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Shivani Kapoor. Iconography of Pashupata Ascetics in Cambodia

Although Cambodian epigraphy attests to the presence of ascetics of the Pashupata sect in the Khmer domain, situating them against the backdrop of the Shaivite kingdoms that existed in Southeast Asia from roughly the 6th to the 13th century, it is difficult to find iconographic evidence to substantiate their presence. The reliefs and sculptures in pre-Angkorian (500–802) and Angkorian (802–1431)temples (Stark, 2014, p. 91) feature a profusion of ascetic imagery, but these figures seem to be popularly considered as generic ‘Brahmins’ or ‘rishis’ rather than being classified according to specific cult practices. In order to understand the antecedents of these figures, which coincide with the presence of the Pashupata tradition in Cambodia, the author has examined Pashupata texts and their commentaries. Early Shaivism, which existed across India during the Gupta and post-Gupta periods (early 4th to 9th century), being associated with the Pashupata tradition, this article looks at the development of the iconography of Lakulisha (act. 2nd century), acknowledged as the founder of this religious tradition, in the Indic sphere, and its influence on the iconography of the ascetic figures in Cambodian sculptures and reliefs.
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January/February 2019
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