The Indian epic, Ramayana, said to have been written somewhere between 200 BC
and 200 AD in 25,000 verses by Sage Valmiki (Buck 1976, p. xv), has exerted
a more profound influence on various aspects of Cambodian culture than perhaps
any other source from outside Cambodia. Along with its twin epic, the Mahabharata,
and many spiritual and ritualistic features of Hinduism, the Ramayana came to
Cambodia during the pre-Angkor or Angkor periods.
The Ramayana dominated Cambodian culture so overwhelmingly that it inspired
a Cambodian version of the epic. The story of the Ramayana, and of what is considered
its sequel, were written anonymously in the Khmer language between the 16th
and 19th centuries (Pou 1979, p.xii), and called the Reamker (or Ramakerti).
The two Indian epics represent the most important source of dramatic materials
in South-East Asia including Cambodia. Most court dramas derived from these
two epics and popular and folks play derived from them as well ( Brandon 1967,
Leclère 1911, Thiounn 1956, Pech 1995).
Though the Reamker is taken directly from the Indian Ramayana, various aspects
of the story were modified to suit Cambodian culture. The Reamker retained some
elements of the Hindu belief system upon which the Ramayana was based, but was
adapted to incorporate Buddhism. While in the Ramayana, Ram is believed to be
an incarnation of Vishnu, a Hindu god, in the Reamker, Ram is seen as Bodhisatva,
or an incarnation of Buddha. (Pou 1979, p. 22) One of the most significant effects
of the arrival of the Ramayana in Cambodia was the transmission of the wealth
of information it carried, including the wisdom of traditional systems of healing.
The main system of medecine in India, Ayurveda, as well as most of the knowledge
content in the Ramayana, were based on the sacred scriptures, the Vedas (composed
approximately between the 15th and 5th century BC). Ayurveda was practiced in
Cambodia by the elite in the royal court,until it was extended to all strata
of the population in the 12th century AD (Chhem 2000, p.25), and became an integral
part of Cambodian medical practice.
Courtesy of the Nginn Karet Foundation for Cambodia