Cambodian Khmer Art Treasures Not to Be Missed

Speaking of Cambodia, the first keyword that jumps into my mind should be the world-famous Angkor Wat. Its magnificent scale and mysterious life experience are fascinating, but it is necessary to understand more Khmer artistic achievements beyond the Angkor civilization. It is a pity to miss the Cambodian National Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital. After all, this is one of the museums with the richest collection of Khmer culture in the world.

The building of the museum is a fusion of Khmer traditional style and French colonial style. Walking from the Tonle Sap River, looking across the long lawn, you can see its towering spires and flying decorations. In his book on Cambodian art and architecture, British scholar Helen Jessup praised it as “the best representative of traditional Cambodian architectural forms for modern use”. When people walk into the shadow of palm trees in the courtyard, the breeze filters the hot daylight of the Southeast Peninsula, leaving only pleasant warmth on the skin.

Roc garuda
Everyone who stepped into the gate of the museum could not leave his sight from a stone sculpture overlooking him. Indeed, it is too simple and cute, it seems impossible to belong to the distant dazzling past, but should appear in the comic books loved by children. But this Garuda (also called Garuda) is indeed the treasure of the museum.

Roc garuda

Eight-armed Vishnu

Half-lying bronze Vishnu

Dapeng gold-winged bird is the most common image in Khmer culture, that is, a giant bird with a human upper body, but its beak is like an eagle’s beak. This statue is more than 2 meters tall and is typical of the Gongkai period (the dynasty established by King Jayavarman IV in the 10th century)-strong but full of movement, the center of gravity of the entire statue falls on its step forward On the left foot, the raised arms seemed to block the incoming people, and there was an inviolable sense of solemnity.

The golden-winged bird is the vehicle of Vishnu in Hinduism, and it is also one of the “eight dragons” in Buddhism. Maybe you are not familiar with this name, but its ever-changing image actually exists in many works of art in East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia, such as the Royal Palace on the outskirts of Siem Reap, which is famous for its fine carvings, or the national emblems of Thailand and Indonesia. Above.

So, how did Cambodian artists in the 10th century portray it?

In the comfortable light in the afternoon, I began to study its details: I can see its hair in a bun, wearing a crown, frowning brows connected with the beard next to the beak, and fine decorations on the chest. Exquisite chains and a clear fur skirt have also become another support point for the statue. Even though the fingers are nowhere to be found, this big Peng Golden Winged bird still has no shortage of fascinating magic.

In the spacious and transparent exhibition hall, collections of various historical periods, such as stone tools, bronzes, woodware and other cultural relics, will take you to the Zhenla style described by the Yuan Dynasty traveler Zhou Daguan as if they are magical. Exquisite bronze wares are displayed in the museum’s No. 1 exhibition hall. It can be seen through the glass cover that those palm-sized wine vessels have smiles, and every finger seems to have the lightness of a smile.

In the spacious and transparent hall on the east side of the museum, hundreds of beautiful stone sculptures are displayed. Down the steps, there is a headless female dancer facing her. Her sleek curves and graceful figure seem to have the softest body; and her slightly raised buttocks wrapped in a fluttering skirt seem to be Stirring the heat that was gradually disturbing in the afternoon, a cool breeze passed through the hall. This scene reminds people of the “Goddess of Victory of Samothrace” in the Louvre with wings spread in the wind: East and West, the skirts and folds of centuries apart, have the same real and natural rhythm flowing. .

The golden-winged bird is the vehicle of Vishnu in Hinduism, and it is also one of the “eight dragons” in Buddhism.

Eight-armed Vishnu
In the center of Exhibition Hall No. 3, an eight-armed Vishnu and the statues of Rama and Dali Rama standing on both sides together form another treasure of the museum.

This group of works was created in the 6th to 7th centuries. Due to the development of shipping, the Khmer culture, which was called “Funan” by China at that time, was playing a leading role in the Indochina Peninsula. It also exchanged envoys with the Soochow of China at that time. . In the Khmer, which was deeply influenced by Indian culture at that time, Vishnu was regarded as the Lord of Cambodia, in charge of all things in the universe.

This group of statues are carved from black sandstone, and after thousands of years, they show a mysterious and beautiful luster. The eight-armed Vishnu in the middle is nearly 3 meters tall and dressed in tulle, while the Rama and Dahram on both sides are the incarnations of the legendary Vishnu.

In terms of facial expressions, the three statues are typical representatives of the Indian Gupta style, such as the oval facial contour, the braided hair on the shoulders, the straight nose, the thick lips and the almost connected eyebrows. But compared with the statues of India at the same time, this group of statues emphasizes natural curves and gentle expressions, which is more in line with the character of Khmer culture.

The arch structure behind Vishnu is one of the oldest Khmer carvings. It is used to support his 8 arms extending in different directions, as well as the Hindu instruments in their hands, such as the sticks symbolizing knowledge and life. The conch, the sphere that symbolizes the earth, the bottle full of water, and the flame. Although this is actually a manifestation of the immature craftsmanship at that time, the round arch is like a ribbon, bringing unexpected elegance to this statue, as well as a harmonious and smooth overall shape.

Vishnu lying on the side
Entering Hall 4, my eyes fell firmly on a broken bronze statue. The turquoise color and the mutilated but serene breath give rise to twelve minutes of curiosity.

This half-lying bronze Vishnu is an 11th-century work in the style of Pap Ang Temple. Although it is only a fragment, its smiling face makes it easy to imagine his 6-meter-high physique. This largest bronze statue in Southeast Asia depicts Vishnu cosmic sleep while floating on the sea. Because it can make the eyes and expressions of the statue more vivid, gem inlays were very popular in Southeast Asia in the 11th century. We can see that the position of his eyebrows and beard leaves obvious grooves, enough to make people imagine the gorgeous appearance of his eyebrows, eyes and beard inlaid with various treasures.

From the two remaining hands of the bronze statue, we can also see him wearing bracelets, necklaces and brooches. The center of the necklace is decorated with a round floral ornament, and there is a pendant on the back. The bronze statue has a calm and pleasant facial expression. The round head, high forehead, full cheeks, broad shoulders and slender arms are all male gods in the typical style of Pap Ang Temple.

This statue was originally located in the Simebhun Temple built by Udayadityavarman II to protect the city of Angkor. This temple is located in the Sibalai Lake, the largest reservoir in Cambodia. Zhou Daguan described the temple as being surrounded by tall city walls in “Chenla Fengtu Ji”, “…There are stone towers, stone houses, and towers. There is a reclining bronze Buddha, and water often flows out from the navel. It tastes like Chinese wine and is easily intoxicating.”

In Hindu legends, the universe at this time is a chaotic ocean. Vishnu is lying on Shesha, the “thousand-headed snake god”, his concubine Lakshmi is massaging the soles of his feet, and the lotus is coming from his belly button. It opens up, and the Brahma on the lotus is about to start a new world of reincarnation…

Although the bronze statue has been scarred through hardships, with these descriptions, a magnificent and elegant sculpture is still vividly displayed in front of us. My ears sounded like drums and thunderous cheers, and the faces of people who saw this statue were full of hope, as if they were in love with a new beginning.

In the 12th century, the Khmer Kingdom became the most powerful dynasty in Southeast Asia, and its territory encompassed today’s Laos and Vietnam. As the ruler’s faith has undergone a transformation from Hinduism to Buddhism, the mainstream architectural art of Cambodia has also evolved from the Angkor style to the Bayon style. The Khmer civilization at this time achieved unprecedented brilliance, leaving the world with architectural treasures such as Angkor Wat and Angkor King City. But after that, with the frequent wars, Cambodia gradually fell into a whirlpool of chaos, and Khmer art also fell silent…