Saturday, May 28, 2011

Debate on the decline of Khmer Empire

Hello Everone::

Attached, please find the numerous articles of Jayavarman VII and the decline of Angkor.

I think the following questions should be addressed to those Cambodian scholars:

What role did Jayavarman VII play in the decline of Angkor Empire?

The follow-up question is;

What role, if J7, did the frantic and immense pace of building program (roads, bridges, road rest houses, reservoirs, temples) by Jayavarman VII play in the decline of the Khmer Empire?

Another follow up question is;

What do they think of all those who said that it was the huge building and wars undertaken by Jayavarman VII that exhausted the Khmer people, that finally brought down the Khmer empire?

These questions are extremely important ones for the survival of our people, as a culture and society.
We have to know who did what in our history. More precisely who were the good or bad leaders.

Best regards.
Perum Uch

Jayavarman VII and the decline of Angkor Civilization

“Under Jayavarman VII, the Khmer civilization reached a new peak after the collapse caused by the Cham invasion. At the dawn of the thirteenth century, Angkor experienced an extraordinary renaissance attested by the creation of a new art style and the founding of a magnificent capital. Only a short time later, the Khmer kingdom was struck down by sudden death. The population weakened by the work on the countless building sites of Jayavarman VII, was no longer strong enough to hold out against new attack s of new invaders.”

Source: Henri Sterlin: The Cultural History of Angkor; (Editions Aurum Press Ltd. United Kingdom, 1984)


“A number of factors led to the decline of the Khmers, among them Jayavarman VII's building projects that laid a heavy burden on the kingdom; economy. It is estimated that during his time the Khmer state built and supported 102 hospitals, 101 rest houses for pilgrims, and 20,000 shrines. He constructed roads linking the capital with the principal provincial centers where temples were built and furnished with images.

There were nearly 300,000 priests and monks supported by the state treasury. The burden of monument-building on the population was too severe to bear. Thousands of villages, tens of thousands of officials, and an army of laborers and artisans were assigned to the uneconomic tasks of building monuments to glorify the royalty.

Jayavarman's punitive wars against Champa and recalcitrant vassal kingdoms further drained the empire. As in the past, the Chams continued to pose a threat on the northeast frontier. Even more serious was the progressive movement southward of the Thai people who carved out new states in the territory formerly ruled by the Khmers. Thus, Sukhotai in the upper Menam declared its independence of the Khmer rule in 1219, the year of Jayavarman VII's death. Later, in the thirteenth century, the Mongol rulers of China helped weaken the Khmer power by encouraging the Thais to move farther into Southeast Asia.

A religious factor that undermined the Khmer authority was the spread of Hinayana Buddhism in the empire. This version of Buddhism did not permit belief in bodhisattvas or in the divine basis of kingship. It came to Burma from Sri Lanka in the eleventh century, and through the Mons and Thais it spread in the Khmer empire, where the masses seem to have appreciated its egalitarian character. No more would they regard the kings as divine. The great extension of the god-king cult under Jayavarman VII might have been a response to this threat.
Such forces continued to act against the Khmer power throughout the period after Jayavarman's death. The Chams in the east and the Thais in the west took large chunks of the Khmer empire; in 1431, Angkor itself was captured by the Thais. The Khmers regained their former capital for a brief period, but in 1434 they abandoned it and established a new capital near Phnom Penh.”

D.R. Sardesai: Southeast Asia Past & Present, (Westview, Boulder, Colorado, 1989)


Other factors contributing to the fall of Angkor

“Nevertheless, Angkor was abandoned quite abruptly. Why? Some archaeologists presume that a dyke broke, causing calamitous flooding. In some places, diggings have revealed a layer of alluvial deposits. All of these factors doubtless helped bring about the country's downfall. However, we believe there was yet another determining cause.

During the Siamese invasions, the irrigation system was certainly badly damaged. The precarious balance man had created artificially by means of canals and barays was disturbed. The water flow changed. In the canals clear river water replaced the muddy water, which had kept the fields fertile for such a long time.

The flow was no longer strong enough to carry along sediment torn from the banks. As soon as the water cleared up, malaria became a problem. Anopheles mosquitoes do not lay eggs in muddy water. Both the adults and the larvae show a marked preference for clear water. The population of Angkor was probable decimated by fevers and malaria before the enormous city was abandoned.

An ecological catastrophe brought the incredible irrigation system to a standstill. As a result, the Khmers lost their wealth prosperity and power. Rice production ceased as if it had been under a curse. The survivors went back to the sites where their ancestors had lived before the rise of Khmer civilization and the creation of the rice factory which had been the main cause of their splendour and glory.”

Source: Henri Stierlin; The Culture and History of Angkor; (Aurum Press LTD. London, 1984)

On Jayavarman VII implied cause for the fall of Angkor, Coedes wrote this short but significant sentence:

"Such, in short, was the work of Jayavarman VII, a very heavy program for a people who were already exhausted by the wars and the and the constructions of Suryavarman II and henceforth would find themselves helpless against the attacks of the neighbors."

Georges Coedes; The Indianized States of Southeast Asia; (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1968) p. 77


View from the US Congress on Cambodia’s decline
Jayavarman VII's wars and public works exacted a heavy toll on the finances and the human labor force of the Angkorian empire. The drain of resources coincided with the gradual intrusion of Theravada Buddhism, with its egalitarian focus, at the expense of the Indianized cults that stressed a hierarchical, stratified society (see Buddhism , ch. 2).
Whether it was this development or the inability of the Khmer monarchs to command the fealty of their subjects that led to a societal breakdown remains open to conjecture.
Also coupled with these internal developments was the accelerated southward migration of the Thai, who, dislodged from their state in southwestern China by the Mongols in the mid-1200s, flooded into the Menam Chao Phraya Valley. Subject to internal and external pressures, the Khmer state became unable to defend itself at the very time its enemies were growing stronger.
Thai attacks were stepped up around 1350, and they continued until Angkor itself was captured and sacked in 1430-31. The fall of Angkor ended the dominant period of the Khmer state.
Thereafter, its borders shrank, and it controlled little more than the area around the Tonle Sap, the alluvial plain to the southeast, and some territory west of the Mekong River. To the east, the collapse of the kingdom of Champa in 1471 opened the Khmer lands of the Mekong Delta to the steady Vietnamese expansion southward.
Library of the Congress, Countries Studies, Cambodia, Washington DC, 1986
c. 1181 In order to appease the people who are increasingly adopting Buddhism, Jayavarman becomes a Buddhist himself.

Once he stabilizes his enlarged empire, Jayavarman starts a massive building program. This includes
the reconstruction of Angkor Thom with the Bayon as the central temple and the building of Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temples.

Banteai Kdei, Sra Srang (a large public bathing pool), Banteai Chmar, Neak Pean, and Ta Som temples are also built. Along the main roads leading to Angkor he builds 102 hospitals and 121 pilgrim hostels. The vast amount of building results in Jayavarman overtaxing and overworking his subjects. Land is lost from the empire and Champa breaks away from the Khmer Kingdom again.
A Web site named Angkor;

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