Jayavarman II (802 – 830), revived Cambodian power and built the foundation for the Angkorean empire, founding three capitals--Indrapura, Hariharalaya, and Mahendraparvata--the archeological remains of which reveal much about his times. After winning a long civil war, Suryavarman I (reigned 1002 – 1050) turned his forces eastward and subjugated the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati. Consequently, he ruled over the greater part of present-day Thailand and Laos, as well as the northern half of the Malay Peninsula. This period, during which Angkor Wat was constructed, is considered the apex of Khmer civilization. The Khmer kingdom became a great empire, and the great temples of Angkor, considered an archeological treasure replete with detailed stone bas-reliefs showing many aspects of the culture, including some musical instruments, remain as monuments to the culture of the Khmer. After the death of Suryavarman II (1113 – 1150), Cambodia lapsed into chaos until Jayavarman VII (1181 – 1218) ordered the construction of a new city. He was a Buddhist, and for a time, Buddhism became the dominant religion in Cambodia. As a state religion, however, it was adapted to suit the Deva Raja cult, with a Buddha Raja being substituted for the former Shiva Raja or Vishnu Raja.
The modern Khmer strongly identify their ethnic identity with their religious beliefs and practices which combine the tenets of Theravada Buddhism with elements of indigenous ancestor-spirit worship, animism and shamanism. The majority of the Khmer live in rural villages either as rice farmers or fishermen and life revolves around the wat (temple) and the various Buddhist ceremonies throughout the year. However, if a Khmer becomes ill, they will frequently see a kru khmae (shaman/healer) whom they believe can diagnose which of the many spirits (neak ta) has caused the illness and recommend a course of action to propitiate the offended spirit, thereby curing the illness. The kru khmae also is learned in herb lore and is often sought to prepare various "medicines" and potions or for a magical tattoo, all believed to endow one with special prowess and ward off evil spirits or general bad luck. Khmer beliefs also rely heavily on astrology, a remnant of Hinduism. A fortune teller, called hao-ra or kru tieay in Khmer, is often consulted before major events, like choosing a spouse, beginning an important journey or business venture, setting the date for a wedding and determining the proper location for building new structures.
Khmer Food. Click to see larger view.
Throughout the year the Khmer celebrate many holidays, most of a religious or spiritual nature, some of which are also observed:
|April 14||Khmer New Year|
|April 15||Khmer New Year|
|September 29||Pchum Ben Day|
|September 30||Pchum Ben Day|
|November 12||Water Festival|
|November 13||Water Festival|
The two most important are Choul Chhnam (Cambodian New Year) and Pchum Ben ("Ancestor Day"). The Khmer Buddhist calendar is divided into 12 months with the traditional new year beginning on the first day of khae chaet which coincides with the first new moon of April in the western calendar. However, the modern celebration has been standardized to coincide with April 13th. The new year's celebration lasts three days, one day to mark the end of the old year, one day to welcome the spirit (tevida) of the coming year, and one day to honor one's parents as preah ros or "living gods (enlightened ones)".