The Khmer Holy Trinity: the Mother, the Father, and Lord Shiva

 

“Venerate the Gods in your home before the one in the vatt (Buddhist monastery).” — Khmer Proverb

Buddhism is the state religion of Cambodia, where 96% of the population consider themselves practitioners of Theravada Buddhism. But when it comes to veneration, the mother and father always come first; veneration of the Buddha is relegated to the very back of the line. To us, our mother and father are what we refer to as the Gods in our home.

Most Khmer people may have forgotten, but the self-realized creation of Cambodia as a Buddhist nation is a mid-19th-century occurrence. It was created in reaction to the potential spreading of Catholicism in the country. Peel off that Buddhist label and what you’ll find is that an amalgamation of Hinduism and ancestor veneration are still entrenched in our collective mindset; it permeates our daily life, tradition, and culture.

The tradition of ancestor veneration is a deeply ingrained belief in Khmer culture. The tradition did not start from a belief that our ancestors were somehow elevated to godhood. Rather it was a way to honor, respect, and look after our ancestors in their afterlives.

This belief, however, was slightly adjusted when Hinduism reached Cambodia around the 5th century BC. Shaivism, one of the major traditions within Hinduism, which reveres Lord Shiva as the Supreme Being, found a strong affinity with the majority of Khmer people. Lord Shiva is worshiped in the form of a lingam, a column-like mark of the God himself. It is a symbol of the energy and potential of Lord Shiva. In every Shaivite temple, the linga is a smooth cylindrical mass and is found at the center of the temple, often presented as resting on a base called yoni (vulva, womb), a personification of the divine feminine creative power. The union of the two represents the eternal process of creation and regeneration, the union of male and female principles. In Khmer, that union is called mea ba (mother and father).

In a way, our mother and father represent the earthly manifestations of Lord Shiva and the Mother Goddess Shakti themselves.

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  1. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Thanks, LC.

    • #1
  2. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Thanks, LC!  This is bookmarked; I will be back; I always learn so much from your posts!  It’s fascinating to see how different faith expressions resonate with each other.  I’ve often wondered what would happen if faithful people joined in prayer (like they did at Pope John Paul II’S invitation to Assisi in 1986, and regularly since).  Anyway, thanks again for posting this. :-)

    • #2
  3. Hank Rhody, Red Hunter Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter
    @HankRhody

    Ol’ Heinrich Rohde had a habit of drinking beer and talking politics. As a consequence he had to leave Prussia right quick, which is why we’re in America now. I can see some sense in that whole veneration of the ancestors thing.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    This combination of Hinduism and Buddhism with pagan observations appears all over Southeast Asia. It’s fascinating to see the outcomes of these efforts. Thanks, LC

    • #4
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Very interesting.

    As a Christian, I like to point out to my children that when the Lord gave us the Ten Commandments, the first ones deal with the Lord Himself, but the Lord moves on to rules for dealing with other human beings, we are first instructed to honor our parents, even before we are warned not to commit murder.

    We are also instructed by St. Paul that marriage, in which a man and woman “become one flesh,” is an image of Christ and his Church, and that our marriages ought to create a “domestic church.” 

    • #5
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Thanks to @lidenscheng for this illuminating post. If you have not read her occasional series of posts on Khmer proverbs and adages, do start with Quote of the Day: Khmer Proverbs and Adages III.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under December’s theme of Veneration. Have you had an encounter with a saint, or someone who is truly venerable? Is there a sports figure who you believe is venerated, and what do you think of it? What is venerated in our society today? We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story to tell about nature, art, or architecture that points to subjects worth venerating. Have we lost the musical, written, visual language of veneration? The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits. Our January theme will be Renovation. You can reserve your day now.

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    • #6
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Very interesting.

    As a Christian, I like to point out to my children that when the Lord gave us the Ten Commandments, the first ones deal with the Lord Himself, but the Lord moves on to rules for dealing with other human beings, we are first instructed to honor our parents, even before we are warned not to commit murder.

    Well, God knows about pacing, see…

     

    • #7
  8. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Zafar (View Comment):

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Very interesting.

    As a Christian, I like to point out to my children that when the Lord gave us the Ten Commandments, the first ones deal with the Lord Himself, but the Lord moves on to rules for dealing with other human beings, we are first instructed to honor our parents, even before we are warned not to commit murder.

    Well, God knows about pacing, see…

    Indeed, Zaf!  Happy New Year!

     

    • #8
  9. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    LC,

    Honor Thy Father & Thy Mother is the fifth commandment of the 10 commandments. If you notice there are two tablets to the ten commandments. The first five on one tablet and the second five on the other. The first five commandments are considered to be between Man & Gd. The second five commandments are considered to be between Man & Man. The fifth commandment is the paradox. It seems to be a Man & Man commandment but it is placed on the side of the between Man & Gd commandments. This is how high your relationship to your parents is considered to be. BTW, honor does not mean absolutely obey. If you were ordered by your parents to commit a major averra (sin) you should refuse. Yet, in all other circumstances, you should do everything you can to honor them. Generally, the more religious the family the more this dictum is held very high.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9

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