Lecture: Was Angkor more Esoteric Buddhist than Brahmanical?



Peter Sharrock is a historian of Khmer Empire art at Angkor and is Senior Teaching Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He was a Reuters correspondent during the American war in Indochina and joined the pioneering post-war visitors to Angkor in the 1990s. Dr Sharrock’s doctorate presented a new interpretation of the Buddhism and imperial politics of Jayavarman VII, the greatest king of ancient Cambodia. His recent publications include: Banteay Chhmar, Garrison-temple of the Khmer Empire (2015) and Descending Dragon, Rising Tiger: a History of Vietnam (2014).

An inscription that recently surfaced in Paris is changing the history of the ancient Khmer Empire at its apogee in the 12th century. Now numbered K. 1297, it shows that Angkor reached its ultimate sway as one of the world’s great empires under Buddhist kings, with the notable exception of the conquering Viṣṇu devotee king Sūryavarman II (1113–49 CE), who constructed the splendid monument of Angkor Wat.

The new inscription brings into the history Sūryavarman’s younger brother, who reigned as the Buddhist king Tribhuvanādityavarman from 1149-77 CE, before he was killed in the only recorded raid on Angkor by the neighbouring Chams. He emerges as an Esoteric Buddhist and a major templebuilder, true to the tradition of his Mahīdharapura dynasty, whose genealogy he recites in some detail. Thus we learn that when the reign of the famous Vaiṣṇava Sūryavarman ended in 1149 CE (date previously unknown), he was succeeded by his younger Esoteric Buddhist brother, who went on to construct eight (as yet unidentified) Buddhist temples.

All this constitutes a major revision of middle period of the greatest century of expansion of Angkor and it alters the religious balance of Angkor towards Buddhism.

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Aug 03 2016


10:30 am - 12:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2