Before the centralization of power at Angkor in the ninth century, ancient Cambodia had two chief centers of political power. Funan flourished in the south from the first or second century until the mid-sixth century, when it was apparently dominated by the northern kingdom of Zhenla. One of Funan's capitals, possibly its last, is generally thought to have been at Angkor Borei, south of present-day Phnom Penh, where several of the early works of sculpture in the exhibition were found. The region, laced with waterways forming part of the vast Mekong River system, derived its prosperity from riverine and maritime commerce.
International trade routes stretching from the Middle East to China exposed the early Cambodian states to other cultures, particularly that of India. This early period saw the "Indianization" of Cambodia: the Sanskrit language was used in inscriptions and the two great Indian religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, were introduced. The works of sculpture in this room reveal the impact of Hinduism, which defines the existence of all creatures as a never ending cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. The principal Hindu deities are Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the preserver). Early Khmer images of Hindu divinities are similar in style to Indian art in their accurately observed anatomy, sensuous modeling, and regal yet benevolent character.
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC