SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

Reading and interpreting jātaka reliefs during the Angkorian period

Danel Tuy
Danel Tuy (PhD Candidate at National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, Paris)

Date: 17 January 2018Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 17 January 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Seminar


In Cambodia, stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, or jātaka, are read, told and represented in various artistic modes of expression. These popular tales illustrate the perfections required for Buddhahood, according to Theravāda Buddhist ideology.

Stories of jātaka first occurred on Angkorian reliefs from the mid-12th Century under the Buddhist dynasty called “Mahīdharapura,” founded by King Jayavarman VI (r. 1080/1081 – 1107/1108 CE), and somehow confirmed the coexistence of different religious belief systems during this period. However, the frequency of representations markedly increased under the reign of Jayavarman VII (r. 1182/1183 – ca 1220 CE), who is known for having been the first Khmer king to elevate Buddhism as the principal religion of the state. Based on evidence from iconographic and literary domains, it is largely believed that, of the main streams of Buddhism, Mahāyāna Buddhism enjoyed a particular privilege. However, systematic reading and interpretation of depicted jātaka tales in temple reliefs tend to demonstrate a more complex configuration. Indeed, by understanding the question concerning the presence of jātaka at Angkor as the result of a regional influence (with particular emphasis placed upon the so-called culture of Dvāravatī and the Kingdom of Pagan), it is tempting instead to see in jātaka – at least some of them – an early manifestation of Theravāda Buddhism in Cambodia, probably propelled by one or both of these early Southeast Asian Theravāda Buddhist states. In particular, the dominant figuration of the Vessantara-jātaka during this period of study further raises the question as to whether this exceptionally celebrated Buddhist story was a popular agent of Theravāda Buddhism at that time, as has been the case until the present. Regardless, this particular jātaka tale, which praises the perfection of selfless giving, would continue to inspire people’s religious practices, as evidenced in Khmer inscriptions dated to the Middle Period (15th – 19th CE).

Speaker Biography

Danel Tuy graduated in 2007 from the Faculty of Archaeology, Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, after completing a BA degree on "The Khmer painting of the Independence period”. In 2009, he received a grant from the French Embassy, which gave him the opportunity to achieve his MA degree in art history and archaeology at the Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV) in Paris. Since 2017, he is a Ph.D. candidate at the INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations) in Paris, under the direction of Dr. Michel ANTELME and Dr. Vincent LEFEVRE. The title of his thesis is “The ten jātakas, from Buddhist literature to mural paintings in Cambodia, from the third quarter of the 19th Century until the independence period.” With financial support from the Erasmus+ program, he is currently conducting field research in Cambodia, where he mainly focuses on jātaka literature found in Khmer palm-leaf manuscripts, as well as its illustration within pre-modern and modern mural paintings in Cambodia.

This event is made possible by generous support from SOAS's Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies

Contact email: