The culture of Cambodia has had a rich and varied history dating back many centuries and has been heavily influenced by India. In turn, Cambodia greatly influenced Thailand, Laos and vice versa. Throughout Cambodia's long history, a major source of inspiration was from religion.
Throughout nearly two millennium, a Cambodians developed a unique Khmer belief from the syncreticism of indigenous animistic beliefs and the Indian religions of
Buddhism and Hinduism.Indian culture and civilization, including its language and arts reached mainland Southeast Asia around the 1st century A.D. Its is
generally believed that seafaring merchants brought Indian customs and culture to ports along the gulf of Thailand and the Pacific while trading with China. The first state
to benefit from this was Funan.
At various times, Cambodia culture also absorbed elements from Javanese, Chinese, Lao, and Thai cultures.
The majority of Cambodians (nearly 90%) are of Khmer heritage, and an even greater proportion speak Khmer the official language of Cambodia. Other languages spoken include French, Chinese, Vietnamese and English (which has become increasingly common).
The golden age of Cambodia was between the 9th and 14th century, during the Angkor period, during which it was a powerful and prosperous empire that
flourished and dominated almost all of inland south east Asia. However, Angkor would eventually collapse after much in-fighting between royalty and constant
warring with its increasingly powerful neighbors, notably Siam and Dai Viet. Many temples from this period however, like Bayon and Angkor Wat still
remain today, scattered throughout Thailand, Cambodian, Laos, and Vietnam as a reminder of the grandeur of Khmer arts and culture. Cambodia's
unparalleled achievements in art, architectures, music, and dance during this period have had a great influence on many neighboring kingdoms, namely
Thailand and Laos. The affect of Angkorian culture can still be seen today in those countries, as they share many close characteristics with current-day Cambodia.
Architecture and housing
The Angkorian architects and sculptors created temples that mapped the cosmic world in stone. Khmer decorations drew inspiration from religion, andmythical creatures from Hinduism and Buddhism were carved on walls.
Temples were built in accordance to the rule of ancient Khmer architecture that dictated that a basic temple layout include a central shrine,
a courtyard, an enclosing wall, and a moat. Khmer motifs use many creatures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, like the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, use
motifs such as the garuda, a mythical bird in the Hinduism. The architecture of Cambodia developed in stages under the Khmer empire from 9th to the 15th
century, preserved in many buildings of the Angkor temple. The remains of secular architecture from this time are rare, as only religious buildings were
made of stone. The architecture of the Angkor period used specific structural features and styles, which are one of the main methods used to date the temples, along with inscriptions.
In modern rural Cambodia, the nuclear family typically lives in a rectangular house that may vary in size from four by six meters to six by ten meters. It
is constructed of a wooden frame with gabled thatch roof and walls of woven bamboo. Khmer houses typically are raised on stilts as
much as three meters for protection from annual floods. Two ladders or wooden staircases provide access to the house. The steep thatch roof overhanging the house
walls protects the interior from rain. Typically a house contains three rooms separated by partitions of woven bamboo. The front room serves as a living room used to
receive visitors, the next room is the parents' bedroom, and the third is for unmarried daughters. Sons sleep anywhere they can find space. Family members and
neighbors work together to build the house, and a house-raising ceremony is held upon its completion. The houses of poorer persons may contain only a single large room. Food is prepared in a separate kitchen located
near the house but usually behind it. Toilet facilities consist of simple pits in the ground, located away from the house, that are covered up when filled. Any livestock is kept below the house.
Chinese and Vietnamese houses in Cambodian town and villages typically are built directly on the ground and have earthen, cement, or tile floors, dependingupon the economic status of the owner. Urban housing and commercial buildings may be of brick, masonry, or wood.
Birth and death rituals
The birth of a child is a happy event for the family. According to traditional beliefs, however, confinement and childbirth expose the family, and
especially the mother and the child to harm from the spirit world. A woman who dies in childbirth--crosses the river (chhlong tonle) in Khmer is believed to become an evil spirit. In
traditional Khmer society, a pregnant woman respects a number of food taboos and avoids certain situations. These traditions remain in practice in
rural Cambodia, but they have become weakened in urban areas.
Death is not viewed with the great outpouring of grief common to Western society; it is viewed as the end of one life and as the beginning of another life
that one hopes will be better. Buddhist Khmer usually are cremated, and their ashes are deposited in a stupa in the temple compound. A corpse is
washed, dressed, and placed in a coffin, which may be decorated with flowers and with a photograph of the deceased. White pennant-shaped flags, called "white crocodile flags," outside a house indicate
that someone in that household has died. A funeral procession consisting of an achar, Buddhist monks, members of the family, and other mourners
accompanies the coffin to the crematorium. The spouse and the children show mourning by shaving their heads and by wearing white clothing. Relics
such as teeth or pieces of bone are prized by the survivors, and they are often worn on gold chains as amulets.
Courtship, marriage, and divorce
In Cambodia, premarital sex is deplored. The choice of a spouse is a complex one for the young male, and it may involve not only his parents and his friends,
as well as those of the young woman, but also a matchmaker. In theory, a girl may veto the spouse her parents have chosen. Courtship patterns differ
between rural and urban Khmer; romantic love is a notion that exists to a much greater extent in larger cities. A man usually marries between the
ages of nineteen and twenty-five, a girl between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. After a spouse has been selected, each family investigates the other to
make sure its child is marrying into a good family. In rural areas, there is a form of bride-service; that is, the young man may take a vow to serve his prospective father-in-law for a period of time.
The traditional wedding is a long and colorful affair. Formerly it lasted three days, but in the 1980s it more commonly lasted a day and a half. Buddhist priests offer a short sermon and recite prayers of blessing.
Parts of the ceremony involve ritual hair cutting, tying cotton threads soaked in holy water around the bride's and groom's wrists, and passing a candle around a circle of happily married and respected
couples to bless the union. After the wedding, a banquet is held. Newlyweds traditionally move in with the wife's parents and may live with them up to a year, until they can build a new house nearby.
Divorce is legal and relatively easy to obtain, but not common. Divorced persons are viewed with some disapproval. Each spouse retains whatever property
he or she brought into the marriage, and jointly-acquired property is divided equally. Divorced persons may remarry, but the woman must wait ten months. Custody of minor children is
usually given to the mother, and both parents continue to have an obligation to contribute financially toward the rearing and education of the child.
Sampeah (Cambodian greeting). In Khmer culture a persons head is believed to contain the persons soul therefore making it taboo to touch or point your
feet at it. It is also considered to be extremely disrespectful to point or sleep with your feet pointing at a person, as the feet are the lowest part of the body and are considered to be impure.
When greeting people or to show respect in Cambodia people do the "sampeah" gesture, identical to the Thai wai and similar to the Indian namaste.
Customary Cambodian teachings include: that if a person does not wake up before sunrise he is lazy; you have to tell your parents or elders where you
are going and what time you are coming back home; close doors gently, otherwise you have a bad temper; sit with your legs straight down and not crossed (crossing your legs shows that you are an impolite
person); and always let other people talk more than you.
The history of visual arts in Cambodia stretches back centuries to ancient crafts; Khmer art reached its peak during the Angkor period. Traditional Cambodian arts and crafts include textiles,
non-textile weaving, silversmithing, stone carving, lacquerware, ceramics, wat murals, and kite-making. Beginning in the mid-20th century, a tradition of
modern art began in Cambodia, though in the later 20th century both traditional and modern arts declined for several reasons, including the killing
of artists by the Khmer Rouge. The country has experienced a recent artistic revival due to increased support from governments, NGOs, and foreign tourists.
The roneat has been described as a bamboo xylophone.Main article: Music of Cambodia.Especially in the 60s and 70s, the 'big two' duet of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea had been a large
hit in the country. However after their deaths, new music stars have tried to bring back the music. Cambodian music has undergone heavy westernization.
The Cambodian pinpeat ensemble is traditionally heard on feast days in the pagodas. It is also a court ensemble used to accompany classical dance for
ritual occasions or theatrical events. The pinpeat is primarily made up of percussion instruments: the roneat ek (lead xylophone), roneat thung (low bamboo
xylophone), kong vong touch and kong vong thom (small and large sets of tuned gongs), sampho (two-sided drum), skor thom (two large drums), and sralai (quadruple-reed instrument).
Robam Tep Apsara is a Classical Khmer Dance originally performed only in the royal courts of Angkor Wat.Cambodian Dance can be divided into three
main categories: classical dance, folk dances, and vernacular dances.
Khmer classical dance is a form of Cambodian dance originally performed only for royalty. The dances have many elements in common with Thai classical
dance. During the mid-20th century, it was introduced to the public where it now remains a celebrated icon of Khmer culture, often being performed during public events, holidays, and for
tourists visiting Cambodia.
Khmer folk dances, which are performed for audiences, are fast-paced. The movements and gestures are not as stylized as Khmer classical
dance. Folk dancers wear clothes of the people they are portraying such as Chams, hill tribes, farmers, and peasants. The folk dance music is played by a mahori orchestra.
Cambodian vernacular dances (or social dances) are those danced at social gatherings. Such dances include ram vong, ram kbach, ram saravan, and lam
leav. Some of these dances have much influence from the traditional dances of Laos. But rom kbach, for example, take heavily from the classical dance of
the royal court. Other social dances from around the world have had an impact on Cambodian social culture include the Cha-cha, Bolero, and the Madison.