A Fusion of Religions: Khmer Buddhist and Hindu Antiques

ANKORAngkor, the lost capital of Kambuja (Cambodia) was rediscovered by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860. only about 150 years ago. Yet it has revealed culture, art and architecture that is unparalleled in South East Asia. Following the fall of Kambuja to the Siamese in 1431 AD, the splendor of the capital was lost to the jungle for the next four centuries. As the vegetation took grip on these magnificent buildings, their roots failed to shake the robust structures built through the masonry of ancient architects and artisans. Lost to man, snakes took shelter and the wild animals roamed claiming the territory that the humans took from them. Gods and nature mingled once again hidden from the greed and breed of the human race.

ANKOR TRIADUpon its discovery, the world was stunned by the treasures that it  revealed. Here was a fusion of two most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, with no signs of conflict between the two. Vishnu and Buddha mingled sometimes as one, Shiva’s serpent (Naga) guarded the Buddha. Uma shared the platform with Buddha and Vishnu, while Linga adored the temple with Buddha. The mythology of Hindus adapted to Buddha’s philosophy of life was in harmony.

Having remained undisturbed for generations,  now a prolific number of magnificent work of art and sculpture from Angkor started emerging.  As these arefacts from the Khmer state started to reach the western world. If all these artifacts were to be real how did such a large number of objects survive? Or all these fake! the invention man’s greed.

ANKOR 2Experts may use the look and feel method for authenticity but they too are not infallible. Recalling that these bronzes were smelted and cast at over 1000 deg centigrade some tell tale marks should remain. The inner core of clay would be black showing evidence of firing and and a discerning buyer could employ Thermoluminescence (TL) dating but this is currently expensive, the current going rate being approximately £ 240.00 per object. If there is no remaining fired core clay within the bronze cast a metallurgist may help in dating. in order to understand this dilemma we have to go back nearly 2000 years in history to the advent of Christian era.

According to legend an Indian named Kaundinya on arrival to the larger Malay Peninsula, called Funan, formed an alliance with a Nagini princess, hence probably the early Naga influence on the state. For the next 1000 years Kambuja remained a Hindu state with a balance of Brahma, Shiva (Linga) and Vishnu as deities. Almost all art, bronzes and culture are centered on these deities from 600 to 1200 AD until Buddhism arrived in the 13th century. A remarkable peaceful union of the two religions followed with their sculpture encompassing the Hindu deities and Buddha.

ANKOR VISHNUDuring the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century in Kambuja religious fervor set in fueling  an output of a large number of smaller bronzes. This new demand exerted pressure on the craftsmen, contributing to some poor quality bronzes. Good quality pieces became relatively less. By the time Khmer State starting to fade in the 15th century its treasures had got redistributed to rest of South Asia where they have survived into modern times. In addition, continuous wars and invasion by the neighboring states contributed to redistribution of Khmer treasures and artifacts in Siam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and as far as Tibet, Malaysia and China.

Some of my early collections are from these countries. Even as late as early 18th century the hostility between Siam and Cambodia continued causing further outflow of Khmer art and sculpture into other parts of the region. It is not surprising to encounter such relatively large number of ancient Khmer artifacts in the west over the past century, given the high output of Khmer bronzes for over a millennium. Some may be fakes or reproduction of the past century but certainly some jewels in sculpture cannot be painted with the brush.

Rare Religious Sculptures & Antiques for sale | Antiques International | Anton Sebastian Private Collection | South East Asian Antiques | Mahakala | South Indian Bronzes | Meenakshi | Tantric | Hindu Mythology | Hinduism |Shiva| Brahma | Vishnu | Parvati | Durga | Kali | Krishna | Hanuman | Uma | Gowrie |Shakti | Sarasvati | Kartegeya | Kubera | Nandi | Garuda | Tantric | Kubera | Linga | Antiquesinternational.co.uk

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