Buddhism in Cambodia dates back to 5th century. King Rudravarman of Funan dynasty (Funan was the first state of present Cambodia) is believed to have claimed that his people had a long Hair Relic of Lord Buddha to worship. During this time (5th-6th century) Thervada and Sanskrit language developed in Funan while in 7th century, Pali language made great inroads into south regions of Funan kingdom.
Mahayana Buddhism established itself during the reign of Jayavarman VII (1181-1220) of Angkor Empire. Jayavarman was a devout Buddhist and believed in the Buddhist way of life. Records reveal that there were around 798 temples and 102 hospitals in the kingdom during Jayavarmans reign and all of them received complete support from him. His dedication to Buddhism earned him the title of Mahaparamasaugata posthumously.
After Jayavarmans death, Mahayana Buddhism took a backseat and Thervada Buddhism came into limelight. The French influence in the 19th -20th century dealt a major blow to Buddhism in Cambodia, however after getting liberation, Buddhism once again rose back into prominence.
Today, Buddhism is trying to regain its lost glory in the Cambodia.
A majority of the Cambodian people ( around 90%) are the follower of Thervada Buddhism. Islam and Christanity are the other religion practised by the people of Cambodia. The official language of the people is Khmer.
Monastic Orders of Cambodian Buddhism
Despite not having any formal administrative ties with other Buddhist bodies, Cambodia allows Theravada monks from countries like Thailand, Laos, Burma and Sri Lanka to take part in the religious ceremonies. Primary reason for this is to make up for the required number of clergy.
Buddhism in Cambodia itself is organised on a national basis as per the regulations of of 1943 and 48. There are two monastic orders of the clergies of Cambodia - The Thommayut order and the Mohanikay order. The first one of the two is the smaller order introduced into Cambodia from Thailand in 1864. It became popular because the support of the royal family but it remained confined to the Phnom Penh area. The second one of the above is the larger group to which 90% of the clergy belonged.
Both the order have their own superior and are organized into a hierarchical structure of eleven levels. The lower seven levels are together known as the thananukram while the higher four levels are together termed as the rajagana. There are 35 monks in the rajagana of the Mohanikay order while the Thommayut has just 21. Every monk is required to serve for a minimum of twenty years to be named to these highest levels.
Buddhist Bonze & Wats
Wat in Cambodian Buddhism is the spiritual centre at the village level. A typical wat is enclosed in walls and comprises a sanctuary, residences for bonzes, a hall, a kitchen, quarters for nuns and a pond. The main entrance of the wat faces east and is made use of only during ceremonies. Other entrance open at other points in wall bur there are no gates as such.
The sanctaury has an altar with a statue of Buddha and sometimes religious relics. The sanctuary is for specific uses of bonzes The hall is the place for other ceremonies, classes for monks and novices and meal. Stupas containing the ashes of extended family members stand close to the sanctuary.
Bonzes are Buddhist monks. Becoming a monk in Cambodia depends on each individual personal choice. However, in theory, all Cambodian male over 16 years of age serve terms as bonze. The ordination of a boy as a bonze is a matter of great prestige for his parents. So much so that if during the parents funeral, it is found out that the son has not undergone ordination, special arrangements are made for it.
Most Buddhist monks do not intend to become a monk for a lifetime, however many of them do take their vows for entire lifetime.
There are two classes of bonzes at the Wat - the novices and the bhikkhu. The novice can be as young as seven but the bhikkhu need to be atleast 20 years of age. Buddhist monks have to lead a regulated lifestyle and refrain from participating in political or legal activities. This is changing in modern days and many monks are taking part in politics.
Women are not ordained but older women, specially widows can take their vows as nun. In their role as a nun, they contribute to carry out the daily chores of the wat.
A majority of the Cambodian Buddhist festivals are connected to Buddhism. Quiet a few festivals celebrated in Cambodia include
- The chol chnam : New Year Festival that takes place in
- The phchun ben : A day to remember the deceased ancestors
and close friends celebrated in September- October
- Meak bochea : A festival celebrated in January - February to
commemorate the last sermon of Buddha.
- Vissakh bochea : A festival to celebrate birth,
enlightenment and death of Buddha in April - May.
- The chol vossa : A day in June- July that marks the
beginning of a penitential season during which the monks must stay
within the temple premises.
- The kathen : A day in September that marks the end of the