Explore India-Cambodia links beyond Angkor: expert

SachidanandSahai wants ‘missing links’ in Khmer history to be bridged


New Delhi, June 6: India has to open up and be proactive in telling the world about the extent of the country’s age-old cultural influence in Cambodia beyond one signature tourist attraction, an expert has exhorted.

The Southeast Asian country is deservedly known across continents for its vintage Angkor temples that share architectural commonness with Pallava and Chola temples of southern India’s Tamil Nadu, but that is only one part of the story, Prof. SachchidanandSahai, Advisor to the Government of Cambodia for Angkor noted at a lecture here.

The spread and depth of Indian aesthetics and legends that continue to prevail over the region under the Khmer Empire which flourished for 600 years from the 9th century AD is largely unknown or ignored from a global perspective, he regretted while speaking on ‘Angkor: Shared Cultural Heritage of India and South’ at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). A whole stretch along northwest Cambodia is replete with Indian influence across sensibilities, he emphasized.

This aspect is groping in the dark is despite a recent contribution by the Archaeological Survey of India in continued renovation of the famed Angkor Wat temple—the world’s largest religious monument which was originally constructed as Hindu temple on a 162.6-hectare site in the first half of the 12th century. Built by Khmer king Survavarman II in a 35-year project that employed 300,000 people and 6,000 elephants, the sprawling complex in Siam Reap gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple within decades of its consecration, the speaker said at the session chaired by IGNCA Member Secretary Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi.

Kings such as Bhadravarman (4th century AD), Khmer Empire founder Jayavarman II (770-835) and his later successor Survyavarman bore Indian names, but they were from the local community of Cambodia, pointed out Prof Sahai, who is a Padma Shri awardee. This is one result of a sea trade which prospered those days between India and Southeast Asian countries, he added.

“The (honorific) Varman title was bestowed upon the Cambodian kings, who effectively functioned under power-centres run by Indians,” said the speaker, who has been living in Cambodia for the past 14 years, exploring the uncharted historical links between the two countries.

In this context, he called upon enthusiasts to learn more about the connections between the traditional 16-day lunar ‘PitruPaksha’ period during which Indian Hindus pay homage to their ancestors and its counterpart in Cambodia, where its observance comes with a three-day national holiday.

A former pro-vice chancellor of Bodh Gaya-based Magadh University in his native Bihar, the speaker also wanted more light thrown on possible links between Chhattisgarh’s historical town of Sirpur (which was a vital Buddhist centre during 6th-10th century AD) and Ishanpur of Cambodia.

Prof Sahai, who was among the founding figures of the 1985-founded IGNCA, wants the premier autonomous institution to be a nodal point for the present government Act East Policy that prioritises India’s relations with oriental countries close to it.

The expert also called for chartered flights between India and Cambodia for the people of both the nations to know experience first-hand their ancient relations.

IGNCA,under the Union Ministry of Culture, is mandated to promote diverse as well as interdisciplinary programmes of research, publication, training, creative activities and performance in the field of arts and culture.

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