RAMAYANA MASKS & Mask of Asia : Cambodia
It has been almost 3,000 years based on the evidence showing that the fleets of commercial ships from India have traveled to Suvarnabhumi to trade and spread their religion. The studies of a French scholar named George Coedes show that nobles from the royal court of the Pallava dynasty had immigrated to this new land for spiritual purposes and to seek fortune. This land belonged to the indigenous people called the Kambojas, which later adopted it as the country’s present name. The term came from the word Kamboj, a community of Iranian-descent people from India’s northern part. The commercial fleet from India came to Southeast Asia’s central plain in search of the more suitable land for trading and building a community. A Chinese journal mentions an Indian Brahmin named Koundinya who married an indigenous princess and became the king of the Funan Kingdom, the first center of power on Southeast Asian soil. M.C. Subhadradis Diskul, a Thai historian, stated in a Southeast Asian history textbook that Funan is the most vital Kingdom region. It is called the land of gold because it is a coastal state that receives influence from the Northeast monsoon, which benefits sailing. The coasts that provide a transit spot for goods from India make it a middle party for goods making their way from Persia and Roman to China. In this area, another critical Kingdom named Champ was established in the Tonkin region. Its people are of Malayo-Polynesian descent, the same as the people of Funan or the ancient Khmer.
Khmer or Kamboja had received influence from the Indian civilization, from the architecture, sculpture, and culture through the Hindu mindset found in Vedas scripture and the two major epics – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These are significant religious texts that calm the mind of the citizen and promote harmony. One could say that to study Cambodia’s history is partially looking at Indian history because the creation of architecture, sculpture, literature, and politics is very prominent. The systematic city plan, especially in King Jayavarman’s reign, had linked the system of hospitals, schools, libraries with roads from Angkor Thom to Champ and Phimai with more than 102 road-side resting spots. This is an example of the Hindu faith in Shiva.
The new page in the history book of Kamboj started again with the community of the Khmer people, which is filled with energy and intelligence. They were the experts of Sanskrit and building a new civilization. Thus, they built Angkor Wat. They also promoted the study of Sanskrit literature and used the Indian alphabet in their written language, which led to the study of the Vedas and the Upanishads like a Brahmin. Lastly, they used the prefix “Lord” with kings – the widespread phenomena in Southeast Asia that reflect faith in Harihara, the fused representation of Shiva and Vishnu. Brahmanism’s greatness is presented in the Champa Desha Hindu temple complex in Vietnam, built to worship Lord Shiva. It is a temple four times the size of Angkor Wat and consists of more than 70 Hindu temples. Champa is a present from the Indian civilization. Under the Funan Kingdom rule, the Oc Eo city (now an archaeological on the Ca Mau Peninsula in Vietnam) became an important port city and received tablewares, money, Buddha images, and Dvaravati-era idols from India
In the 6th-century CE., the Funan Kingdom’s influence had declined, and the Chela had come to occupy the kingdom. The deeply-rooted Hindu beliefs were overpowered by Buddhism and were well received by the people. Until the 8th-century CE., King Jayavarman II united Land Chenla and Water Chenla then established Angkor, which held its incredible power until the 14th-century CE. A British historian named D. G. E. Hall said that the spiritual adviser and the king’s ritual leaders in this era were the ascetics that developed new beliefs creating the ideal of the deva-raja or the god-king. The governing system promotes the idea that the king had received his god-like authority from Lord Shiva through a medium, the royal court brahmans.
When King Suryavarman I and King Suryavarman II ascended the throne, they used the empire-expanding policy, and King Suryavarman had changed his faith to Shaivism while adopting Mahayana Buddhism, promoting the two beliefs at the same time. However, King Suryavarman II had changed back to Vishnu-centric Brahmanism and started constructing the Angkor Wat, a Hindu temple complex seating a subtle of Lord Vishnu, in his reign. And in the era of King Suryavarman VII, Angkor Thom and the complexes surrounding Angkor were built. During that time, the Kingdom was losing its power; the King of Sukhothai came to offend in King Suryavarman VIII’s reign. Later in the Ayutthaya Period, King Borommarachathirat II had finally defeated Angkor. The new royal court was moved to Krong Chaktomuk Serimongkul, or Phnom Penh nowadays. Later it was moved to Longvek and was destroyed by King Naresuan. Cambodia lost its independence to Ayutthaya in the reign of King Ramathibodi (1353 CE.). Professor O. W. Wolters, a British historian, had noticed a Khmer language scripture in the Tanintharyi region, Myanmar, stating that the Khmer King and his younger brother had stayed in Ayutthaya in 1462 – 1465 CE.
Ramayana: From Stone Sculptures to Performing Arts.
The Ramayana epic, the work of Maharishi Valmiki, that came to Cambodia was recomposed to match the era’s social context. It is called Reamker or Rama Kerti, which has intertwined the ancient Khmer history into the story. Garrett Kam, a dancer from Bali-Java, has noted in his Ramayana In Art of Asia book that the Ramayana appeared in stone sculptures at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom also in various Khmer performing art. It is featured in shadow puppet, paintings, literature, radio dramas, a masked performance known as Lakhon khol, with the oldest evidence invented around 1700 CE. Another finding is mural paintings painted in the 18th-century CE. at Wat Bo, home of around 100 monks, which helps protect these murals.
In 1940 CE., Preah Mahasatriyani Sisowath Kossamak has initiated the mission to revive these forms of art back to the royal court by patronizing the Roborn Tep Apsara, L Khon Preric’Tep La Khon Luang, La Khon Kagah Bohram Khmer performance. Nowadays, the Reamker performance is part of the tourist-attracting performing arts, adapted to the contemporary musical instruments and combines with the choreography called the Apsara Dance, rather than emphasis on storytelling. Though the Khon mask-making support is on the decline, making it rare to see a Khon mask.
Classical dancers, as Sita and Ravana, of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Date 1920~1924