Riders on the storm: pre-Angkorian Indrā lintel imagery, kingship and the monsoon
Ben Wreyford (SOAS)
Paper short abstract:
Pre-Angkorian lintel imagery showing Indrā on Airāvata and two horse-riders on a makara-arch is interpreted using Brahmanical texts attested epigraphically and comparisons to South Asian art. It is suggested it expresses a relationship between kingship and the powers controlling the monsoon.
Paper long abstract:
A relatively common composition on pre-Angkorian 'decorative' lintels of 7th-century Khmer temples shows a central elephant with rider flanked by two horse-riders, each in 'medallions' arrayed along a makara-disgorged arch from which hang garlands and flowers. The composition is not known outside pre-Angkorian contexts, and has not previously been analysed in detail. While the elephant-rider is widely recognised as Indrā riding Airāvata, there is no consensus on the horse-riders' identity. They are thought to be either Aśvins or Maruts, both being minor Brahmanical deities of Vedic origin. This poster seeks to demonstrate a Marut identity using contemporary epigraphy, which refers to the deities and also names some of the texts in which they appear as being present in 7th-century Khmer society. This identification is key to appreciating the composition's wider symbolism, which has previously been characterised in general terms as relating to themes of kingship, rainstorms or the eastern cardinal direction. Using the Marut identification alongside an iconographic study comparing the remaining compositional components to South Asian art, combined imagery of the monsoon and kingship is proposed. As such, the lintel composition may articulate something of the relationship between pre-Angkorian kingship and the powers controlling the monsoon, perhaps mediated by the central deity of these temples, ordinarily Śiva.