The Khmer people were heavily influenced by Indian culture; elements of which can be seen in the art, architecture, and music and written language. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs were adopted as early as the 6th century. Throughout the Khmer empire, Hinduism was dominant until the end of the 12th century, when it was succeeded by Mahayana Buddhism. The architectural feats of the Khmer civilization date back to as early as the 7th century, when the first pre-Angkor temples were constructed. Because political control of early Khmer society centered on the concept of the God-king, every ruler in the long line of Khmer monarchy was concerned with construction of palatial temples.

Cambodia is home to the famed Angkor Wat, a spectacular complex, the greatest of all Khmer temples and one of the largest in the world. Dedicated to Vishnu, this ancient city surrounded by dense jungle, spans an area of over 20 kilometers. At Angkor Wat there are a number of Hindu legends, including the creation myth known as ‘Churning the Sea of Milk’ in which the gods pull back and forth on the body of a giant serpent, thus churning the ‘cosmic sea’ to produce amrita, the elixir of immortality. At the tail of Naga (the serpent) is ‘Hanuman’, the war monkey; he encourages the gods to pull harder. Hanuman is a powerful monkey capable of making himself small and large at will. He can travel great distance by leaping through the air. He can speak and think like a human. Since the Middle Ages Hanuman has taken an important role. He was known in India as the helper for any troubled marriages. ‘Hanuman’ (bronze) war monkey, a god and devotee of Rama. It has perfectly carved features and attire, carrying a trishula (215)

In temples, there are exquisite stone sculptures. Some derive from the twelfth century, particularly in the form of Mahayana Buddhism that includes the triratna (three jewels of Buddhism). The trinity comprises of Buddha protected by Naga (central), Avalokitesvara who personifies compassion by choosing to bring enlightenment to others rather than pass through Nirvana (right) and Prajnaparamita who represents Dharma (left). Khmer bronze figure of Buddhist trinity seated on special deity throne carried by twenty slaves with a green patina (218)

Rituals have always been an important part of daily life in Cambodia. For example, items such as the Khmer ritual conch imitate the shell of a water mollusk, which serves as a vessel to pour holy water or used to make the sound OM. Three Nagas support this bronze conch with a male deity dancing on a corpse. Khmer ritual bronze conch with a green patina on a base supported by three nagas with a male deity dancing on a corpse (217). Bells are also a part of ritual used in Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism. This bronze bell has 10 rings and at the top there are two images of Naga. Khmer bronze bell with a green patina (216). In the 12th century the Khmer elite was carried in palanquins suspended by two poles. At the end of the poles were two bronze palanquin hooks. Two bronze Khmer palanquin hooks with a green patina (219)

During our travels to Cambodia, we were able to find many sculptures of elephants like this ornate bronze elephant vase decorated with relief of flowers and garlands (220)