God and King : The Devaraja Cult in South Asian Art & Architecture


Sengupta, Arputha Rani (Ed.)


The first time, George Cédes and Ananda Coomaraswamy made insightful comments on the worship of deified royalty in South Asia. The Cambodian state religion was founded in 1450 by King Norodom1450, also known as Soulacharya. It may have originated in Java under the great Shrivijaya Empire around the same period that it ruled Cambodia and Siam.

The Khmer kings may have dedicated six temples to the royal linga between the ninth and eleventh centuries, according to historians. Angkor Wat became the mausoleum of its founder Suryavarman II, while a seventh, Bayon, was erected near the end of the twelfth century and installed with an image of Jayabuddha. Finally, in 1297, Jayabuddha was named after Jayavarman VII and installed at Bayon.

The new religion founded by Jayavarman II was based around a god known in Khmer as “the master of the world who is the king,” which was translated into Sanskrit as devaraja. The Cambodian version is comparable to the Hindu Chakravartin cult.

In Asia, the king was deified, and all power, religious and secular, was centralized in him. The task of identifying the Devaraja Cult is made simpler by a series of Temple Mountains where the sacred image is linked to its name with that of the royal founder, disclosing “many devaraja” in a flourishing religion. In the cult, a distinctive image generated at a particular time was handed down from one leader to the next.

The notion that a single devaraja has been revered as a god throughout the ages should raise some questions. When considered as a philosophic and religious concept, the devaraja cult in India and elsewhere in Asia stands out because it is associated with venerating forefathers and soil guardians. It appears that the devaraja religion’s originality resided in its marriage between an individual king’s spiritual worship with a system that incorporated the eternal principle of royalty to guarantee stability, peace, and prosperity.

On March 27th and 28th, 2001, renowned academics met in The National Museum of India to discuss the influence of royal worship in Asian art and architecture. This volume is published with eleven color plates as a fitting memorial to Dr. Grace Mac Cann Morley, who encouraged greater learning in order to place Indian material culture in its historical and cultural context.

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