Friday, July 22, 2011

Khmer Empire

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The Khmer Empire was one of the most powerful empires in Southeast Asia, The empire, which grew out of the former kingdom of Chenla, at times ruled over and/or vassalized parts of modern-day Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Malaysia. Its greatest legacy is Angkor, the site of the capital city during the empire's zenith. Angkor bears testimony to the Khmer empire's immense power and wealth, as well as the variety of belief systems that it patronised over time. The empire's official religions included Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, until Theravada Buddhism prevailed, even among the lower classes, after its introduction from Sri Lanka in the 13th century. Modern researches by satellites have revealed Angkor to be the largest pre-industrial urban center in the world.

The history of Angkor as the central area of settlement of the historical kingdom of Kambujadesa is also the history of the Khmer from the 9th to the 13th centuries.

From Kambuja itself - and so also from the Angkor region - no written records have survived other than stone inscriptions. Therefore the current knowledge of the historical Khmer civilization is derived primarily from: archaeological excavation, reconstruction and investigation stone inscriptions (most important are foundation steles of temples), which report on the political and religious deeds of the kings reliefs in a series of temple walls with depictions of military marches, life in the palace, market scenes and also the everyday lives of the population reports and chronicles of Chinese diplomats, traders and travellers. The beginning of the era of the Khmer Empire is conventionally dated to 802 AD. In this year, king Jayavarman II had himself declared chakravartin ("king of the world", or "king of kings") on Phnom Kunlen

Culture and society

Much of what we know of the ancient Khmers comes from the many stone murals and also first hand accounts from Zhou Daguan. They offer first hand accounts of the 13th century and earlier. The ancient Khmers relied heavily on rice growing. The farmers planted rice near the banks of the Tonlé Sap or in the hills when it was flooded. The farms were irrigated by Barays, or giant water reservoirs and canals. Sugar palm trees, fruit trees and vegetables were grown in the villages. Fishing gave the population their main source of protein, and was turned into Prahok or dried or roasted or steamed in banana leaves. Rice was the main staple along with fish. Pigs, cattle and poultry were kept under the farmers houses as they were on stilts to keep away from flooding. Houses of farmers were situated near the rice paddies on the edge of the cities, the walls were of woven bamboo, thatched roofs and were on stilts. A house was divided into three by woven bamboo walls. One was the parents bedroom, the other was the daughters bedroom and the largest was the living area. The sons slept wherever they could find space. The kitchen was at the back or a separate room. Nobles and kings lived in the palace and much larger houses in the city. They were made of the same materials as the farmers house but the roofs were wooden shingles and had elaborate designs as well as more rooms. The common people wore a sampot which the front end was drawn between the legs and secured at the back by a belt. Nobles and kings wore more finer and richer fabrics. Women wore a strip of cloth to cover the chest while noble women had a lengthened one that went over the shoulder. Men and women wore a Krama. The main religion was Hinduism, followed by Buddhism in popularity. Vishnu and Shiva were the favorite deities.

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