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About The Hindu Religion in Ancient Angkor

Vishnu Angkor

  • Angkor Wat is a temple built by Hindu Khmers accepting a religion introduced to them by Hindus from India some 1,000 years before it was built. Through out Angkor visitors will see other smaller places of worship to Vishnu. Here one can see old ladies tendering some stone monument which they believe has religious significance.
  • So what or who is Vishnu ? Religion is highly subjective and even written text on the subject is often confused by the meaning of words and the prior assumptions of what is so, plus the confusion of what is real, what is mythology and what is simple blind faith. A study of Indian religions is equally very confusing.
  • Vishnu to the Khmer Hindus was (is) a God, not 'the God' as the Christians, Jews and Muslims would believe, but one of several.
  • So what form does this ' God ' take and why and what is the extend of his role with other ' Gods ' in Angkor Cambodia ? Basically this varies depending on who you ask and there is no mutually exclusive list of powers and functions. This is so because of the nature of Hinduism.
  • Vishnu's stone image at Angkor Wat follows the classic Hindu mythology of arranging Vishnu with four arms in a partially classically accepted icon form.
  • Also confusing to the visitor is the co-acceptance in the Angkor temples of the Buddhist religion. As Buddha explained, there are no Gods, only reality and self delusion. So as a visitor you are visiting a place where the Hindu tradition said there were numerous Gods, including the living Gods in the form of the rulers, and where a new religion came to explain there were no Gods, and hence the assumptions of such by the rulers were false. In Southeast Asia today (except for the Muslim communities) acceptance of multiple, and conflicting faiths or thought process still continues and as a form of 'insurance' Southeast Asians accept and respect no matter the contradiction. Some might say, to so accept all is to accept nothing. Perhaps this is the defence of the poor and formally uneducated who dare not confront.

Mythical Lion Lunar

  • When trying to understand different religions and belief systems the first thing is not to assume that the same words used by different people have the same meaning.
The Angkor guide books talk about ' Hinduism'. What does this mean ? 

The Historical meaning of the word 'Hinduism'
  • The word 'Hindu' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Sindhu', the historic local term for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent and is first mentioned in the Rig Veda.
  • By the 13th century,' Hindustan' emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus ".
  • Originally, Hindu was a secular term which was used to describe all inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent irrespective of their religious affiliation. It was only towards the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus. Eventually, it came to define a precisely religious identity that includes any person of Indian origin who neither practiced Abrahamic religions nor non-Vedic Indian religions, such as Jainism, Sikhism or Buddhism, thereby encompassing a wide range of religious beliefs and practices related to Sanatana Dharma.
  • The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.
  • Accordingly the word is not a reference to a religion in the sense tourists from other countries or religions might assume.
The Deity (God) Vishnu In the Hindu Religion in Southeast Asia
  • Vishnu is regarded by his believers as the protector of the World and is the symbol of honesty, virtue, and compassion.
  • For Vaishnavism, he Vishnu the greatest God of all. In the Vaishnava scriptures such as Vishnupurana or Patamapurana, he is revered as both the creator of everything on earth and all three principal gods which are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in order to have them performed three important duties which are; to create, to protect, and to destroy. As Vishnu is the protector of the world, he reincarnates time and again when the World faces catastrophe in order to bestow all living beings with grace and conquer all the evils.
  • There are ten important incarnations which are altogether called “Dasavataras or ten forms of Narayana” (including the form of Lord Buddha) which are; Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha  (boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana  (dwarf), Parasurama (rahmin with an axe), Rama, Krishna, Buddha (Lord Buddha), Kalkin (a man on a white horse).
  • Vishnu has over a thousand names for example; Narayana (moving in the water), Anantasayana (declining on Ananta), Jaturapuja (four-armed) etc.
  • He has four arms. two in the back hold a conch and a discus, another two in front symbolize forgiveness and happiness or in some cases hold a mace or lotus.
  • Vishnu has a consort called Lakshmi or Sri, a Garuda as vehicle, and a chamber called Vayakun.

Shiva Angkor Bas Dancing Relief