The Khmer Heritage



(Barom Visnulok, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Bapuon and Bakheng)

One feature, when it comes to history and geography, that strikes me, is how we use the language. We often use completely wrong names of places, in my opinion. So! Cambodia is not Cambodia, it is Kampuchea. Germans don't live in Germany, they live in Deutschland. The correct name of Angkor Vat, for example, is (បរមវិស្ណុលោក) Barom Visnulōk, a Khmerified version of the original Sanskrit (Sacred Dwelling of Vishnu). We are simply to Anglified and have to learn more about foreign languages and open our ears, eyes and minds! One of the aims with my blogg is also to counter our common Eurocentrism or Americanism. We know far to little about classical Indian litterature, Chinese culture or Islamic science! The classical Greeks and Romans should be honored,  fine! But the Asian heritage is so much larger in litterature and art, no question about it, in my point of view! At least it is neglected in the west!

Consequently we have to stop talking about Angkor Vat, it's Yashodharapura. And Barom Visnulok is the City Temple.

Some of the following pictures are paintings that tell the story of a very tragic episode in Cambodian history. The civil war, when one third of the population died, killed by their own countrymen, starved to death or died from disease. The fact that USA bombed the country some years before, killing 600.000 civilian Cambodians, does not make anything better. The terror was finally brought to an end by intervention from Vietnam, backed by the Soviet Union.

Hell, Hindu-Buddhism and Khmer Rouge

I have been thinking a lot about similarities between the behaviour of the Khmer Rogue ( Khmai Krahom ខ្មែរក្រហម ) during the 1970s and illustrations of the Hindu-Buddhist hell (Naraka) depicted in the basreliefs of Angkor Vat. Naraka is known from a lot of ancient Indian sources too, sources much older than Angkor Vat.

It is also a fact, that the Khmer Rogue saved Angkor Vat from destruction and looting, but they vandalised almost every other temple in Cambodia. The Khmer Rogue had a dream of an utopian agrarian society and an idea of a glorius past that had to be restored, so for them Angkor was a powerful symbol. Therefore, I think that the pictures of different methods of torture that is practised by king Yama in Naraka was a source of inspiration, because places like Toul Sleng, the interrogation centre in Phnom Pehn, can not be described as something else than hell!

The above modern paintings is made by the genocide survivor Vann Nath, (most of them, as far as I know). The sandstone reliefs comes from one of the galleries of Angkor Vat. The scene with modern, almost naivistic, sculptures comes from an illustration of Naraka. Those sculptures are located outside a killing cave at Phnom Sampoev, Battambang province. This kind of "hell parks" is pretty common in Thailand and is popular among families that bring their children there during weekends. Part amusement parks, part moral education! Strange to a westerner like me! The purpose of those parks is to show what happens to you in your next life if you don't behave in present life!

The second and third pictures above shows how newborn babys was killed! Banged and smashed against trees? Heartbreaking, but true! The first picture of of the reliefs shows a man getting a chisel driven into his eye! Another picture shows a man hanged up and tortured with nails all over his body! If you search the web for "naraka ( नरक ), naraya, norok (នរក), yama, Diyu, 地獄" or something like that, you will find a lot. Below we see people being cooked in oil, something we call "skärselden" in Swedish Christian tradition. (eng: purgatory)

Taiwanese Buddhist Hell, Modern Painting
Taiwanese Buddhist Hell, Modern Painting