Khmer Political and Economic Expansions in Northeast Thailand under Suryavarman I (1010-1050 ACE)

The friendly diplomatic relations maintained by Rajaraja I and the subsequent military conquests of his son Rajendra Chola I in connection with the Kingdoms of Southeast Asia and the consequential increase in the influence of the Tamil Trader community in Khmer temple architecture has been discussed in the previous post.  The impact of the influence of Maritime Tamil Traders through the sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai – an innovative introduction along with Dancing Shiva in Khmer temples, which was the pioneer architectural excellence of Chembian Madevi in Chola Temples in Thamizhagam/Thamilagam from mid 10th century ACE is the focus point of this series of posts – ‘Ammai in Southeast Asian Temples’.

In this post, we continue to concentrate on the Khmer temples with the sculpture of Ammai, but with a shift from today’s Cambodia towards the north-east region of today’s Thailand, which is presently called Isan. The Isan region falls to the north west of today’s Cambodia and shares borders with both Laos and Cambodia.

Several provinces that constitute today’s north-east Thailand formed an important historical part in the Khmer expansion of geographical territory, specifically during the reign of Suryavarman I.  This author proposes to view the inclusion of Ammai in Khmer temples in the light of Khmer expansion towards north-eastern regions of Thailand in three ways-

  1. Political Extension
  2. Economic Expansion
  3. Religious Development

The facts pertaining to the above mentioned three faceted Khmer Expansion during the reign of Suryavarman I, are dealt in an attempt to search evidences, which are epigraphic and non-epigraphic in nature, for the inclusion of the sculpture of the Tamil Saiva Saint, Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples.

Political Extension

The Khmer focus on today’s north-east Thailand or beyond and north of Dangrek Range is believed to have gained momentum during the reign of Rajendravarman II (944-968 ACE). However, it was only after Suryavarman I claimed the Khmer throne in the first decade of the 11th century ACE, that the Khmer expansion took a giant leap, occupying several provinces in today’s Isan and even beyond.

Mitch Hendrickson (currently Asst. Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Chicago) holds a Doctorate in Archeology. He focuses his research on communication systems and expansion mechanisms of the Khmer Empire between 9th to 15th centuries ACE. His 2012 publication – Connecting the Dots: Investigating the issue of transportation between the temple complexes of the medieval Khmer (9th to 14th centuries AD), examines the transport routes established as links between various Khmer temples. His paper brings out important geographic and political dimensions of the reigns of various Khmer Kings combined with religion. The research reveals the road routes established by Khmer Kings along the important temples they built and also provides a different interpretation on the connectivity of these temples after the inclusion of several provinces of Dvaravati region (north western region of today’s Cambodia) into the Khmer territory. It also provides us additional details on Suryavarman I and his geographic expansion and the efforts made by him to increase mobility to and from the temple sites built and renovated by him, in Cambodia and northeast Thailand.

If, as assumed, the Khmer temples are part of a greater cultural landscape under politico-religious control, an examination of connections at the regional and supra-regional scales will provide insight into the internal dynamics of the Khmer empire and its geographic history.

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

This analytical paper on the communication corridors of Khmer Kings gives us fascinating details on the expansion of the Empire and the far flung regions controlled by different Kings, in specific context of this paper, Suryavarman I.

The second significant feature is the restricted size of royal territories until the reign of Suryavarman I in the early 11th century. At this time the focus expands significantly to the northwest and south of the Tonle Sap Lake. Interestingly, the areas influenced by subsequent kings largely mirror the 11th century occupation, which suggests that regional communication was formally established at this time.

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

In the picture below, the author shows the communication corridors of Kings, necessarily used to develop transport routes between temple sites.  Additionally the picture also throws light on the comparative mapping of the geographic/political Khmer expansion through their religious entities and storehouses of cultural refinement – ‘Temples’.

 

Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches: Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia

After Udayadityavarman I, the sites influenced by Suryavarman I in the first decade of the 11th century ACE show his sturdy grip as far as the western regions of Cambodia, forging into Dvaravati region. The significant geographic expansion aided in the creation of culturo-religious institutions in form of temples in the newly extended territory.

Pali Chronicles – the Chamadevivamsa and the Jinakalamali (both belonging to the 15th century ACE) and Mulasasana, talk of the story of the Khmer expansion in the Menam Basin and also mention the name of ‘Kambojaraja’. Even if the chronicles can be brushed aside as imaginary, Coedes clarifies that – ‘ we nonetheless have clear manifestations of Cambodian expansion in the era of Suryavarman I in the region west of the Great Lake, where his inscriptions are particularly numerous’.  (George Coedes, pg.137, Three Great Kings, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia).

 

Lopburi inscription of Suryavarman I

  1. 944 śaka caturdaśī ket bhadrapa
  2. da ādityavāra nu vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtva
  3. n añ śrī sūryyavarmmadeva pandval vraḥ ni
  4. yama ru samācāra ta tapra pi bhūvana phoṅ
  5. dval pi thve toy onā sthāna ta pasvi pho
  6. ṅ nu vraḥ paṃ nvas bhikṣu mahāyān a stha
  7. vira O nau ru ta pvas vyat pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  8. vraḥ pāda kaṃmrateṅ kaṃtvan añ śrī
  9. sūryyavarmmadeva o nau ruv anak ta cval sāṃ
  10. pi tamaḥ tapovanāvāsa noḥpi thve
  11. kaṅval pi vvaṃaṃ pān pi tapasvi yogi
  12. phoṅ svat mantra pi nu thvāy tapaḥ ta
  13. vraḥ pāda kaṃrateṅ kaṃtvan añśrī sū
  14. ryyavarmmadeva ti pre cāp pi nāṃ cuñ ta
  15. sabhā stap vyavahāra nirṇṇaya toy

http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/en/inscribe_detail.php?id=381

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 Lavo. This is not only a proof of Suryavarman I’s Khmer expansion in the Dvaravati region but also a proof of religious secularism encouraged under him.

Where is Lopburi?

 

Map courtesy: By Hdamm – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4141418

Above map shows Lopburi and Nakhon Ratchasima in arrows. The extent of Suryavarman I’s expansion beyond the Dangkrek Mountains, with Prasat Hin Phimai, which falls under the province of Nakhon Ratchasima and reaching as far as Lopburi was only a beginning to his commercial and architectural expansion – bringing economy and religion under a single umbrella of political conquests…. much similar to Rajendra Chola I, his contemporary Tamil Emperor, whose political conquests resulted in economic and religious expansion of Tamil culture as far as China – beyond Southeast Asia.

Economic Expansion

The geographic expansion of Khmers under Suryavarman I has been briefly discussed above. What would seem most important in the study of the inclusion of iconography of Karaikkal Ammai in Cambodia and north east Thailand is the religious expansion during the first half of the eleventh century. But, there is one more important theory that makes the powerful chain of geographic and religious expansions stronger – that is Economic Expansion. The economic expansion or commercial development of Khmer Kings is a topic of separate, in-depth analysis- already done by several scholars and researchers. The economy aspect of any King’s rule occupies a significant place in his political and religious influences taken from and spread towards other friendly and non-friendly nations. Significantly, economic relations might be more expansive than political, as it additionally aids in cultural and religious give and take.

With the focal point on Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer temples, the economic expansion of Khmer Kings needs to be explored. The political and economic expansions of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I of the Chola Empire in Thamizhagam were discussed in the previous post. The maritime Tamil merchants and their stronghold in Southeast Asian economies had led to various cultural reciprocities, the most beautiful among them being the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai, the demon devotee of Lord Shiva in Khmer Temples.

As written previously, the Tamil Economic upheaval was at its apex during the reign of the father-son duo – Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. Inscriptions on Rajendra I’s Southeast Asia conquests are proof to the political and economic might of the Tamils in the early 11th century ACE, the period corresponding to the reign of Suryavarman I in Khmerland.

Inscriptions in Thamizhagam show an uninterrupted process of maritime trade and political stronghold of the Tamils in Southeast Asia, from Rajaraja I’s successful friendly relations, followed by a new policy of political conquests by son Rajendra I. A century later to Rajaraja I’s reign, Kulottunga Chola’s inscriptions in 1114 ACE, talk of friendly relations sought by Suryavarman II with the Tamil Kings.

Inscription of Kulottunga I  that a stone was provided by Suryavarman II to the Shiva temple of Chidambaram (Chittrambalam or Thillai being its original Tamil name).

 

Photo clicked from Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions by Noburu Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu

Researchers and Scholars have analysed the evidences of the glorious commercial expansions under the rule of Suryavarman I, who incorporated the west of the core Angkor area extending till Lopburi (Lavapura) into the then existing Khmer territory. The corresponding cultural and religious networks he created within and beyond his territory might bring in clues to the inclusion of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Architecture.

The interest that Suryavarman I showed in his political expansion, continued with the immense emphasis he laid upon administrative and commercial activities internally and internationally.  He focused on enhancing trade and commerce of his kingdom by integrating markets of his then existing territory and newly captured provinces. One of his primary concerns was to dominate the economic scene among the neighboring states, by extending friendly relations with the South Indian Cholas.

Kenneth R Hall’s extensive research on Khmer commercial development during the reign of Suryavarman I has indeed left behind ample references that relate to the Tamil maritime links in and around the Khmer territory.

Epigraphy suggests that prior to Suryavarman’s reign, goods of Chinese origin had entered the Khmer core through the eastern part of the domain, as the inscriptions concentrate on commercial activities in that direction (Coedes: IC,v6; 183-86; Aymonier: 1900-1904, 443). Inscriptions from Suryavarman’s reign reverse this eastern focus, being concentrated in the western region. While the proliferation of inscriptions in the newly integrated areas is a reflection of the period’s administrative expansion, there are strong commercial implications as well.  Once the Khmer had established control in Lobpuri and areas to the south, goods brought from China to say Phanom Wan no longer needed to cross the mountains to the east. Instead, they could reach Lopburi and Phanom Wan via the Chaophraya River system, the same route being used for goods that were coming from India, Persia, and Arabia via Tambralinga. Such a direct interaction with the international routes no doubt was viewed as an asset to the internal development of the Khmer economy in Suryavarman’s time.

Pg. 182, Hall, Kenneth R., A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500

These economic strong points of the Khmer Empire during the rule of Suryavarman I, could be seen in light of the economic stronghold of Rajendra Chola I across Southeast Asia. While Suryavarman I opened new trade entry points through Phimai and Lopburi, west of Angkor, one of his prime motives as the reigning Khmer Emperor was to surpass the Srivijayas and hail supreme in Southeast Asian Economic Arena. Despite two powerful trade economies – China to the north and Tamil Cholas to the far west of the Khmer Empire of the day, Suryavarman I was very active in establishing a hugely successful Khmer Commercial Presence among the immediate neighboring kingdoms of Southeast Asia, thereby dominating the trade routes of Isthmus of Kra.

The economic empowerment during his reign is also attested by the ‘large scale urbanisation’ –

epigraphy mentions only twelve place names ending in –pura, a Sanskrit term used to identify urban areas, during the reign of Jayavarman IV (928-942), twenty-four in the period of Rajendravarman II, twenty under Jayavarman V, but forty-seven – more than double those of his immediate predecessors – in the reign of Suryavarman I

Pg.320,  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 link : www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

Khlon Jnval Vanik

Another interesting phrase that might need additional analysis is ‘khlon jnval vanik’, mentioned in Khmer epigraphy. Coedes deciphers in his Inscriptions du Cambodge vol.3 (inscriptions in Prasat Prav) – the various words that refer to merchants. A few special words decoded by Coedes –

Khlon Jnval – residing vendor/local merchant

Khlon Jnval Vanik – Travelling merchant

Travan Vanik – Merchant Quarter

Vap Champa – Cham merchant

Vap China – China Trader

Pg. 321, 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 link : www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

As deciphered by Coedes,  ‘Vap’ could refer to a trader from a foreign country, and  ‘Vanik’ might indicate a merchant traveling throughout the territory of the Khmer ruler . According to Hall, among the inscriptions found at Vat Baset and Svay Chek (Bantay Prav), ‘Khlon Jnval’ denoting the local merchants in khmer language seem to dominate in Vat Baset, proving it to be an important local communication center; whereas Bantay Prav inscriptions show that ‘khlon jnval vanik’ denoting traveling merchant, occupies a greater place. Hence, Bantay Prav could have been an important center of communication and exchange between the Khmer core and its western provinces, with Lopburi becoming part of Khmer Land after Suryavarman I’s expansion.

Six of seven inscriptions of a commercial nature from these two temples date to Suryavarman’s reign, while the seventh, an inscription from the reign of Harshavarman III (1071), is the latest inscription examined.

Pg. 327, 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 link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

These terms regarding inland merchants during the period from mid 10th century ACE until last few decades of 11th century ACE, signify the extensive trade within the extended Khmer Territory.

According to George Coedes –

Vanik est un mot d’emprunt Sanskrit significant ‘commercant’ that translates as –

‘Vanik’ is a borrowed word from Sanskrit which means Trader.

George Coedes, Pg. Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol III

This comment by Coedes has made more number of scholars and researchers believe the word ‘vanik’ to be of Sanskrit origin and this fact gets repeatedly mentioned in several later research papers and articles.

Historian K.N. Shastri, in his article on the Tamil Inscriptions of 9th Century ACE, talking of merchant guild ‘Manigramam’ found in Takuapa says –

‘The Manikkiramam deriving its name ultimately from Sanskrit Vanik-gramam (guild of merchants) is a powerful mercantile corporation often mentioned in South Indian Inscriptions

Pg. 29-30, K.A.Nilakanta Sastri,Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, Journal Malayan Branch, Vol, XXII, Pt. I

There are two points to be discussed here –

  1. Is ‘Manikkiramam’ derived from Vanik-gramam?
  2. Does the word ‘vanik’ have its root in Sanskrit as both these scholars say?

Coedes’ Inscriptions du Cambodge was published in the year 1937 and Sastri’s Takuapa article was published in Journal of Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society in the year 1949, though written in 1948. K.A.N. Sastri’s previous and first article on Takuapa, prior to 1949 – ‘The Takuapa Tamil Inscription’ was published in the The Journal Of Oriental Research Madras Vol. Vi, in the year 1932. It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit connection is mentioned only in the 1949 article, after the publication of Coedes’ ‘Inscriptions du Cambodge Vol. III’.

On ‘Manikkiramam’ being derived from Vanik-Gramam, and the root word of ‘Vanik’ to be from Sanskrit,  Dr. Kalaikkovan, Founder, Dr. Rajamanickanar Historical Research Centre, Thiruchirapalli opined through a telephonic conversation in May 2017-

“If the Tamil traders wanted to name their overseas merchant guild based on the word ‘Vanikar’, meaning traders/merchants in Tamil, why should they re-phrase it as Manikkiramam? They might as well have had their guild’s name ‘Vanika Gramam’, which directly specifies the term – Merchant Village. Manikkiramam could have got its name from the product that was traded – pearl or other precious stones/beads.”

This stands true from the fact that Tamizhagam had been a Buzzing Economic Centre since centuries before Common Era. Also, glassware and beads that have been excavated from Southeast Asian coastal towns especially from Malaya and Thailand testify the gem trade between the Tamils and Southeast Asian friends that flourished from Tamil Ports. It is additionally well proven from available Tamil literary sources and travelogues by foreign authors from the early centuries of the 1st millennia that the Tamil Coastal Line was a busy business haven enjoying imports and exports between the Arabs and Southeast Asians.

Trade with Southeast Asia already existed in the early historical period, the focus now (after mid 6th century ACE) shifted towards Southeast Asia, Srilanka and China. Thus the trading activities survived in the later periods. Thirdly not only the luxury goods but even the beads, either of semiprecious stones or glass, were a valuable item of trade. The central role of South India, especially Tamil Nadu, in the international gem trade has led Peter Francis (‘Early Historic South India and the International Maritime Trade’ by Peter Francis Jr.)  to call the region the “Treasure Chest of the Ancient World”.

Pg.132, Vikas Kumar Verma, Maritime Trade Between Early Historic Tamil Nadu and Southeast Asia; URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/44145830

Hence, the ambiguity regarding the word ‘Manikkiramam or Manigramam’ could be viewed wider with the merchandise of the traders  – possibly gem trade and pearl fishery which has been much prevalent between the Malayan Peninsular States and Thamizhagam.

Poetic references of ‘Vanigar’ in Early Tamil Literature

In this case, the root of the word ‘vanik’ needs more scrutiny.  A search for ‘vanik’ in early Tamil Literature gives new light to the belief of scholars. Before making its place in 11th century Khmer epigraphy, ‘vanik’ has found powerful usages in Literary Tamil Language. Before entering into ‘Bhakti Ilakkiyam’  (Saivite Devotional Hymns by Nayanmars and Vaishnavite Hymns by Alwars) which dominates 6th century ACE until 12th century ACE of Tamil Literary Scene, the Tamil Epic Silappadhikaram written in approximately the 2nd century ACE, mentions ‘Vanikar’.

1.Silappadhikaram, (first half of 2nd century ACE – according to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, pg.67 Kala Araichi) the epic written by Ilangovadigal has several mentions of ‘Vanikar’  for example, ‘Aruvai Vanikar Veedhi’  denotes the Textile Merchant Street.  The protagonist of Silappadhikaram, Kovalan himself is introduced as – ‘Kovalan enbaan or vaanigan’ –  ‘A merchant named Kovalan’

‘கோவலன் என்பான் ஓர் வாணிகன்’

Additionally, Silappadhikaram mentions ‘vaniga marabu’, ‘vaanigar’, ‘vaanigan’ and ‘vaaniga peedigai’ – all these words referring to merchants. (pg.1382, Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne, vol.III, Institut Francais D’Indologie)

2.Moving backward in time, Thirukkural – (appr. 1st Century ACE to 3rd century ACE according to Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, pg.47, Kala Araichi) mentions –

வாணிகம் செய்வார்க்கு வாணிகம் பேணிப்
பிறவும் தமபோல் செயின்.

Thirukkural- 120

Naduvu Nilaimai

Vaanigam seivarkku vaanigam peni
Piravum thamapol seyin

Translation:

A thriving trader is the trader known,
Who guards another’s interests as his own.

http://www.thirukkural.com

3.Puranaanuru (3rd century BCE -3rd century ACE) mentions vanigan and vaanigan in a few poems.

i. Aravilai vanigan ai allan……. (Puram 134)

புறநானூறு 134, பாடியவர்: உறையூர் ஏணிச்சேரி முடமோசியார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: ஆய் அண்டிரன், திணை: பாடாண், துறை: இயன் மொழி
இம்மைச் செய்தது மறுமைக்கு ஆம் எனும்
அறவிலை வணிகன் ஆஅய் அல்லன்
பிறரும் சான்றோர் சென்ற நெறியென
ஆங்குப் பட்டன்று அவன் கைவண்மையே.

Puranānūru 134, Poet Uraiyūr Ēnichēri Mudamōsiyār sang for Āy Andiran, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Iyan Moli
Āy is not like a businessman with fair
prices who thinks that the good done in
this birth will help the next one.
His generosity is because of other noble
men before him who followed the right path!

ii.  Yaanor Vaaniga Parisilan Allen ….(Puram 208)

புறநானூறு 208, பாடியவர்: பெருஞ்சித்திரனார், பாடப்பட்டோன்: அதியமான் நெடுமான் அஞ்சி, திணை: பாடாண், துறை: பரிசில்

குன்றும் மலையும் பல பின் ஒழிய
வந்தனென் பரிசில் கொண்டனென் செலற்கு என
நின்ற என் நயந்து அருளி ஈது கொண்டு
ஈங்கனம் செல்க தான் என என்னை
யாங்கு அறிந்தனனோ தாங்க அருங் காவலன்
காணாது ஈத்த இப்பொருட்கு யானோர்
வாணிகப் பரிசிலன் அல்லேன் பேணித்
தினை அனைத்து ஆயினும் இனிது அவர்
துணை அளவு அறிந்து நல்கினர் விடினே.

Puranānūru 208, Poet: Perunchitharanār sang for Athiyamān Nedumān Anji, Thinai: Pādān, Thurai: Parisil
When I stood there and said that I have crossed many
hills and mountains to come to him for a reward, he
showed me great kindness and asked me to take what
I wanted, this king who is difficult to withstand
by his enemies.

I am not like a merchant who considers these gifts
as merchandise
, to take gifts which are given without
being seen.  It would be sweet if he knows my worth
and gives me a gift, even if it were tiny like millet!

https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-purananuru-201-300/

4.Paripadal Thirattu (3rd century BCE – 3rd century ACE) mentions ‘Vanigar’/merchants – the plural of vanigan/merchant –

ஆங்கு ஒரு சார் உண்ணுவ பூசுவ பூண்ப உடுப்பவை
மண்ணுவ மணி பொன் மலைய கடல்
பண்ணியம் மாசு அறு பயம் தரு காருகப்
புண்ணிய வணிகர் புனை மறுகு ஒருசார் . . . 25

on one side, there are decorated streets with shops
where faultless, honest merchants sell food,
fragrant smearing pastes, ornaments, clothes, bright
gems and gold brought from the mountains and ocean.

sangamtamil/paripadal

5.The earliest mention till today is from the earliest Grammar Work available in Tamil Language – Tolkappiyam (3rd – 4th century BCE)

Vaisiyar perume vaniga vaazhkkai (tholkappiyam, poruladhikaram, 622)

http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/77849/8/08_chapter2.pdf

The term ‘vanik’ that denotes merchants is available in Tamil Literary texts as early as 3rd Century BCE. This literary evidence that proves the usage of a particular word in a particular language, earlier than other languages, especially before Common Era and its continuous usage through several centuries across the next millenium- proves the root word of ‘Vanik’ need not be Sanskrit but most probably Tamil. The word ‘vanik’ seen in Khmer epigraphy from 10th to 11th Century ACE, also proves the continuity of the well established links of the Tamil traders which is known from travel notes of foreign authors-  from as early as the last few centuries Before Common Era (Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar on Periplus notes (70-100 ACE)  on Chola Trade, pg. 106,  Cholar Varalaaru) and literary evidences (Tamil Epics Silappadhikaram and Manimekalai that speak of Chola Maritime Trade with Western and Eastern countries in 2nd century ACE). The Takuapa Tamil Inscriptions in Thailand, the earliest epigraphic evidence of maritime tamil traders guild in Southeast Asia,  provide clues to the continuous link of Tamil Vanigars/Traders from early centuries to the final centuries of the millennium. The Khmer Rulers, who have used the same word to denote the same group, which is merchants in their epigraphy, is yet again a proof of the powerful commercial activities of the Tamil Merchants, especially during the reign of Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I, contemporary Tamil Empires of Suryavarman I.

Names of poets prefixed with Vanigar in Early Tamil Literature

The usages of ‘vanigan’ in Sangam Tamil Literature were seen above.  Additionally, the huge collection of poems of the Sangam Tamil Age mentions the community to which few of the several poets belonged to. Among those, in the context of ‘vanigar- merchant’, in Purananuru, Agananuru and Mullaipaatu – below mentioned poets have their specific trades/merchandises prefixed to their names:

Purananuru-

Poem  59 – written by Madurai Koola vaanigan Seethalai Saathanar – Seethalai Saathanar – Grain merchant of Madurai

Poem 264 – written by Uraiyur Ilampon Vaniganar – Gold merchant of Uraiyur

Poem 329 – written by Madurai Aruvai Vaanigar Ilavettanar – Ilavettanar – Textile merchant of Madurai

Agananuru-

Poem 298 – written by Madurai Panda Vaanigan Ilanthevanar – Ilanthevanar – Grocery merchant of Madurai

Mullaippaattu written by Kaviripoom pattinathu Ponvaniganaar maganaar nappoodhanar – Nappoodhanar – son of Gold merchant of Kaviripoom pattinam

‘Vanigan’ in Early Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions in Tamilnadu

Apart from these names, one of the earliest of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions found at Madurai Azhagar/Alagar Malai and Pugalur also finds mention of ‘vanikan’.

1.Madurai Azhagarmalai inscriptions – early Tamil Brahmi Script, that dates between 3rd century BCE and 1st century ACE (acc. to Iravatham Mahadevan)

refer – பழந்தமிழ்க் கல்வெட்டுகள் – மா. இலாவண்யா

(Pazhanthamizh Kalvettukkal –www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866)

Upu vanigan viyagan – salt merchant

Panitha vanigan nedumalan – sugarmerchant (according to Iravatham Mahadevan) or edible camphor merchant (according to Mayilai Cheeni Venkatasamy)

Kolu vanigan elasanthan – plough merchant (according to Iravatham Mahadevan) or Iron merchant (according to Ra. Nagasamy)

Refer –தமிழ் பிராமி கல்வெட்டுகள் காட்டும் தமிழகச் சமூகப் பொருளாதார நிலை’- தி. ஸ்ரீ. ஸ்ரீதர்  – (‘The Socio-Economic Life of the Tamils through Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions by Sridhar)

2.Inscriptions from Pugalur Jain Temple –  later Tamil-Brahmi Script that dates between 2nd century ACE and 4th century ACE (acc. to Iravatham Mahadevan)  (www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866)

Karuvur Pon vanigan nathi adhittanam – Gold merchant from Karuvur

Ennai Vanigan veni aadhan adhittanam – Oil merchant

www.tamilvu.org/tdb/titles_cont/inscription/html/pukalur.htm

These early Commom Era inscriptions again refer to traders of different commodities.

These literary and epigraphic evidences in Tamil that show the usage of ‘vanikar’ and that dates from a time span extending from 4th century BCE (tolkappiyam) to 3rd century ACE, are enough proof for the roots of the word to have originated from Tamil Language. With no available literary/epigraphic evidence earlier than these, until a proven evidence of its usage is available in any other contemporary language – it is logical and indeed valid to claim the word could have its roots in Tamil.

With both the terms, ‘vanigar’ and ‘vanika’ denoting merchants or traders been found mentioned in Sangam Tamil Literature and in Tolkappiyam – the oldest Tamil Grammar text found till today, ‘vanik’ could not possibly have its roots in Sanskrit. Apart from the root of the word, its usage in Tamil Literature associated with Tamil Economic activities, that is similar to denote economic activities in Khmer Land, a millenium later, when the Tamil Cholas were at their ‘Vanik’ best in Southeast Asia is certainly an element for further critical research.

Literature centuries before Common Era, systematic Grammar of the language to produce such mature literature and a well established civilisation to cultivate long routed economic activities and strong rooted cultural reciprocities, the Tamils have left behind enough and abundant documentation through literature and epigraphy, the proof of their influences far and wide. It is for the learned scholarly world to recognise or wait for search of more evidences.

Hundreds of centuries with limited evidences – literary, epigraphic and sculptural, History finds its decisions mostly in Probability. As mentioned in the previous posts, with an open-mind to accept new discoveries that would answer satisfactorily various ambiguities in history, with the same theory of Probability as per available evidences till today, this is an honest view on the Tamil and Khmer connection of the word ‘vanikar’ (available in khmer epigraphy as ‘vanik’) which means traders/merchants.

Now, we come back to usage of the same word ‘vanik’ meaning traders/merchants in Khmer epigraphy during the reign of Suryavarman I. The terms ‘khlon vanik’ and ‘khlon jnval vanik’ meaning resident merchants and travelling merchants respectively as quoted by Kenneth Hall from George Coedes, should be seen in the light of Khmer economic development at its expansive best and political and economic stronghold of the Cholas in Southeast Asia under Rajendra I at all time high sidelining Srivijayas. Additionally, a wider view of the Tamil word ‘vanikan’ available in early Tamil Literary sources, would provide evidences of the comfortable positions enjoyed by Tamil Trader Settlements across centuries, not to ignore the Pallava influences seen in ancient provinces of today’s Thailand.

The chart below provides information on the mention of the word ‘vanik’ in khmer epigraphy-

 

pg.177, Eileen Lustig, Money doesn’t make the world go round: Angkor’s non-monetisation, Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – edited by Donald C. Wood

It can also be seen that Vat Baset inscriptions under Suryavarman I leads in numbers. It is also to be noted that the term ‘vanijam’ inscribed previously in 8th century ACE undergoes a change in ‘vanik’ from the 10th and 11th century ACE inscriptions – a closer similarity to ‘vanikar’ of Tamil Language.

Using services of merchants towards temple donations is a prevalent norm even today. Kings have always had close links with merchants and their community for religious and cultural innovations through Temples, which could be done easily with the wealth accumulated by and from the traders. Khmer rulers couldn’t have chosen a different path and Khmer epigraphy provides abundant evidences to this.

Elaborating on the chariot sent by Suryavarman I to Rajendra Chola I, and the Chola raids on Srivijaya, Kenneth Hall reiterates Coedes’ words –

Coedes stated that the Chola expedition led to the reintroduction of Khmer influence in the isthmian region during the second quarter of the century

Pg. 332, 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 link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

He adds,

It is the author’s belief that the gifts given to Rajendra by Suryavarman were not intended to “save his own kingdom”, but to establish a friendly trade relationship between Cambodia and Chola ports.

Pg. 334, 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 link:  www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.

This core emphasis on victorious trade accomplishments of the Khmer Empire under Suryavarman I along the Isthmus of Kra, with the cordial relations of Tamil Cholas could well have contributed to the upsurge and higher influential positions of the Tamil Traders or ‘Vanik’ settled in Khmer territory. This upsurge in the positions of Tamil Traders could have further proved as a catalystic aid in the inclusion of the sculpture of Tamil Saint Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temples in Cambodia and north-east Thailand. An important fact here – Karaikkal Ammai, the demon devotee of Lord Shiva from the Tamil country, also belonged to the same ‘Vanigar’(tamil) – trader – ‘vanik’ (khmer) community in 6th century Thamizhagam.

It can be stated rather unambiguously that Karaikkal Ammai – the Pioneer Tamil Saint and Poetess of the Saivite Bhakti Movement in Tamil Land, who belonged to the Vanigar/Vanik/Trader community, would have been the star religious Ambassador for the Tamil Trader Settlements living in far eastern countries – including the land of focus of this research – Khmer Land under Suryavarman I.

References

  1. Mitch Hendrickson, Old Myths and New Approaches – Interpreting Ancient Sites in Southeast Asia
  2. George Coedes, Three Great Kings, The Indianized states of Southeast Asia
  3. Noburu Karashima and Y. Subbarayalu, Ancient and Medieval Tamil and Sanskrit Inscriptions
  4. Hall, Kenneth R. “A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500”
  5. 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, 1975JSTOR.
  6. George Coedes, Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol III
  7. K.A.Nilakanta Sastri,Takuapa and its Tamil Inscription, Journal Malayan Branch, Vol, XXII, Pt. I
  8. Vikas Kumar Verma, Maritime Trade Between Early Historic Tamil Nadu and Southeast Asia
  9. Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne, vol.III, Institut Francais D’Indologie
  10. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Kala Araichi
  11. Dr. Ma. Rajamanickanar, Cholar Varalaaru
  12. மா. இலாவண்யா , பழந்தமிழ்க் கல்வெட்டுகள்
    Ma. Lavanya, Article : Pazhanthamizh Kalvettukkal, Varalaaru.com
  13. தி. ஸ்ரீ. ஸ்ரீதர் , தமிழ் பிராமி கல்வெட்டுகள் காட்டும் தமிழகச் சமூகப் பொருளாதார நிலை in Keetru.com – (‘The Socio-Economic Life of the Tamils through Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions by Sridhar)
  14. Eileen Lustig, Money doesn’t make the world go round: Angkor’s non-monetisation, Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas – edited by Donald C. Wood
  15. Recueil des inscriptions du Siam, Part II, Inscriptions of Dvaravati, Srivijaya and Lavo by Coedes
  16. Mohamed Nazar, M , Arab trade and traders in the Pandya country – thesis submitted to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
  17. Dr. S. Sivasankaran, “State of Handloom Weavers, Weaving and Fabric in Tamilnadu Through the Ages”, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Humanities, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page Number 95-103, 2016.

 

Web links

  1. Old Myths and New Approaches Interpreting Ancient Religious Sites in Southeast Asia
  2. http://www.sac.or.th/databases/inscriptions/
  3. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4141418
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14719726
  5. www.jstor.org/stable/3632140.
  6. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44145830
  7. http://sangam.tamilnlp.com/cilappatikaaram
  8. https://learnsangamtamil.com/
  9. http://www.thirukkural.com/
  10. https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com/ettuthokai-purananuru-201-300/
  11. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/77849/8/08_chapter2.pdf
  12. www.varalaaru.com/design/article.aspx?ArticleID=866
  13. Keetru.com/index.php/2014-03-08-04-39-26/2014-03-14-11-17-85/19346-2012
  14. www.tamilvu.org/tdb/titles_cont/inscription/html/pukalur.htm
  15. http://www.persee.fr/docAsPDF/befeo_0336-1519_1929_num_29_1_3297.pdf
  16. http://hdl.handle.net/10603/61422
  17. Link to Takuapa and Tamil Inscription by KAN. Shastri in the Journal of Oriental Research, Madras Vol Vi, 1932 – https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.283291/2015.283291.The-Journal#page/n357/mode/2up

 

Ammai in Phnom Chissor

 

Karaikkal Ammaiyar in Phnom Chissor

IMG_2363
As mentioned in the earlier post, most of today’s standing structures and lintels of Preah Vihear were constructed during the reign of Suryavarman I (1010-1050). He has often evoked researches regarding expansion of Khmer Rule in present day north-east Thailand; constructing new temples; renovating/adding new structures to existing temples; as well as strengthening Iconography of Dancing Shiva in temples, which was already documented by Pre-Angkor rulers as early as 7th century ACE.

Here is another temple devoted to Lord Shiva, towards the southern end of today’s Cambodia.  Phnom Chissor, built during the rule of Suryavarman I,  displays the sculpture of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. The temple offers no disappointment-  one can find Shiva’s humble devotee, Karaikkal Ammai sitting below Him watching his eternal dance.

 

the lintel

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ammai to the right of adalvallan

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To the left of shiva is the person with ‘muzhavu’ – the percussion instrument.

 

karaikkal ammaiyar with cymbals in hand


Like Prasat Preah Vihear built on top of Dangrek Mountains, Temple Phnom Chissor is  also built on top of Mount Chissor; and was originally known as ‘Suryaparvata’ or the mountain of the Sun God, named after the King who constructed it. The Shiva Lingam or the main deity of the temple was called ‘Suryavarmeswara’.

Located in Takeo Province of Cambodia, about 70 kms south of present day capital Phnom Penh, reaching Phnom Chissor requires a climb of more than 400 steps from the southern entry to the temple. The impressive sandstone lintels and intricately designed doorframes are testimonies to a majestic Empire’s architectural inclination.

Map below shows north-west Cambodia with province Battambang (Vat Baset), northern Cambodia with Preah Vihear and southern Cambodia with Phnom Chissor, where Dancing Shiva  with Karaikkal Ammai was sculpted during the 11th century ACE.
Country_map

map courtesy: http://www.excursionasia.com/pages/map.html

These temples belong to the 11th century ACE. But, the worship of Shiva Nataraja in Cambodia dates back to early 7th century ACE. The Isanapura inscriptions of Isanavarman I in Sambor Prei Kuk mentions it.

 

The people of Ancient Cambodia worshiped the Shiva Nataraja since the 5th C.A.D. The K.440 inscription of King Ishanavarman I who ruled around 616-628 A.D. recorded the installation of the silver image of Nrittesvara. http://documents.mx/documents/karaikal-in-cambodia.html

 

Additionally, Dancing Shiva with ten arms is specified in the Takeo inscriptions of Suryavarman I, which refers to an image of ‘Natakesvara (king of dancers) with ten arms (dasabhuja). mireille benisti
The dancing Shiva in Phnom Chissor doesn’t have 10 arms, but the common string instrument in the hands of the eternal dancer is something to be noted. The sculptors of Adalvallan in Battambang, Preah Vihear and Phnom Chissor have given an instrumental possession to the Dancer and they are similar too.

 

battambang

IMG_1397

 

preah vihear

IMG_1333 - Copy

 

phnom chissor

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Mireille Benisti, French scholar and researcher of early Khmer Art and comparative Indian Art and Iconography, first published an article in 1967, in ‘Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient’ under the topic – ‘Notes d’iconographie khmère’ –  the title of the article being – ‘AU SUJET D’UN LINTEAU DE VAT BASET’ (On the Lintel of Vat Baset).

In the previous post, it was mentioned that Mireille Benisti published an article on Karaikkal Ammaiyar in Vat Baset in the year 1976, based on the book ‘Karaikkalammaiyar: An iconographical and textual study by Peter J. J. de Bruijn. However, subsequent online searches revealed that she could be the first scholar to have noticed Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Temple Art. She first documents the iconographic presence of Ammai in Vat Baset and then in Banteay Srei and Prasat Hin Phimai (Thailand) in her articles in the same Bulletin in 1967 and 1969 respectively.

According to Ms. Benisti, ‘the Baphuon style’ of the temple architecture and the inscriptions in the sanctuary (Vat Baset) may date back to mid-eleventh century, during the reign of Suryavarman I, but the lintel of dancing shiva and karaikkal ammai might belong to the second half of the eleventh century, an assertion, she attributes to the style of Kala Head, Branches and other ornamental representations sculpted in the temple.

This lintel mentioned by Ms. Benisti couldn’t be located in Vat Baset during my visit in December 2014.  I feel the picture published by Ms. Benisti is similar to the lintel found outside Battambang Museum. Hence, the lintel that Ms. Benisti saw at Vat Baset in 1967, could  possibly be the one currently (December 2014) placed outside the Museum. She also explains about the ten armed Adalvallan dancing between two female characters.
IMG_1397

 

Further to come-

The earliest sculpture of Karaikkal Ammai in Khmer Land – Banteay Srei Temple, built in the year 968 AD.

 

References

  1. mireille benisti –‘Notes d’iconographie khmère’ – Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient – 1967
  2. mireille benisti – ‘Notes d’iconographie khmère’ – Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient – 1969- pages 159-161
  3. U-tain Wongsathit, Department of Oriental Languages, Silpakorn University, Thailand – ‘Karaikal in Cambodia’ –  http://documents.mx/documents/karaikal-in-cambodia.html
  4. The Indianized States of South-East Asia  by George Cœdès

Karaikkal Ammai in Prasat Preah Vihear

 

Dancing Shiva in Preah Vihear

IMG_1334 - Copy

 

The next temple where Karaikkal Ammai is seen to closely enjoy the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva is Prasat Preah Vihear.

 

Gopuram I – the trademark lintel

IMG_1964

 

Preah Vihear in Khmer Riel (currency)

IMG_1963

Prasat Preah Vihear (called by the Khmers) or Prasat Phra Wihan (called by the Thais) is a magnificent temple situated on top of a 525 meter high cliff on the Dongrek mountains. The temple and the mountains lie between Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Province (north-western Cambodia) and Thailand’s Si Sa Ket Province (north-eastern Thailand).
preah vihear maphttp://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1131887

 

The Temple of Preah Vihear, a unique architectural complex of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases on an 800 metre long axis, is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1224

 

The construction of the temple had begun under the rule of Jasovarman (889-910 ACE) and completed during the rule of King Suryavarman II (1113-1145 ACE). Suryavarman II was the King who gave the Angkor Empire its most revered jewel – Angkor Wat. Yet, most of today’s standing structures and lintels of Preah Vihear were built by King Suryavarman I, the King who built the temples of our point of interest -Dancing Shiva with Karaikkal Ammai – Vat Ek, Vat Baset and Phnom Chissor.

 

massive naga

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The Khmer Cliff Temple, occupied by Siam off and on, later affected by the Khmer Rouge Regime and then again by conflicts with Thailand used to be less accessible to tourists till recently. But that is not the case now. The magnificent temple can be reached by a few hours of travel easiest from Siem Reap.  Or as we did combined with the ancient temples of Battambang, which is a longer route. Siem Reap seems to be a better option, with multiple ancient locations at easy reach.

 

IMG_1268
The former Washington Post foreign correspondent John Burgess has authored a book on Preah Vihear named ‘Temple in the Clouds’. Prasat Preah Vihear is truly too close to the clouds.
Panoramic view of preah vihear
The temple absorbs anyone into its charming architecture. It grabs the visitor into its intricate carvings, aesthetic designs and artistic enclosures. It is an architect’s Delight, archeologist’s Paradise, vivid traveler’s Adventure and a faithful worshiper’s Heaven.

Preah Vihear is one of the greatest Khmer master pieces of all times with its massive structure which is truly captivating.

 

glorioustamils - preah vihearhttp://sophanse.blogspot.in/2008/06/hopeful-careful-wait-for-temple.html

 

Important Facts about the temple-

  1. The construction of the temple started in early 9th century
  2. Earliest surviving parts of the temple belong to Koh Ker period in the early 10th century
  3. Elements of Banteay Srei temple of the late 10th century can also be seen
  4. Most of the temple was constructed during the reign of King Suryavarman I (1002-1050  ACE)
  5. King Suryavarman II contributed to major restorations of the temple
  6. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara
  7. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation towards the east.
  8. An inscription provides detailed account of Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual advisor, the aged Brahmin Divakarapandita.
  9. According to the inscription, Divakarapandita took interest in the temple and donated to it a golden statue of dancing Shiva known as Nataraja.

IMG_1966

 

On Shiva Temples in the Angkor Era-

Shiva temples often open to the east; they feature three towers, the north tower is dedicated to Vishnu, the central tower to Shiva, and the south tower to Brahma.

Shiva’s different names in Khmer Temples-

  • Sambor Prei Kuk: Gambhiresvara (Inscrutable Lord), Sri Ratnesvara (Lord of Precious Stones), Prahasitesvara (The Smiling Lord)
  • Banteay Srei: Tribhuvanamahesvara (Great Lord of the Threefold World)
  • Preah Vihear: Sikhareshvara (Lord of the Summit).

http://www.angkorguide.net/mythology/shiva/shiva.html

 

It is inevitable to show some of the sculptures beautifully carved in the lintels of the temple.

The structure of Preah Vihear is classified into five Gopurams. The entrance of the Temple is marked by Gopuram V with its massive pillared walls and the trademark lintel, now in restoration mode.

Walking towards the inner Gopurams numbered IV, III, II and I, one crosses a series of stairways with long walking paths. Each Gopuram stands stunning with its exclusive carvings depicting epic scenes and exclusive sculptural master pieces of Khmer temple architecture like the churning of ocean and reclining Vishnu.

 

Here are a few of those-

 

an inscription

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reclining vishnu

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churning of ocean

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Karaikkal Ammai in Preah Vihear?

Entry to the temple is through Gopuram V, then proceeds towards Gopuram IV and Gopuram III. As we enter Gopuram II, there lies the Main Sanctuary which is again a huge structure with beautifully carved lintels. The most striking feature of the Main Sanctuary is the ‘Dancing Shiva’. He is seen dancing on a head of an elephant over Kala.

 

While Shiva dances after killing the elephant demon in the glow of the setting sun, the whole world dances with him. For a millennium the sun has been setting with that primordial glow under which Shiva danced for the first time in a hoary mystic past. His devotees watched his dance of emancipation day after day in the crepuscule of the setting sun.”

(Sahai 2009, p. 91, 94-96.)

http://www.angkorguide.net/temples/trips-and-remote-temples/preah-vihear/prasat-preah-vihear.html

 

 Adalvallan and Ammai – Dancing Shiva and Karaikkal Ammaiyarr

IMG_1333

 

Shiva is seen dancing, and to the sides of the dancer to whose tunes the whole world seems to dance, are two characters playing instruments for the eternal dancer. To the left of Shiva is the person with ‘oru muga muzhavu’ -a percussion instrument as in Banteay Srei. To his right, the lintel is in very bad shape, the sculpture of a person is very difficult to trace. Yet, seems like a squatted figure with a skinny body. Does the figure also hold ‘cymbals’ to provide additional music to the dancer? With the sculptures of Dancing Shiva so far seen, with the main characters on both sides, this squatted figure could certainly be that of Karaikkal Ammai. Whether it matches the iconography of Ammai, is for researchers to decide.

 

squatted figure to the right of dancing shivaIMG_1333 - Copy

 

oru muga muzhavu to his leftIMG_1333 - Copy (2)

 

In temples of Cambodia namely –

  • Banteay Srei,
  • Vat Baset,
  • Broken pediment inside Battambang Museum
  • Phnom Chissor

and temples in Thailand namely –

  • Prasat Hin Phimai,
  • Prasat Narai Yeang Weang
  • Prasat Kampeang Yai

-Karaikkal Ammai is sculpted to the right of Adalvallan/Dancing Shiva. The same is seen in Prasat Preah Vihear too. It is also necessary to mention that apart from these temples, the lintel placed outside Battambang museum shows Ammai to the left of Shiva. One of the two broken pediments inside the same museum shows a squatted figure to Shiva’s right and one is seen sitting to his left.
Ammai and Mount Kailash

According to Ambassador Julio A. Jeldres, the Official Biographer of HM the King Father, Samdech Preah Upayuvareach Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia-

 

The temple of Preah Vihear is not a “Hindu monument” but a Khmer sanctuary, built by Khmer kings and dedicated to Shiva the Hindu god.

 

It should be understood that for past Khmer kings, a sanctuary was first and foremost a cosmological recreation. Thus, the construction of Khmer sanctuaries in the form of multi-tiered Pyramids meant that the place was considered a sacred cosmic mountain. This was particularly noticeable in the temples dedicated to Shiva, because of the association with the god’s mountain home –Mount Kailasa-. A mountain or a cliff top location, as in the case of Preah Vihear, was always the first choice for the Khmer architects building these major temples.

http://preahvihearcambodia.com/2008/08/ambassador-julio-jeldres-letter-to.html

 

 

shiva and parvathi on nandi

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Below are the verses from Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam (12th Century) about Ammai’s Trek to Mount Kailash. Sekkizhar explains Karaikkal Ammai’s ascent to Mount Kailash to see her Lord’s Dance.
வட திசை தேசம் எல்லாம் மனத்தினும் கடிது சென்று
தொடை அவிழ் இதழி மாலைச் சூல பாணியனார் மேவும்
படர் ஒளிக் கைலை வெற்பின் பாங்கு அணைந்து ஆங்குக் காலின்
நடையினைத் தவிர்த்து பார் மேல் தலையினால் நடந்து சென்றார்
http://www.shaivam.org/tamil/thirumurai/thiru12_05_04.htm
With a speed exceeding that of the mind She traveled fast the realms in the north; She came near the Mount Kailas of pervasive radiance Where abides the Wielder of the Trident, decked with A garland of Konrai blooms burgeoning in serried order; She durst not tread with her feet the holy ascent But measured it with her head.
http://www.shaivam.org/english/sen_th12_peyar.htm

 

It certainly cannot be a simple temple architectural display to portray Dancing Shiva on a hill, especially in a cliff temple recreated as Mount Kailash, alongside his Demon Devotee watching his dance in Religious Ecstasy.

 

While Lord Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer is an embodiment of Mysticism,  Karaikkal Ammai’s poetry is manifestation of Devotional Mysticism.

 

 Preah Vihear – clashes and conflicts

 

IMG_1279
19th century Cambodia came under the control of Vietnamese and French. The French continued their rule into 20th century and Japanese took over. After a while, the Japanese gave up to the French again. Only in the 1950s Cambodia became an independent state, later to be completely devastated by the brutal Khmer Rouge.

In the heritage site affected by both natural and man-made catastrophes, historically seems mostly man-made time and again,many of the lintels and most of the carvings on the lintels have taken a strong blow. Beyond various clashes of former Empires, disputes among later Countries, 20th Century Cambodia also suffered at the hands of the brutal Khmer Rouge. From 1975 until 1978 the Khmer Rouge held Prasat Preah Vihear and maintained it as their strategic resistance spot. Hence, making the pathway to the cliff landmine infested and restricted to tourists. Additionally, with intermittent armed conflict and legal battle fought at the Hague based International Court of Justice, with neighboring Thailand over the temple, the once sacred worship place is a soldier-occupied military arena with de-mining activities still on the go.

Many researches done on Khmer temples have taken a back seat due to these various conflicts the heritage country has suffered. In 1976, Mireille Bénisti had published an article which stated that Karaikkal Ammai was depicted in Khmer Art. She found a lintel in Vat Baset where she found a figure that she claimed could be Ammai. The researches do not seem to have continued further, mainly due to the above mentioned clashes and conflicts.

Mareille Benisti was a French Indologist and author of various books on Khmer Monuments and Buddhist and Hindu Art of India and Cambodia. Her book ‘Stylistics of Early Khmer Art’  studies the relations between early Khmer and Indian art during the 7th and 8th centuries.

Earlier, in the Second International Tamil Conference Seminar held in the year 1968, in Madras – today’s Chennai- the capital of Tamilnadu, Mareille Benisti had given a presentation on the title – ‘Karaikkalammaiyar in Cambodia’. Her presentation was under the theme – Archeology and the Arts (Archaeology and Epigraphy).

 

2014-2015 are successful years for the temple. The International Coordinating Committee (ICC)  for Preah Vihear Temple Complex was established in December 2014. In 2015, India and China have agreed to co-chair the Renovation and Protection of the Temple, thereby play important roles in preserving the Khmer Heritage Sanctuary.

Due to the undeviating efforts of Cambodian Government, today, Preah Vihear is a sort after historic monument, with the terrain making it an additional attraction for adventure tourism. De-mining in full force and Tourism in total swing, Preah Vihear is getting renovated, hopefully with ancient history intact.

The above notings on conflicts and clashes were not meant to deviate the topic of Karaikkal Ammai, but to reinforce the need for all-inclusive researches with several hindrances removed in the present millennium.

With renovations and reformations taking place in the UNESCO site, the sculpture should be viewed in new light, not only in terms of Iconography and History, but also relate to the Religious Connections of the Khmer Empire and the Tamil Empires of Pallavas and later, the Cholas.

There are very few reference/research books available to the interested reader. This state needs to improve.

Additionally, emphasis should be thrown upon the Traders Guilds of yesteryear Tamil Land which were prominent beyond borders throughout South East Asia including China. Along with the Religious Connect, Economic Connect should also form an important theme of New Age Studies. Especially, in the case of Karaikkal Ammai who belonged to the Trader Community in the Pallava Land of Tamizhagam.