Earthenware vessel "Khmer"
The Khmer Empire, c. 802AD-1431AD or earlier, Cambodia, private collection from Finland.
The Khmer Empire, or the Angkorian Empire, are the terms that historians use to refer to Cambodia from the 9th century to the 15th century when the nation was a Hindu/Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia. The empire grew out of the former civilizations of Funan and Chenla, at the times ruled over/ or vassalised most of mainland Southeast Asia and parts of Southern China, stretching from the tip of Indochinese Peninsula northward to modern Yunnan province, China, and from Vietnam westward to Myanmar (Burma). As its peak, the Khmer Empire was larger than the Byzantine Empire which existed around the same time. Perhaps its most notable legacy is the site of Angor, in present-day Cambodia, the Khmer capital during the empire's zenith. The majestetic monuments of Angkor, such as Angkor Wat and Bayon, bear testimony to the Khmer Empire's immense power and wealth. The beginning of the era of Khmer Empire is conventionally dated to 802, when King Jayavarman II declared himself "unversal ruler" (chakravartin, title equivalent to "emperor") on Phnom Kulen.
Hinduism mostly, Buddhism as well, were important religions in the region, mixed with animist and traditional cults. The Khmer kings were absolute rulers, meaning that they possessed total power and authority over their people. Society was arranged is a hierarchy reflecting the Hindu caste system, where the commoners, rice farmers and fishermen, formed the large majority of the population. The royalty, nobles, warlords, soldiers, and warriors (kshatriyas), formed a governing elite and authorities. Other social classes included priests (brahmins), traders, artisans such as carpenters and stonemasons, potters, metalworkers, goldsmiths, and textile weavers, while on the lowest social level were slaves. Censuses were carried out periodically. The elites collected and restributed taxes. Involuntery servitude also seemed to play a role in the formation of a corps of laborers who dug the canals or built the massive stone monuments.
The ancient Khmers were a traditional agricultural community, relying heavily on rice farming. The farmers, who formed the majority of kingdom's population, planted rice near the banks of the lake or river, in the irrigated plains surrounding their villages, or in the hills when lowlands were flooded. The rice paddies were irrigated by a massive and complex hydraulics system, including networks of canals and giant water reservoirs (barays). The state was divided into approx. 23 provinces, with a sophisticated administration and extensive personnel going down even to village level. The Khmer empire was founded upon extensive networks of agricultural rice farming communities. A distinct settlement hierarchy is present in the region. Small villages were clustered around regional centres, such as the one at Phimai, which in turn sent their goods such as pottery and foreign trade items from China.
The Khmer empire produced numerous temples and majestic monuments to celebrate the divine authority of Khmer kings. Khmer architecture reflects the Hindu belief that the temple was built to recreate the abode of Hindu gods, Mount Meru, with its five peaks and surrounded by seas represented by ponds and moats. Khmer art and architecture reached their aesthetic and technical peak with the construction of the majestetic temple, Angor Wat. Other temples are also constructed in the Agkor region, such as Ta Phrom and Bayon. The most stunning, Angkor Wat, is a microcosm of the Hindu universe and defies imagination as the world's largest religious complex, covering 200 hectares. Its construction took some 30 years and was started by one of the greatest kings, Suryavarman II, around 1122AD. The construction of the temple demonstrates the artistic and technical achievements of the Khmer Empire through its architectural mastery of stone masonry.
The empire's decline, gradual abandonment and final collapse is deeply connected with the great Thai migration of the 12th-14th centuries AD. Although the historians have proposed different causes for the decline: the religious conversion from Vihnuite-Shivaite Hinduism to Theravanda Buddhism, vassal revolt, plague, and ecological breakdown. The Thai migration intensified when Mongol campaigns shook China, and when the Mongols took Yunnan in 1253AD, further pressure for Thai migration ensued. Eventually the Thai created their own small kingdoms, the most important of them is the western side of the empire. As these kingdoms grew in power, they started to attack and annex imperial territories. The Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya took Angkor in 1431AD, which constitues the end of the Khmer empire.
Fascinating, finely potted kendi (derived from the Sanskrit for waterpot). The bulbous vessel form is of Indian origin, the result of Indian traders who settled throughout Southeast Asia, place known as the "Land of Gold" in the 100AD - 400AD. The shape of the kendi varied considerably over the centuries, but all have more or less rouded body, a straight neck and a spout set at an angle on the shoulder with no handle. The kendi seems to have been designed specifically to be held a a certain height so water could be pured into the mouth. The bottle is filled from the neck, held by neck and water drunk from the spout. The advantage of the utilitarian kendi was that it could be carried from place to place when water was not freely available and shared without the risk of contamination as lips do not touch the vessel. This stunningly beautiful unglazed vessel, whose form would become ubiquitous in Southeast Asia, was produced probably just prior to the Khmer Empire (802AD-1431AD). Excellent condition. Intact. Traces of red and white pigments. Age-related wear, hairline cracks and abrasion with a minimal scratches on surface. Rich deposits on interior and exterior. Dirt, dust and soil. Size approx. 23,0cm x 19,0cm x 21,0cm. Weight c. 1352g.
Citations, references and sources:
The Khmer Empire, Rodrigo Quijada Plubins, World History Encyclopedia, 12 March 2013.
The Khmer Empire, Wikipedia.
The Ancient Khmer Empire, Lawrence Palmer Briggs, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 41. No. 1, 1951, pp. 1-259.
Oudosti kadonneet, Maailman Historia, Saga Egmont, 2020.
The Kendi: The Long Journey of a Little Water Vessel, Margaret White, Passage, May/June 2018.
Kendi, Gallery 213, Minneapolis Institute of Art.