Manifestation of Indian philosophy of temple architecture in Cambodia- A case of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.
by Ujjwala Chakradeo & Ujjwala Anand Palsuley
Architectural, cosmological and philosophical inspirations from India on the Khmer style, studied by two Indian scholars.
Publication: Paper in 'Inspirational Architecture', National Conference on Emerging Trends in Engineering, Technology and Architecture
Language : English
Starting with the development of continental Indian architecture, the authors assess its influences on Southeast Asian builders and artists, chiefly Cambodian:
'Thinking in timber, executed in stone'
"During 3rd C BC the era of Buddhism, a new way of worshipping has started which had boosted with the patronage of King Ashoka. This makes the most enduring period of the architectural history of India as there was a complete shift from timber to stone which is commonly known as “Rock Cut Architecture”, though the language of architecture was still timber. This was the time, when people were thinking in Timber, but executed architecture in Stone. India has witnessed various changes in the architectural forms, materials, and transformation in the philosophy of Architecture from 3rd Century BC till AD 600. The period hereafter was the shift of focus from Buddhist architecture to Hindu temple architecture during the reign of Chalukyas. At their capital city of Aihole, a group of craftsmen were commissioned to build the shrines of Aryan gods, this was the first experiment to build the ‘free standing” structures in Stone in India. Here onwards, there was a complete boom in construction of Temple activity. The Lad khan temple and Durga temple at Aihole shows this transition distictly. There were also a few attempts in changing the material from Stone to Brick e.g. Bhitargaon temple. The temple plan started developing during this period, starting with Garbhagriha with entrance portico. This was a start point of evolution of two distinct styles- Nagara (towards north) and Dravidian (Towards south) have been developed in next 500 years. These styles had peculiar characteristics in terms of the emple planning, the overall plan form and Shikhara."
The building of Angkor
"Till 1110 AD, the successive [Khmer] kings shifted their capitals and also there is a lot of political confusion during this period. In a political shift, Suryavarman-II crowned himself as the king of the empire after a brief war which lasted only for a day. This 15 year old king had ambitious plans. He immediately started securing the existing boundaries and expansion of the kingdom to ward of the threats from other rulers. By the end of his rule he had an army of over 150000 and he reined over 285000 sq. km territory.
"The second most ambitious thing he did was the commencement of the Vishnu temple of unprecedented dimensions. It is very remarkable to note that he planned this temple within couple of years of coming to power that is around 1116 A. D. when he was still in his teens. It is said that he appointed master architect Divakarpandit, a Brahmin from India settled in Cambodia, for this work. Though it is not sure that he designed Angkor Wat himself, it is clear that he was a driving force behind the conceptualization of this huge temple. Apart from Angkor Wat, either the king or high-ranking officials or priests also began the work on the temple of Banteay Samré, located at the eastsoutheast corner of the East Baray, and also the smaller temples of Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda."
"The travel across various countries and the transfer of culture from India to various regions is
apparent. It is evident from the similarities in the architectural vocabulary, the perception of Indian
mythology and cosmology, Vastushastra and its manifestation in architectural form that the people from South East Asia were highly inspired by the Indian Culture and hence could dare to construct such a magnificent structure of Angkor Wat with so much of confidence. It, indeed, has remarkable indigenous characters. The science behind constructing these temples in India was understood, and followed with indepth understanding in Cambodia and in other parts of Asia. It clearly shows that Indian culture was major contributor towards the architectural development."
Historic Khmer capital cities in Sanskrit script (from Dr. Sharad Hebalkar, Krunvanto Vishvamaryam, New Delhi (Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sanshodhan Yojana), 2010
Main photo: Angkor Wat 1st storey in a pre-1879 photograph (source: ANOM archives)
About the Authors
Prof. Ujjwala Chakradeo is the vice-chancellor of SNDT Women's University, Mumbai, India. An architect by trade, she has taught architecture in various institutions -- in particular serving as Head of the Department, Department of Architecture (1997-2002) and Department of House and Interior Design (1985-1996) at L.A.D. College --, and is focusing her research on sustainable architecture and architecture history, in particular the Khmer architecture.
Ujjwala Anand Palsuley
Dr. Ujjwalla Anand Khot-Palsuley is the Principal of Marathwada Mitra Mandal's College of Architecture, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India, and the founder of the Samrachana Heritage Conservation and Research Initiative.
An expert in Architectural History of Dravidian and Khmer temples, she published in 2023 Cambodia: India outside India, Decoding Khmer Architecture (COPAL Publishing Group, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India).