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Rama- The Archer King

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The Southeast Asia gallery at the Denver Art Museum features several important and beautiful stone sculptures from various ages in the history of the Khmer empire in Cambodia. The monumental torso depicted here represents Rama, the hero of the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Rama was considered the ideal Hindu king. By the mid-sixth century he came to be regarded as a god, and ultimately the tenth avatar of Vishnu. The image’s power and strength is conveyed through its stance and great size. Its size and the drapery style identify it with the ancient site of Lingapura, the capital of the Khmer under king Jayavarman IV, who ruled from 928 to 941 CE.

Although headless, there is no doubt that this imposing figure represents the god Rama, who was extremely popular among the Khmer. He is famous for his archery skill and is the only major deity who is habitually associated with archery. Although not visible in this view, Rama is identified by the quiver hanging on the back of the right shoulder of the figure. To date, this torso appears to be the only existing large-scale Khmer sculpture of Rama. He is lavishly adorned with jewelry, consisting of a pectoral, two body bands, armlets, and bracelets. The pleated garment Rama wears is a sampot can kpin, and the double fishtail in front is formed by the extremities of a scarf worn beneath the sampot’s over-fold.

The quiver itself is cylindrical and appears to have a domed cap that would have prevented the arrows from falling out. A wide strap around the shoulder is used to suspend the quiver. The remains of the right arm indicate that is was bent and may have held an arrow. Whether the figure would have originally held a bow in the left hand is unclear, since the arm and the base on which it might have rested have been broken off. A very small stone strut connects the right arm at the elbow to the body, and the remains of another strut are visible on the opposite of the body, an unobtrusive way of stabilizing the appendages of a large sculpture.

Visit the Asian Art Department’s Southeast Asia gallery at the Denver Art Museum to see this and other sculptures from the magnificent Khmer empire. For more information on the Asian Art Department or its support group, the Asian Art Association, log onto asianart.

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