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.

Angkor wat 1stfloor bef1879 FRANOM16 8 FI 098 V020 N015

Publication: Paper in 'Inspirational Architecture', National Conference on Emerging Trends in Engineering, Technology and Architecture

Published: 2016

Authors: Ujjwala Chakradeo & Ujjwala Anand Palsuley

Pages: 5

Language : English

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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 3rdBC 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.”

Cultural dialogue

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) 

Tags: Angkor Wat, Khmer history, architecture, Suryavarman II, Indian studies, Indian influences

About the Authors

Prof ujwala chakradeo honble vc sndtwu 22

Ujjwala Chakradeo

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 (19972002) and Department of House and Interior Design (19851996) at L.A.D. College –, and is focusing her research on sustainable architecture and architecture history, in particular the Khmer architecture. 

Dr ujjwala palsuley

Ujjwala Anand Palsuley

Dr. Ujjwala Anand Palsuley (b 29 Apr, Maharashtra, India) is a Conservation Architect in the field for over 20 years as a Practitioner, Researcher, and Academician, who has worked on various World Heritage Sites for UNESCO’s nominations and conducted Workshops, Research & Projects in 16 countries, including Cambodia.

After working with various eminent architects and organizations, she started Samrachanā ‑Heritage Conservation & Research Initiative, to focus on key aspects of Indian heritage.​She has frequently visited Angkor Archaeological Park since 2012, surveying sites such as Kbal Spean, Ta Keo, Bakeng, Banteay Samre…

An alumna of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi (Architectural Conservation), and Lunds University, Sweden (Conservation Management of Historic Buildings), she doctored in Southeast Asian Architectural History, with a special focus on Khmer Architecture, Cambodia, and Dravidian temple architecture.

​Her research papers are published and presented at International Conferences which include her presentations at the University of Oxford and Lunds University, Sweden along with many renowned organizations in India like IGNCA, ICCS, ICOMOS etc. In 2023, she published Cambodia: India outside India, Decoding Khmer Architecture (COPAL Publishing Group, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India).

In January 2024, Dr. Palsuley held a photographic exhibition on the theme Ramayana in the context of Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia”. See the Madya Pradesh News video dispatch भगवान श्रीराम सिर्फ भारतीय संस्कृति तक ही सीमित नहीं बल्कि दुनियाभर के कई देशों होता है उनका स्मरण [“Lord Shri Ram is not limited only to Indian culture but remembered in many countries around the world.”]