DAILY PHOTO: Cambodian Ganesh

Taken in October of 2012 in Phnom Penh.

Taken in October of 2012 in Phnom Penh.

An estimated 95% of Cambodians are Buddhist, and Buddhism has been the dominant religion since the time of Jayavarman VII (i.e. the late 12th century.) This begs the question, why might one see a statue of a Hindu deity in a public space in Cambodia’s capital city?


If you’ve visited Angkor, you know that Hindu imagery abounds. This is because before Jayavarman, the Khmeris were Hindu. In a great early act of recycling, Vishnu sculptures became Buddha sculptures by decree. (In what is–as far as I know–a coincidence, many Hindus believe that Buddha [Siddhartha Gautama Buddha] was an avatar, or incarnation, of Vishnu.)


This still doesn’t explain why a relatively new sculpture of Ganesha would reside in present-day Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh is not as old as Angkor,  and by the time it was founded Buddhism was dominant.) Just as contemporary taxi and auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) drivers in India display Ganesha in appeal to this “remover of obstacles,” 10th century maritime traders did the same. This desire to court the favor of the remover of obstacles has continued on into the modern-day.


It’s an interesting commentary on how cultures never interact without getting some of their chocolate into the other culture’s peanut butter and vice versa (for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s a reference to an old Reese’s commercial and not some dark coded message.)

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