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Archaeologists explore Brahmanism to Buddhism conversion at Angkor Wat

The researchers investigate changes in the urban community during the religious shift during Angkorian period. ANA
The researchers investigate changes in the urban community during the religious shift during Angkorian period. ANA

Archaeologists explore Brahmanism to Buddhism conversion at Angkor Wat

In a collaborative project, the APSARA National Authority (ANA), the University of Hawaii, and the University of California are conducting excavations at the southwest wall of Angkor Wat.

The purpose is to study the residential patterns of people during the Angkorian period and to understand the conversion from Brahmanism to Theravada Buddhism.

The researchers aim to investigate changes in the urban community during the religious shift and the city's relocation from Angkor towards the south, according to ANA's July 11 statement.

Heng Pipal, an archaeologist from the University of Hawaii and the project's head, stated that current excavations are focussed on the structure of an ancient vihara or Buddhist temple.

He said that analysis of the style of bai sema or boundary markers helps the team determine the age of the vihara mound, which dates back to the 14th to 16th centuries.

"So, this ancient Theravada Buddhist temple was built on the site of a temple dedicated to the great deity of Brahmanism, Vishnu or Narayan," Pipal noted.

Previous research, Pipal said, has indicated that the Angkor Wat temple complex was a suburb of Angkor, often referred to by Siem Reap locals as "Angkor Toch".

The town comprises a systematic layout of mounds, ponds, and grid-like roads within the Angkor Wat complex.

Pipal explained, "The Buddhist vihara was built on a mound inhabited since the 12th century. Researchers aim to find evidence of human settlements related to the conversion from Brahmanism and Mahayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism in the late Angkorian period, which Cambodia still practises today”.

According to ANA, there have been several questions about the Buddhist temple's purpose in the Angkor Wat area, given that the people of the time were predominantly Hindu.

These inquiries relate to when and for whom Angkor transitioned from Hinduism to Theravada Buddhism.

Pipal noted that the ancient Theravada Buddhist temple near Angkor Wat had been neglected for a long time, resulting in significant damage to its structure and almost complete soil coverage over the vihara or Buddhist monastery.

Details of the vihara's construction materials and original appearance remain a mystery, questions the research team hopes to solve.

Pipal stated the team would collect coal and other organic samples from the crater's base to analyse for Carbon-14 dating.

By examining charcoal or animal bones, it's possible to identify when the ancient Theravada Buddhist vihara was constructed on the old mound.

ANA has confirmed the existence of two traces of ancient Theravada Buddhist viharas in the Angkor Wat area, one in the southwest and another in the northwest, where a shrine still houses a Buddha statue.


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