KHMER ART HISTORY
nymphs or dancers represented in the shape of flying figures; at
Angkor, the stylisation is extreme and the apsaras are often represented
in groups with finery and jewels. They are the ‘divine symbol
of happiness’ (Maurice Glaize).
Lokesvara: ‘compassionate bodhisattva’,
linked to the idea of Providence; often represented with four arms
and bears Amitabha on his chignon; attributes: lotus, rosary, bottle
literally ‘descent’ in Sanskrit, the incarnation of
a god in a human or animal being. The 7th and 8th avatars of Vishnu,
Rama and Krishna, are the most famous cf. the Ramayana and Mahabarata.
rectangular compensating reservoir; more than a pond, it is a dyke
filled by rain and diversion of rivers. Its function is to ensure
irrigation of the neighbouring fields and to supply the sanctuaries’
moats. The baray is at the basis of the Angkorian hydraulic system;
progressive silting up may have contributed to the weakening of
the successive Angkorian kingdoms. It also bears a sacred and symbolic
function, as well as an economic one, witnessed by temples erected
at their centres (West and East Mebon).
a being poised to become a Buddha, but who renounces its own salvation
in order to help humankind.
one of the principal gods of the Brahmanic trinity, the ‘creator’;
generally represented with four faces and four arms, mounted on
the Hamsa or sacred goose; his attributes include: disc, ladle,
book, rosary, vase, flywhisk and sceptre.
ancient inhabitant of Champa, a Hindu kingdom situated along the
coast of former Annam.
former Chinese name for former kingdoms of ‘Land Chenla’
and ‘Water Chenla’ that occupied areas that were later
incorporated into the Khmer Empire.
Churning of the Sea
of Milk: the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons)
hold a huge naga (the naga King Vasuki) twisted around the Mandala
mountain in order to accomplish the churning of the primordial ocean,
thus extracting the Liquor of Immortality (Amrita) which each group
covets. A famous bas-relief at Angkor Vat illustrates this episode
extracted from Hindu mythology.
cult of the ‘god-king’, created for
Jayavarman II on Phnom Kulen in 802 by the Royal Brahmins; based
on the tenet that the king was an emanation of a god, usually represented
in Khmer art by a linga symbolizing the spiritual and royal essence
of the king; the reigning monach became identified with the Hindu
a deity, celestial being; gods, male and female, of Buddhism and
Brahmanism; a recurrent motif on Khmer architecture.
squatting or standing temple, door or gate guardian of Brahmanic
or Buddhist temples usually armed with spear, mace or club, whose
presence ensures protection from evil influences.
former Chinese name for the ancient empire that precedes the Khmer
god associated with wisdom and knowledge, son of Shiva and Parvati;
he is represented with a human body with an elephant head and trunk
that often plunges into a bowl (symbolising the quest for knowledge).
divine bird, with a human body, enemy of the nagas, mount of Vishnu.
The garuda-naga is a recurrent motif in Khmer sculpture; the garuda
is often represented mounted on the naga.
a syncretic divinity combining the attributes of Hari (Vishnu, on
the left) and Hara (Shiva, on the right).
‘Hinayin’ , or ‘Small Vehicle’, Buddhist
pier, port, or village on the bank of a waterway.
8th avatar of Vishnu, much venerated god in the Hindu pantheon.
consort of Vishnu, Goddess of Beauty, Wealth and Prosperity.
symbolic representation of Shiva, in the shape of a phallus, often
stylised; it is generally composed of three sections: the square
base corresponds to Brahma, the creator, the octagonal middle section
corresponds to Vishnu, the preserver, and the circular upper section,
corresponds to Shiva; coupled with the Yoni, the whole symbolises
male and female forces of Shiva.
alternate name for Avalokitesvara, the compassionate bodhisattva.
‘Mohanikay’, or ‘Great Vehicle’,
evil spirit tempting the Buddha who reigns over a heaven of pleasure
and sensual delights.
mountain at the centre of the world, home of the gods.
symbolic gestures of gods and of Buddha.
serpent king, mythic multi-headed serpent (5, 7 or 9 heads); in
Cambodia, this serpent has long been associated with water and its
benefits; it is symbolically the guardian of prosperity, and treasures;
symbol of water, it is a decorative motif in many Khmer temples,
where it decorates the entrance balustrades, bridges, moats and
reservoirs; nagas of the 12th century are one of the most beautiful
realisations of Khmer art.
sacred bull, mount of Shiva.
final annihilation, supreme aim of Buddhism.
Buddha’s entry into infinity, also posture for reclining Buddha
consort of Shiva, sister of Vishnu; Goddess of the mountains and
literally mountain or hill, it is a privileged setting for temples,
and later monasteries, due to its sacred and spiritual function.
‘god’, or sacred.
famous Hindu epic (Khmer: ‘Reamker’); portraying Rama’s
struggle to find his consort Sita who is captured by the demon Ravana;
thanks to the support of the monkey King Hanuman; scenes from this
magnificent tale have been widely used in the ornamentation of temples
throughout Southeast Asia.
fabric panel worn round the lower half of the body.
one of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity, at the same time ‘creator
and destroyer’; usually mounted on Nandin (sacred bull), he
often bears a third eye and a crescent on his chignon; he is symbolized
by the shape of the linga.
‘pool’ or artificial pond.
Buddhist monument of funeral or commemorative nature, often containing
relics or cremated remains.
or Devata, usually female divinity.
wat, or pagoda.
one of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity, ‘the protector’
usually mounted on garuda; he generally has four arms, holding the
disc, the conch, the bowl, and the club; Vishnu has many avatars,
such as Krishna.
the God of Death, or, Justice and the Underworld who judges the
dead before they can enter the celestial palaces; usually mounted
on a buffalo.
symbol of the feminine vulva; it is a square stone, always associated
with the linga at its centre (Shiva); on one side, a channel enables
the sacred liquid (water, milk or honey) to flow out.
Glossaries: Guide to Angkor, Maurice Glaize, translated by Nils Tremmels
C D F
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the mount of Indra.
Amitabha: Buddha of
the higher spirit, represented on the headdress of bodhisattvas.
Elixir of life, from the churning of the ocean.
Ananta: Serpent on
which Vishnu reclines on the ocean.
Asura: Demon with
power equal to that of the gods.
(or manifestation) of Vishnu.
compassionate bodhisattva, responding to the idea of Providence,
with four arms and carrying the amitabha on his head-dress: attributes;
lotus, rosary, bottle and a book.
Baray: An area of
water enclosed within mounds of earth.
Beng: A pool.
Bodhisattva: One in
the process of becoming a Buddha.
Buddha: The Sage who
has achieved ultimate wisdom.
Brahma: One of the
gods of the Brahmanic trinity - the creator,
generally with 4 faces, mounted on the Hamsa (goose or sacred bird).
The inhabitants of Champa, kingdom of the Hindu civilisation on
the coast of what is now Vietnam, earlier than the Annamites.
Chedi or Stupa: A
funerary or commemorative monument usually containing the remains
Chenla: Of water and
earth, ancient Chinese name for Cambodia.
Deva: A god.
Devaraja or god king: The
essence of Royalty, supposed to reside in the royal linga.
Devata: Feminine divinity.
of fire or shelter for pilgrims.
posture of the Buddha (with hands crossed in the lap).
Durga: One of the
wives of Shiva.
Dvarapala: A guardian
of the temple (deva or asura).
religiosa: Sacred tree (Buddhist religion).
Funan: The Chinese
name of an ancient Indo-Chinese empire preceding the kingdom of
Lion with a snout.
Ganesha: Son of Shiva,
god with the head of an Elephant.
Ganga: One of the
wives of Shiva (goddess of the Ganges).
Garuda: Divine bird
with a human body, enemy of the nagas and the mount of Vishnu.
Gopura: Entry pavilion
to the various temple enclosures.
Sacred bird, the mount of Brahma.
Hanuman: The white
monkey. Chief of the army of monkeys.
Harihara: A god unifying
in the same figure Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva).
god of the family of Shiva, represented with the head of a horse.
Hinayana: Or small
vehicle - a Buddhist sect.
One of the names of Shiva.
Indra: Brahmanic god,
master of thunder and lightning; his
mount is Airavana the elephant (usually three-headed) and his attribute,
One of the mountain peaks of the Himalaya where Shiva resides.
Kala: The head of
a monster, supposed to represent one aspect of Shiva.
Kali: One of the names
of the sakti of Shiva.
Kama: The god of love.
Kompong: A port or
village by the water.
Kubera: The god of
wealth, dwarfed and deformed, mounted on a Yaksha or a rat.
Brother of Rama (from the Ramayana).
Lakshmi: The wife
or sakti of Vishnu.
Lanka: The island
of Ceylon, home of the rakshasas.
Linga: Phallic symbol,
one of the forms of Shiva.
of one of the four cardinal points.
name for Avalokitesvara, the compassionate bodhisattva.
Grand Hindu epic.
Mahayana or Large Vehcle:
A Buddhist sect.
Maitreya: Future Buddha
(a sort of Messiah).
Makara: Sea monster
with the head of an elephant, who, in ornamentation, often disgorges
Mara: Evil spirit
who tempts the Buddha.
Men: A light pavilion
used for incineration.
Meru: Mountain, centre
of the world and residence of the gods.
Mucilinda: Naga sheltering
Buddha in meditation.
Mudras: Symbolic gesture
of gods or Buddha.
Mukhalinga: A linga
adorned with a face.
Mukuta or Mokot: The
conical head-dress worn behind the diadem.
Stylisation of the Cobra - a mythical serpent, usually multi-headed.
Genie of the waters who shelters the Buddha in
meditation with his fanned heads.
Nagaraja: King of
Nagi: Female naga.
Nandin: Sacred bull,
the mount of Shiva.
Narasimha: The God
Vishnu, with the lower part in human form and the head of a lion.
Neakta: Popular local
spirit, or the shelter that contains it.
Nirvana: The ultimate
enlightenment and the supreme Buddhist objective.
Dynasty ruling in Bihar and Bengal between about AD 750 and 1196.
Parinirvana: The entry
of the Buddha to enlightenment, the pose of the statues of the reclining
Parvati: Wife or sakti
intended for grinding.
Pradakshina: A circumambulation
ritual always keeping the monument to the right.
mystical mother of the Buddhas, symbol of wisdom.
in the form of a tower.
funerary ritual, in the opposite manner to the pradakshina.
Preah: Saint, sacred.
Preah patima: A metal
leaf stamped with the image of the Buddha.
Head of the monster demon of eclipses.
demon joining with the asuras against the devas.
form of rakshasa.
Rama: A manifestation
of Vishnu (Ramayana).
Ramayana: Grand Hindu
epic, the history of Rama and of Sita.
Rati: The wife of
Kama, god of love.
Ravana: King of the
rakshasas, with multiple heads and arms.
Rishi: Brahman ascetic.
Wife of Brahma, goddess of eloquence.
Sarong: A length of
cloth wrapped around the lower body.
Seima: Steles (inscribed
stones) placed on the axes and corners of Buddhist terraces to define
the sacred platform.
Saka: The Indian era
the most commonly used in the
inscriptions, preceding the Christian era by 78 years.
Sakra: The wheel of
the Buddha, signifying immortality and power.
Sakti: The wife or
feminine energy of the Hindu gods.
Shiva: One of the
gods of the Brahmanic trinity - the creator and
destroyer, mounted on Nandin (the sacred bull), generally with a
third frontal eye and a crescent on the chignon, worshipped in the
form of the linga.
Sri: Sakti of the
god Vishnu (or Lakshmi).
Sita: Wife of Rama
Skanda: God of war,
son of Shiva, mounted on a peacock or on a rhinoceros.
Snanadroni: An ablution
slab with a beak, always orientated to the north, placed on the
pedestal of the idols for the flow of lustral water.
for the evacuation of lustral water out of the sanctuary.
Stupa: Or chedi, a
funerary or commemorative monument usually containing the remains
Sugriva: King of the
monkeys, dethroned by his brother Valin and ally of Rama (Ramayana).
Surya: God of the
sun, haloed with a ring of light and mounted on a horse-drawn chariot.
Dance of Shiva separating the cosmic periods of the creation and
destruction of the worlds.
sect from the Mahayana.
Tara: Feminine energy
of Lokesvara, similar to the Prajnaparamita.
Tevoda: Or devata,
a feminine divinity.
the weapon of Shiva.
trinity (Shiva between Vishnu and Brahma).
Wife or sakti of Shiva.
from the skull crowning the head of Buddha.
Thunderbolt, the attribute of Indra.
Valin: King of the
monkeys, brother of Sugriva and overcome by him with the help of
of Vishnu (wild boar).
Vasuki: The serpent
in the churning of the Ocean.
Vat or Wat: Temple.
Veda: Brahman rules.
divine architect, son of Shiva.
Vishnu: One of the
gods of the Brahmanic trinity - the protector. His mount is Garuda
and he generally has four arms that hold a disk, a conch, a ball
and a club. Numerous manifestations.
God of death and the supreme judge, mounted on a buffalo.
Yakshas or Yeaks:
Genie of good or evil.