Water Rituals in Khmer Temples: Evidence of Multiple Belief Systems

APSARA National Authority, Cambodia

The release of water from Khmer temples is generally related to both Brahmanical and Buddhist ritual practices and belief systems. While water generally flows from the inside to outside of a temple in north and northwest directions, there are some temples in which the water flows to the northeast. The northeast is the direction of Ishana, one of the forms of the Shiva god and often counted among the eleven Rudras. This northeast direction is also represented by the Dikpala who are the guardians of the directions in Buddhism and Brahmanism. Other aspects of temples related to the northeast date to the post-Angkorian (14th to 18th century AD) era when temples were modified for various deities. The northeast direction also marks some important intangible beliefs today. This paper, based on recent surveys and excavations at Ta Prohm Kel, Krol Ko, and Preah Khan temples, considers changes in the significance of the northeast in relation to Brahmanical, Buddhist, and intangible beliefs between the 6th century AD and the present-day. Material evidence illustrates the connection between beliefs systems embedded in water rituals, temple rituals, temple design, and Khmer traditional intangible knowledge.