On some Tantrik Texts studied in Ancient Kambjua

by Prabodh Chandra Bagchi

An exploration of Khmer inscriptions andTantric influences, with a stimulating take on the ever-elusive Bayon and the enigmatic figure of Tumburu over Angkor.

Bagchi 1929 cover

Publication: Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. 5 (1929) & 6 (1930), ed. Law Narendra Nath | Collection Digital Library of India Items 2015.33113-2015.33114 | Angkor Database Reference Document BAG1

Published: 1929

Author: Prabodh Chandra Bagchi

Pages: 29

Languages : English, Sanskrit

We are here at the core of in-the-making Cambodian ancient history, when Brahmin families emigrated from North India initiated Khmer sovereigns to the cult of Devaraja, the God-King. The essence of Tantrism is at work here: ascetism, cult of the goddesses and of the ubiquitous linga, music and dance as mystic vectors of the human dialogue with the supranatural.

Tantric texts in ancient Kambuja

According to the author, at least four major Tantric shastras (treatises) were brought from India by Hiranyadama, and were known and studied in pre-Angkor Cambodia (Kambuja). The framework of one of them is as follows:

"Jayadratha the husband of Duryodhana's sister and the king of Sindhudesa renounced the world and settled at Vadarikasrama in the Himalayas for the purpose of practising austerities. He propitiated the goddess Parvati who introduced him to Shiva. The interlocution between these three is the substance of the Tantra. The first question asked was the nature of Mukti (salvation) which was explained according to the Sankhya system but Siva said that the telling on rosary the formula of Kdlasankarani was the easiest and the shortest way to salvation."

Brahmin families in Kambuja: the matrilineal succession

"On the recruitment of Sivacaryas in different countries including ancient Kambuja: we have seen that Hiranyadama came with the new Sastras from a janapada which was most probably a janapada in India. The family of Sivakaivalya, who was initiated to these shastras, was long established in Kambuja. The history of this family, recorded in the inscription of Sdok Kak Thom is of great interest. The members of this family enjoyed the priesthood of the [Cambodian] king through succession since the time of Bhavavarman (middle of the 6th century a. d.). They were Sivacaryas and were guardians of linga established in different places, The succession of the priests was determined according to the matrvamsa ‘'i.e. maternal lineage' which implied that the succession was to go to the children of the sisters (bhagineya) or to those of the daughter of the sisters, or the elder brother. There are several cases of such succession recorded in the inscriptions, yet it is difficult to explain the necessity of such an arrangement. Barth in 1901 thought that such an arrangement was necessary because the royal priests used to take the vow of celebacy and therefore they had to choose their successor from the line of their sisters. But M. Finot says that it is difficult to admit this explanation as we hear of priests (though of very late times—11th century A.D.) who were married. It is however clear that the intention was to avoid difficulty in finding a successor because when the branch lines are counted the family has an unlimited scope. But what was the necessity of sticking to a particular family for the selection of priests ? The only explanation that occurs to my mind is that according to the Agamas the Sivacaryas had to be chosen preferably from the Brahmanical families of North Indian origin. Such families were not numerous in Kambuja, The family of Sivakaivalya was probably a rare one and priests had to be chosen from that family and its branch lines, as the members of them alone were fit to be Sivacaryas. [...] In the inscriptions of Kambuja we have several other references
to the families of North Indian origin, of which the members attained the position of royal chaplain. Thus we hear of the royal chaplain Bhatta Divakara who came from the banks of the Kalindi (Yamuna) and was thus an expert in the Vedic sacrifices."

Tumburu and the Khmer ritual of Devaraja

Noting that Tumburu [1] was probably introduced in Kambuja for establishing the mystic
rites known as devaraja , the author notes that

"Tumburu evidently had some sort of connection witii the Devaraja cult. Devaraja was a phallic representation (lingaraja) of Shiva—and we have already seen that Tumburu was an emanation of Siva himself. The inscription of Sdok Kak Thom tells us that the first temple of Devaraja was built by Jayavarman II (802 A.D.) in his new capital Mahendraparvata (Phnom Kulen), and the royal chaplain Sivakaivalya was appointed priest. The deity was subsequently taken to Hariharalaya where the capital was shifted. Afterwards when the king Paramasivaloka (i.e., Yasovarman 889-910 A.D.) built his capital at Yosodharapur (Angkor Thom) [2] he brought the deity to the new capital and placed him in the temple of Vnam kantal (the central mount) which was built in the centre of the city for receiving the deity. This central edifice erected by Yasovarman was for a long time believed to be the Bayon which is situated just in the centre of Angkor. But M. Finot in his recent studies has tried to show that the inscription of Sdok Kak Thom has told a lie. A detailed examination of the sculpture of Bayon has led M. Finot to believe that Bayon could not have been originally a Saiva temple. He thinks that the newly built capital of Yasovarman was not placed under the protection of the linga Devaraja, the national deity of Kambuja, but under that of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Necessarily he was led to conclude that Angkor Thom and Bayon were not built by king Yasovarman, as the inscription would have us believe, because he was a Saiva, hut by his predecessor Jayavarman II who was a Mahayanist. Yasovarmaii according to him played the part of a vandal and changed Bayon into a sanctuary of the linga. The principal reason for starting this theory was that the sculpture of Bayon is almost entirely Buddhist. But it might be argued that the temple was begun as a Buddhist one and finialized as a Saiva one. But to this objection M. Finot answers that even in several niches of the towers the central figures were originally those of Buddha. They were later on deliberately destroyed and replaced by linga."

[1] Tumburu तुम्बुरु is the foremost among the gandharvas, the celestial musicians in Hindu mythology, and the preceptor (or husband, or both) of the apsara Rambha. He is often presented as havingtwo daughters, Manovatī and Sukeśā, who ride the Sun's chariot in the months of Chaitra and Madhu.

[2] It has to be noted that the time the author was writing these lines, and for many years after, EFEO archaeologist Victor Goloubew obsessively attempted to find the 'cental mount temple' of Yosodharapur or Yosodharapura, to the point that Conservator Henri Marchal jokingkly nickamed the ancient city "Golopura"].

Tumburu, the main gandharva here holding a vina, depicted in a 1816 Indian drawing.

The Faces of Bayon, again

"Another serious difficulty remained to be expluned away. Each tower of Bayon is decorated with four colossal faces turning towards the four cardinal points. According to M. Coedes and M. Stern, the construction of Bayon and the outer walls of the city would fall in the same period. The towers of Bayon and those of the five city-gates are all decorated with four colossal faces. What do these four colossal faces represent ? Are they the representations of the faces of Avalokiteshvara, as M. Finot
thinks? Even admitting that Jayavarman II, if not directly but through his tradition, influenced the construction of Bayon, it is difficult to believe with M. Finot that he was a Buddhist king. M. Finot takes him to be a Buddhist—firstly, because he came from Java or from Srivijaya which was a great centre of Mahayana Buddhism in this period and—secondly, because he founded the city of Amarendrapura, formerly identified with the ruins of Bantay Chmar which is completely a Buddhist city to judge from the sculptures. But the identification of Amarendrapura with Bantay Chmar has been reasonably doubted by M. Stern. We should also bear in mind that the posthumous name of Jayavarman II is Paramenvam (the Supreme Lord Shiva). The cities which he built—Mahendraparvata,
Harihariilaya and Amarendrapura are all connected with the names of Shiva. The last name seems to be only a different form of Devaraja. The priest whom he chose as his chaplain, Sivakaivalya, was a Saiva and came from a Saiva family. It was again he who authorised Hiranyadama to introduce the texts of Saivagama along with the Saiva cult of Devaraja into Kambuja. He really made it the religion of the state, erected its temples and granted lands to the priestly family for its maintenance. Besides it would be wrong to say that the sculptures of Bayon have no trace of Saivism. An important
bas-relief of the first gallery of Bayon (See Comaille, Guides aux Ruines d'Angkor p. 135, n 36) represents three temples in one row, of which the towers bear tridents and the deity in the
centre is a thivalinga [...].
"A temple like Bayon. which is situated just in the centre of the city, could not therefore have been meant for any other deity except Devaraja. If in some of the niches of the towers of Bayon the
figures of Buddha have been deliberately destroyed and substituted by linga we must attribute that work of vandalism to a period when the king was a very orthodox one and did not even tolerate
the sculptural representation of Buddha in the temple of Devaraja, as his predecessors used to do. It is therefore necessary to go back to the older theory of M. Finot that the four faces of the towers of Bayon (as well as those of the towers of the city gates) are the sculptural representation of the four faces of Shiva, Devaraja was in all probability a mukhalinga and it was quite natural that the towers of its temple and those of the city-gates constructed in the same period would bear the mukhalinga symbol. This explanation seems to have a strong support in the inscription of Sdok Kak Thom which says that the four shastras which prescribed the cult of Devaraja constituted the four faces of the Tumburu.
"It may not be therefore improbable that the four colossal faces on the towers are architectural translation of the four faces of Tumburu mentioned in the inscription, because, it is through those four faces that the god originally communicated the four fundamental texts which prescribed the religious rites of the king and his people. They are the symbol of the different amnayas of the Saivite Canon.
"As for the four faces of Tumburu, I have already tried to establish that the four Tantric texts -- Sirasheska, Vinashika, Sammohana and Nayottara mentioned in the inscription of Sdok Kak Thom were being studied in India in the 7th and 8ih centuries A.D. if not earlier. These texts constituted the 'vaktrasatushkam' of the god Tumburu [...]. The texts thus being identified, it remains to be seen which is the god mentioned as Tumburu and why are the four texts called “the four faces of Tumburu." Dr. Chatterji says that Tumvuru is the name of a Gandharva and thinks that he had something to do with the Gandharva tantra. But the context has no bearing on any tantra connected with the name of Tumvuru. The inscription would have us believe that all the four texts were connected with that god. Tumbaru or Tumburu is recorded in all the lexicons as the name of a Gandharva but no detailed information is available on him."

Further research

There are three aspects of the Tantric influence in Kambuja that the distinguished author did not explore in that study, and they are:

  • were the Devaraja cult, and later the predominance of Buddhism the forces that impaired the development of Shaktism शाक्त, the tantric devotion of the 'eternal goddess' Shakti (Mahadevi)? While representations of Durga and Parvati were common in pre-Angkorean art, the Shaktist pantheon of goddesses that developed in India after the decline of Buddhism never gained in Cambodia the popularity that the veneration of Mahavidya (ten main goddesses) still very much alive in West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Tripura or Assam.
  • In 2023, among the 33 items from the Lindemann private collection from the US to Cambodia, figured a remarkable Ardhanarishvara sculpture -- believed to be from the remote northern ancient city of Koh Ker -- which witnesses say was looted in the 1990s. It seems important to develop research on the impact in Cambodia of dual gender or transgender notions so central in Tantric esoterism.
  • Tantrism has been given so many confusing that we propose to retain the quite luminous one proposed by Pratapaditya Pal in his Goddess Durga, The Power and the Glory (2009,Mumbai : Mārg Publicationsa, p 19): 'An accommodative religious system to the glory of the divine feminine.'

This is the first time this study, originally published in two installments, is available as a complete, searchable text.

Tags: tantra, tantrism, inscriptions, Indianization, Brahmanism, Bayon, Khmer inscriptions, sanskrit, matrilinearity, goddesses, Saivism, apsaras, music, dance, Phnom Kulen, Mahendraparvata, lingas, esoterism

About the Author

Pc bagchi33

Prabodh Chandra Bagchi

Prabodh Chandra (P.C.) Bagchi প্রবোধচন্দ্র-বাগচী (Bengali) (18 Nov 1898, Jessore, Bengal, British India (now Magura, Bangladesh) – 19 Jan 1956, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India) was a notable Sino-Indologist of the 20th century, and the third Upacharya (Vice-Chancellor) of Visva-Bharati University, founded by poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Dr. P.C. Bagchi graduated from Krishnagar Government College in 1918 with honors in Sanskrit, receiving the Mohini Mohan Roy award, then obtained his MA in Ancien History and Culture at Calcutta University in1920. He was awarded a gold medal in the Religion Section and overall had stood first in the university.

As a lecturer at Calcutta University (now Kolkata), he started learning Chinese, Japanese, German, and later on advanced Chinese and Tibetan from Sylvain Lévi, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Civilization at Sorbonne University, Paris, France. In 1922, he joined Lévi and his wife in a research trip to Nepal, finding original manuscripts and Tibetan and Chinese manuscripts of old Sanskrit texts which were lost in their originals but preserved in their translations at the Royal Durbar Library of Nepal, in particular the palm leaf manuscripts of Kaula-Jnana- Nirnaya and Sammoho Tantra.

That same year, P.C. Bagchi was awarded the Rashbehari Ghosh Travelling Fellowship, traveling to Indo-China, Cambodia, Cochin-China and Japan, and working with Sylvain Lévi, Louis Finot, George Groslier who established a renowned museum in Phnom Penh, National Museum of Cambodia, Henri Parmentier and Henri Marchal in Angkor, attending Professor Aurousseau's Chinese classes in Hanoi, then staying at the Monastery of Koyasen in Japan. Between 1923 and 1926, he pursued his studies in Paris, under the supervision of Sylvain Lévi, Paul Pelliot, Henri Maspero, the Pali specialist Jules Bloch, and Antoine Meillet, and received his PhD at Paris University.

In 1929 and 1930, Bagchi returned to Nepal again to carry on his research from the Chinese and Tibetan manuscripts on Tantrik Buddhism (Vajrayana), Buddhist Siddhacharyas, Charyagiti (Charyapada) and Dohakosa (Dohakosa of Tillopada and Sarahapada). In 1931, he founded the Philological Society in Calcutta with Professors Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and Sukumar Sen, which merged in 1938 with the Indian Linguistic Society.

In 1945, he joined Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan as Director of Research Studies under the Chinese Cultural Studies Scheme on a special grant from the Chinese Government, then was selected for the new Chair Professorship at Peking University, China.

As a sinologist, he expanded his research to subjects such as the nomadic movements in early Central Asia, the history of the relations between Tokharistan and Eastern Iran, the history of the early states in the oases of Chinese Turkestan, the uses of the Indian scripts and languages in Central Asia. In 1954, P.C. Bagchi delivered a series of scholarly lectures in memory of Adhar Chandra Mukherjee at the Calcutta University on the topic of India and South East Asia, a theme that had been scarcely explored so far.

The scholar also took an active part in the Indian nationalistr movement, helping in the founding of the "Association des Etudiante Hindous de France" (Association of Indian Students of France) in the 1920s.

Works dedicated to P.C. Bagchi's scholarly contribution:

Contributions of PC Bagchi on IndoTibetology, edited by Prof Haraprasad Ray, The Asiatic Society (ISBN 81-7236-117-3, ISBN 978-81-7236-117-4),

Prabodh Chandra Bagchi, a biography, by Ratna Sinha, Kalyan Kumar Sarkar, Suniti Pathak, Haraprasad Ray and B.N. Mukherjee, Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi, Kolkata; published alongside Prabandha Samgraha (a collection of essays) by Probodhchandra Bagchi (ISBN 81-7751-019-3), ed. Prof Jyoti Bhusan Chaki.

India and Asia: PC Bagchi Centenary Volume, ed. Prof BN Mukherjee, Progressive Publishers, 2009 (ISBN 978-81-8064-116-9).

Among P.C. Bagchi publications:

  • Le canon bouddhique en Chine. Les traducteurs et les traductions. Geuthner, Paris 1927–1938 (2 vol.)
  • Deux lexiques sanskrit-chinois. Fan yu tsa ming (《梵語雜名》)de Li Yen (禮言) et Fan yu ts'ien tseu wen (《梵語千字文》) de Yi-tsing (義凈). 2 vol. P. Geuthner, Paris 1929–1937
  • Studies in the Tantras. Calcutta. University of Calcutta, 1939
  • Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian In India, 1929: Calcutta University; 1968: Reprinted by Calcutta University
  • Kaula-Jyana-Nirnaya and some Minor Texts of the School of Matsyendranath, Calcutta Sanskrit Series, 1934, pp. viii, 92–148, Metropolitan Printing and Publishing House: Calcutta
  • Studies In The Tantras Part-I, 1939 : Calcutta University
  • India and China: a thousand years of cultural relations. Published in Greater India Society, Bulletin 2, Calcutta in 1927 First Edition 1944, China Press, Calcutta; Second Edition 1950, Hind Kitab, Bombay; Third Edition 1951, Philosophical Library, New York; Fourth Edition 1981, Saraswat Library, Calcutta; Fifth Edition 2008, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd, New Delhi. ISBN 978-81-215-1197-1
  • "Zhong-Yin Qiannian Shi" (translated from Chinese) 2008, Indian Embassy, Beijing. ISBN 978-81-215-1197-1
  • India and Central Asia: 1955, National Council of Education, Jadavpur, Calcutta
  • She-Kia-Fang-Che : 1959, Visva Bharati
  • Indological Studies - A collected works of Dr. P. C. Bagchi, vol. I, 1982, Visva Bharati
  • In Bengali (Visva Bharati Press): Buddha Dharma O Sahitya, Bharat O Indo Chin, Bharat O Chin, Bharat O Madhya Asia. In Bengali (Bangla Academy): Probondho Shamgraho.