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Cultural and Historical Relations between India and Cambodia

Ta Prohm Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia. @KNT Diary / Wikipedia

Keav Mengkoang provides an overview of the cultural and historical linkages between Cambodia and India and highlights some significant roles India has played in strengthening Indo-Khmer bilateral cultural relationship.

This short article will briefly describe the Cultural and Historical Relation between India and Cambodia, which happened more than a millennium old. According to various studies were shown that India was a great subcontinent in the past time and its culture, religion and trade rapidly spread to some countries of Southeast Asia. Moreover, some scholars indicated their opinion that the cultural and religious connection between India and Cambodia was since the 1st century. Among those scholars, a French research George Coedes, used the term ‘Indianization’ to refer to the meaning of expansion of Indian culture toward countries in the Southeast Asia region.

Funan, one of the most important of kingdoms in Southeast Asia region influenced from Indianization since first century AD, was the first kingdom in Cambodian history. According to Cambodian belief, Khmer ancestor’ founding legend told about an Indian prince Kaundinya called Preah Thaong in Cambodian folklore. That influence was extended through traders, immigrants and priest and they brought with them practising the arts, customs and religions of India and using Sanskrit as their sacred language. We sometimes use the term ‘Sanskritization’ instead of ‘Indianization’. However, in Cambodian historical context, Sanskrit language was transplanted by local people into Indo-Khmer that we were able to recognize in the epigraphical or archaeological documents[1]

After that time, Hinduism and Buddhism played an important role to make the influence of Indian religions strongly through rituals, idolatry and mythology that we still can be seen in many having resemblances of its rituals in the kingdom. Between the 6th and 7th centuries AD, Indian architectural conception was used to build some temples during the reign of Chenla kings who were devotees to Hinduism. For instance, the temple of Sambor Prekuk was built in the reign of king Isanvarman I and other kings at Isanapura Capital of the Kingdom which was so far the oldest known example of the existence of Indian culture and religion in Cambodia. Furthermore, the concept of building magnificent temples still existed during following centuries such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Bantey Srei, Preah Vihear and other religious and historical sites in Cambodia.

Now we look at the relationship between both countries in the present. In order to strengthen old ages close cultural links, India and Cambodia signed on a formal document called Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) in 2000, which has been renewed from time to time. During the State Visit of Prime Minister Hun Sen to India in January 2018, the CEP has been renewed for a further period of four years till 2022. During the recent visit of Hon’ble EAM, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of India and National Authority on Preah Vihear has been signed for the restoration of some parts of Preah Vihear temple. 

In the same manner, to reinforce close cultural bonds, India announced and set up Mekong Ganga Cooperation Asian Traditional Textiles Museum at Siem Reap in the purpose of keeping traditional textiles of India and Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia. According to this initiative project, it also has a training centre and workshop in textiles; a fashion design and development centre using traditional ethnic designs, and various children activities in the centre. The important role of this museum is to help preserve the age-old tradition of textiles in this region. 

Besides thing above, India had also undertaken work for restoration and conservation of the Angkor Wat temple which is a world heritage site of UNESCO and an important tourist destination in Cambodia visited by millions of tourist every year. At present, India participates in the restoration work of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Archaeological Park. India was appointed Co-chair for the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) on Preah Vihear, another world heritage site and one of the oldest temples of Lord Shiva.

Some other programmes such as International Day of Yoga, Ramayana Festival, Sanskrit and Veda classes etc. are strongly considered in order to strengthen the relation of both countries not only old ages cultural and historical linkages but also present robust culture, people to people relationship and are engaged in strengthening bilateral cultural relationship[2].

Written by: Keav Mengkoang, MA in History at University of Delhi
He can be reached at keavmengkoang4444@gmail.com

[1] George Coedes. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Edited by Walter F. Vella. (Trans. Susan Brown Cowing). Australian National University Press. 1975, pp. 14-36.
[2] Original source from the Embassy of India in Phnom Penh: https://tinyurl.com/wwr869s.

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