence. Natural calamities created havoc in pushing many temples under rubbles. Such temples had remained unknown for centuries. This silence inside the jungles and the rubbles had made the temples possibly unrecognisable from the original monuments.
c. phase 3 – later and the latest- After the French colonisation of Cambodia in 1887, the French found these hidden treasures under rubbles. Active restoration started. While few temples needed restoration, many others needed reconstruction. The French Researchers made the best use of technology to restore the lost glory and convert the yesteryear marvels into heritage monuments that the world views today in awestruck admiration.
While we review the architecture of any khmer temple, we should also keep in mind the enormous amount of restoration process that the temple has gone through, after an interval of more or less 800 to 1000 years. That too, by researchers from the other end of the world, with no or very little knowledge of the local culture including temple building expertise, which the original inhabitants themselves could have moved away from, during centuries of war and calamities.
When one notices a flash of medieval link from another heritage in a place geographically far and culturally different, it is with great interest and inquisitiveness, one travels in search of missing clues for the distinct connect.
This flash was the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer temples. This isn’t a flash anymore. It seems to be a huge ray of light, which inspires to probe the economic, cultural and spiritual link between two distant Empires – Khmer and Tamil. The inclusion of the sculpture of Ammai with Adalvallan – Dancing Shiva in several temples, reiterates the magnitude of the Tamil Links in the Southeast Asian Kingdoms during the Angkor Era (specifically from 11th century ACE).
Finding historic evidences to the date of inclusion of the sculpture is a strenuous task. Epigraphy here doesn’t directly contribute any evidence for the inclusion of the sculpture. But the clues that we have are :-
- Karaikkal Ammai, who hailed from Thamizhagam and sang devotional hymns on the Dancing Shiva was introduced in Tamil temples – in the Chola country in the 10th century ACE by Chembian Madevi (refer post: https://glorioustamils.com/2016/04/07/chembiyan-madevi-pioneer-who-introduced-ammai-in-chola-temples/ ). She is portrayed as a skeletal female figure enthralled in Shiva’s Ananda Thandavam. Continuing the tradition of placing Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva along with his mesmerised devotee Ammai in Mugamandapam or the Front corridor of the temples, Rajaraja I and son Rajendra I, placed her in their master piece temples – Thanjavur Brihadeesvara Temple (in the final years of the 10th century) and Gangai Konda Cholapuram Temple (in the first decades of 11th century) respectively.
2. With Suryavarman I’s intentions to politically and economically reign supreme in the neighbouring territories along the Isthmas of Kra, his brave diplomatic move was to claim friendly relations with the maritime giants of the southern sea – The Great Cholas. Father Rajaraja I already ruling strong with unbeaten political grip in Srilanka and beyond, Rajendra I had a smooth entry into a stable Empire, unlike Suryavarman I, who had to claim his throne after long years of war and destruction over throwing two competitors- Udayadityavarman I and Jayaviravarman.
Suryavarman I was an ambitious King with an aim to conquer the political as well as the economic arena of the kingdoms alongside his own Khmer. In order to reign supreme over the Sri Vijaya’s in the peninsula, Suryavarman I sought friendship of Rajendra I. Rajendra’s Karandhai Copper Plates of 1020 ACE refers to the chariot presented by a Kamboja King, in order to protect his sovereignty. This Kamboja king in 1020, undoubtedly was Suryavarman I. Rajendra I’s Thirukkadaiyur Inscription of 1027 ACE, lists his conquests and victories across the rolling sea, capturing different places in Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra, Nicobar Islands and the Isthmas of Kra.
3. Rajendra I did not take this political victory too far, he made use of this victory for his Kingdom’s economic enhancement across seas, beyond vast territories. This was completely utilised by the Traders of Thamizhagam, inland and overseas. The overseas Trader settlements could make use of this giant leap in the positive diplomatic ties between Tamil and Khmer Rulers, in strengthening their already well established influences. One of the exclusive influences that the Tamil settlers could propagate, was the sculpture of Ammai, a representative of the Trader community as well as a symbol of continuous assertion of Saivism.
4. Dr. Vittorio Roveda, researcher and author of various books on Khmer Architecture, suggests that the credit of building narrative reliefs in Khmer temples should be given to Suryavarman I. Specific temples he mentions are the dancing shiva and reclining vishnu in Phnom Chissor and the reliefs of Preah Vihear.
5. Apart from the above mentioned temples of Phnom Chissor and Preah Vihear, in temples at Vat Baset, Vat Ek and Banteay Srei in Cambodia that Suryavarman I had undertaken restoration, the sculpture of Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai has occupied an important place.
6. The strongest political expansion of a Khmer King into Isan – today’s northeast Thailand, was initiated and successfully accomplished by Suryavarman I. Like his contemporary Tamil King Rajendra I, Suryavarman I made the best use of his politically gained territories for economic stability of his reign. Temples are huge evidential storehouses of a King’s political victories and religious alignments. The temples in the territories won over by Suryavarman I, stand as proof of his religious tolerance and hold glimpses of the influential foreign communities settled in Khmer, one among them being the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai with Dancing Shiva.
7. Suryavarman I is hailed by historians for being one of the key restorers of various temples built by his predecessors. Most Khmer temples are testimony to continuous restoration works and innovative inclusions by successive rulers. But, temples like Banteay Srei, Vat Ek and Phnom Chisor were greatly expanded with elaborate and ornate architectural innovations. Among his temples, Preah Vihear stands monumental in its grace and grandeur on top of the Dangrek mountains. This shows his sustained will to crown his temples as culmination of his political, economic and religious excellence.
Are the above discussed points valid enough evidences to claim that the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai was erected in temples of Isan, during the reign of Suryavarman I? Certainly not.
The religion specific inscriptions of Suryavarman I might provide few more assertive interpretations.
Religious Tolerance of Suryavarman I
Suryavarman I, a Mahayana Buddhist, has shown keen interest in restoring various Saivite temples, constructing ornate entrance pavilions, establishment of Shiva Lingas and also reconstructing earlier temples on mountains with the most splendid of all monuments being Preah Vihear. He continues the existing pattern of Saivite and Vaishnavite sculptures in temples, at the same time makes Buddhism hold key position in his territory. His religious tolerance is noteworthy and his inscriptions exhibit this special virtue.
i. Lopburi inscription of Suryavarman I
- 944 śaka caturdaśī ket bhadrapa
- da ādityavāra nu vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtva
- n añ śrī sūryyavarmmadeva pandval vraḥ ni
- yama ru samācāra ta tapra pi bhūvana phoṅ
- dval pi thve toy onā sthāna ta pasvi pho
- ṅ nu vraḥ paṃ nvas bhikṣu mahāyān a stha
- vira O nau ru ta pvas vyat pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
- vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtvan añ śrī
- sūryyavarmmadeva o nau ruv anak ta cval sāṃ
- pi tamaḥ tapovanāvāsa noḥpi thve
- kaṅval pi vvaṃaṃ pān pi tapasvi yogi
- phoṅ svat mantra pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
- vraḥ pāda kaṃrateṅ kaṃtvan añśrī sū
- ryyavarmmadeva ti pre cāp pi nāṃ cuñ ta
- sabhā stap vyavahāra nirṇṇaya toy
This inscription of Suryavarman I from Lopburi, mentions that the Buddhist monks belonging to two sects – Mahayana and Sthavira and the Brahmins – Tapasvi Yogi lived together in Lava.
ii. Preah Khan of Kompong Svai inscription of Suryavarman I
Preah Khan of Kompong Svai was one of the earliest temples built by Suryavarman I. The inscription which dates back 924 Saka era – 1003 ACE is of 9 Sanskrit verses.
The first verse starts with invoking Dancing Shiva-
‘Natyam Brahmadisevyam sukayathu dayithanandanam chandramauleh’ – roughly translates as – ‘The Dance of Shiva, who adorns the moon, the Dance to which all the Gods bow in respect.’
The second verse is an invocation to Buddha.
Notes d’épigraphie by M.L. Finot, L’Inscription de Prah Khan
This inscription is not only significant in terms of Suryavarman I’s religious harmonious path invoking both Shiva and Buddha, but in invoking Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer.
iii. Takeo Inscription of Suryavarman I
Suryavarman’s awe for the Dance of the Lord doesn’t stop here. His Takeo inscription is specific about the sculpture of Dancing Shiva – Natakeswara Dasabhuja.
One of the Takeo inscriptions of Suryavarman I, starts with an invocation to Shiva in one line in Sanskrit. Rest of the inscription is in Khmer language. It talks about donations made by Yogisvara Pandita of Vyadharapura, at Lingapura, Jayakshetra, Hemasruga, Sri Campesvara and Sri Narendragrama of Bhimapura. It mentions that some golden images of Shiva were installed in the names – Tripuradahanesvara, Sri Natakesvaradasabhuja and Vishnu as Tribhuvananjeya and his consort Bhagavati Sri. (from R.C. Majumdar in ‘Inscriptions of Kambuja’)
The Khmer text reads –
ek śivikā mvāy ti sthāpanā vraḥ kamrateṅ ‘añ śrīnātakeśvara daśabhuja
This Natakesvara Dasabhuja or the Ten armed Dancing Shiva is sculpted in the already discussed Cambodian Temples like – a) Vat Basset, where the pediment is a hugely reconstructed one – with only Shiva’s three arms on the left visible; b) Battambang Museum, where there are three sculptures of Shiva Nataraja- all with ten arms; and c) Banteay Srei and Preah Vihear displaying ten armed Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. Adalvallan in Phnom Chissor is not ten armed/dasabhuja. He has two arms and plays the string instrument.
Interestingly, in all the above mentioned temples, Karaikkal Ammai is sculpted at the foot of Dancing Shiva, which has been discussed in the previous posts.
Prasat Hin Phimai
photo courtesy: http://www.sundial.thai-isan-lao.com/dharmasalaroute.html
In the previous post, under the sub-title ‘political extension’ of Suryavarman I, the extent of Khmer expansion towards north-west of Cambodia during the 11th century ACE was discussed. The Khmer territory stretched its giant hold as far as Lobpuri, including the area of this paper’s focus- Phimai.
The Phimai Temple or Prasat Hin Phimai was built in the city of Phimai, located in the present day north-eastern Thai Province Nakhon Ratchasima.
A few historical facts of the city Phimai and the temple Prasat Hin Phimai are listed below-
- The city of Phimai as scholars believe might be the ancient ‘Bhimapura’, which has been mentioned in an inscription during the reign of Isanavarman I of Chenla in the 7th century.
The Vat Chakret inscription of Isanavarman I was noticed by Aymonier, the French linguist and archeologist and edited by Auguste Barth, the French researcher in Oriental studies. The inscription, dated 529 Saka Era- 627 ACE – records Isanavarman installing the image of Siva-Vishnu through the vassal chief of Tamrapura, who possessed in addition the towns of Cakrankapura, Amoghapura and Bhimapura.
Inscriptions od Kambuja: R.C. Majumdar https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.181497/page/n67
2. During the first half of the 11th century ACE, with Suryavarman’s conquests stretching towards Isan region (north east Thailand), Phimai rose to limelight. It became the seat of Khmer supremacy. (refer previous post on Suryavarman’s conquests)
3. Usual Khmer temples are oriented towards east, but Phimai faces south. According to Lunet de Lajonquiere, the French soldier and archeologist, “the monument may have been intended to face the great capital Yasodharapura” also known as Angkor. Lawrence Palmer Briggs, author, in his ‘The Ancient Khmer Empire’ states this may be partly due to the river on the east side.
(pg.180, Briggs: The Ancient Khmer Empire)
4. Prasat Phimai is the largest temple in Isan region and is the farthest from Angkor.
5. Suryavarman’s roots are believed to be from Tambralinga (from 15th century Pali chronicles, which is still not fully accepted by several researchers). He was a Buddhist – inclined to Mahayana Buddhism by faith. With revival and restoration of various previous temples, he is also credited to have introduced Mahayana Buddhism into Khmer territory through Prasat Phimai. Phimai is the first and the biggest premises in time, devoted to the Mahayana Path.
6. An inscription in the temple, carved on the pillar of the south gopura of the second enclosure was edited by Prof. Coedes. The date of inscription was deciphered as 1112, during the reign of Dharanindravarman I (1107-1113) .
The inscription says –
1030 śaka ‘aṣṭamī roc puṣya ‘ādityavāra nu vraḥ kaṃmrateṅ ‘añ śrīvīrendrādhipativarmma sruk chok vakula sthāpanā kaṃmrateṅ jagat senāpati trailokyavijaya
jā senāpati kaṃmrateṅ jagat vimāya xxx jvan khñuṃ ta roḥh noḥh tai pandān kvan tai chke si mūla si kamvṛk tai kantū kvan tai
pāda kaṃmrateṅ ‘añ śrīdharaṇīndravarmmadeva
Sri Virendradhipativarman, a General to Dharanindravarman I, dedicated an image of a Mahayanist Buddhist deity Trailokyavijaya- who is called Senapati or General, to serve Lord Vimaya- mentioned as ‘Kamrateng Jagata Vimaya’ – a form of Buddha.
This Lord Vimaya is presumed to be the principal deity of Prasat Phimai. On the basis of the inscription and the decorations in the monument, few researchers believe Prasat Phimai was built during the reign of Dharanindravarman I or earlier in the last decades of the 11th century.
7. During the reign of Jayavarman VII (1182-1218), a road system with rest houses connecting Angkor and Phimai was established. A stele in Preah Khan dated 1191 ACE, describes rest houses and dharamshalas connecting Angkor to other cities. It mentions the temples along the route from Angkor to Phimai. Hence, the complete credit of connecting Phimai and Angkor and transforming Prasat Phimai into a Buddhism temple is given to Jayavarman VII. But, Mitch Hendrickson (pg.482/483, Historic routes to Angkor: development of the Khmer road system (ninth to thirteenth centuries AD) in mainland Southeast Asia), argues that ‘the strict temporal association ignores the achievements and regional communication history of Jayavarman VII’s predecessors and their successors within the 600 years of Angkorian period’.
8. Jayavarman VII is not only credited for his road route from Angkor to Phimai, but is also hailed for bringing a strong religious shift in Angkor towards Mahayana Buddhism. After the end of Angkor era, Theravada Buddhism continued and is still the major religion of present day Cambodia.
The Preah Khan stele mentions that Jayavarman VII, distributed 23 statues of ‘JAYABUDDHAMAHANATHA’ to different temples. Some researchers feel, Jayabuddhamahanatha was the depiction of the King himself as the Buddha- Jayabuddha- the Victorious King, who conquered the Chams. One such statue of Jayavarman VII is seated in Prasat Hin Phimai.
Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Hin Phimai
Prasat Hin Phimai, was visited by Etienne Aymonier and the first inventory of the ruins was presented by him in 1901. Most of the restorations were done from 1964 to 1969 as a joint Thai-French project. The historical park, now managed by the Fine Arts Department (of the Royal Thai Government), was officially opened by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on April 12, 1989. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phimai_Historical_Park
In the year 1963 to 1966, Bernard Philippe Groslier, the French scholar and conservator of Angkor temples, advised the government of Thailand on reconstruction of Prasat Hin Phimai. https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/16949/AP-v27n2-obit2.pdf
As discussed above, The Phimai Temple- constructed and restored by several Angkor kings and then re-restored with modern technology in the 20th century ACE, stands tall with loads of unanswered mysteries.
A Mahayana Buddhist by belief, Suryavarman I is credited to bringing Buddhism into Khmer territory in a dominant form.
According to L.P. Briggs,
Suryavarman I’s interest in the north and the ancient representations of the Buddha found at Phimai lead to the opinion that the transformation from a Saivite Prasat to a Mahayanist sanctuary may have taken place during his reign.
pg.182, Briggs: The Ancient Khmer Empire
After the Phimai inscription of Dharanindravarman found in the door jamb of Prasat Phimai, owing to the inscription and pattern of decorative elements in the temple, authors and researchers have concluded the temple to be of later 11th century. However, with several other clues that the temple has provided, it is not easy to come to an affirmative conclusion.
One more inscription found at Prasat Hin Phimai – dating to 1042, that of Suryavarman I, displays the same religious tolerance that the King is hailed for.
The inscribed stone has two faces written in old Khmer and Sanskrit, one face invoking Shiva and the other side invoking Buddha.
This inscription, which is earlier to that of Dharanindravarman, leaves enough evidence that the temple already existed before his inscription on dedication of the deity Lord Vimaya in 1108 ACE . Suryavarman I’s inscription on religious tolerance and the repeated pattern of invocation of Shiva and Buddha in the same premises, shows his relentless interest in Shiva, beyond being a staunch Mahayanist, who gloriously attained his posthumous name Paramanirvanapada.
Meanwhile, Suryavarman I seeking Rajendra Chola’s aid in curtailing the Srivijaya’s political and economic aspirations and Rajendra’s naval victory over Srivijaya Empire, thereby giving Suryavarman I an upper hand to expand his territory and stabilise his economic control in the region, are important milestones for the Chola influence in Khmer Empire during the first half of the 11th century ACE. As such, the glory of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva being well recognised by Suryavarman I’s Natakesvara Dasabhuja must’ve become an important part of Khmer architecture.
Ammai in Rajaraja I’s Thirupugalur Temple
Ammai in Rajendra I’s Gangai Konda Cholapuram
Ammai in Prasat Hin Phimai
The same pattern of iconographical representation of Ammai, in the already seen Cambodian temples built by Suryavarman I, as one of the Ganas, below the feet of Dancing Shiva, like that of the Thiruppugalur temple built by Rajaraja I, and that of Gangai Konda Cholapuram built by son Rajendra I, is not to be ignored. In the light of this fact, the Cambodian Temples and the Angkorian temples of north-east Thailand, where Suryavarman I claims political and economic victory dominating previous Khmer rulers, also display the same iconographic pattern of Rajendra I, the new friend of the Khmer Emperor.
The influence of the Tamil community, inland traders and the maritimers in particular, which was at the highest of the times, with their mighty Emperor’s Naval victory, could’ve resulted in their symbol of Saivism- Karaikkal Ammai be represented in the country they had settled in.
Therefore, with the above available clues, it can be safely concluded that Suryavarman I was the first Khmer King to have initiated the portrayal of Dancing Shiva, in the most imposing visual grandeur, with Karaikkal Ammai sitting at his feet, in the Khmer temples in Cambodia and North-East Thailand, he built and restored, until we get any new evidence to the contrary.
The role of Sivacharya’s, who have always been part of temple construction and dedication of deities as per several inscriptions, will also to be studied in the subsequent posts.
- Charles Higham – The Civilization of Angkor
- Lawrence Palmer Briggs – The Ancient Khmer Empires
- Vittorio Roveda – The Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos
- George Coedes – The Indianized States of Southeast Asia
- C. Sivaramamurthi – Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature
- Vittorio Roveda, The Archeology of Khmer Images – pg 12 – www.persee.fr/doc/asean_0859_9009_2004_num_13_1_1809#
- Hall, Kenneth R. “Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 18, no. 3, 1975, pp. 318–336. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.
- Chirapat Prapandvidya, Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute, Academy of Arts;