Cambodian Politics and the Mandala Scheme

Author: Seo Min Woo (Pannassastra University of Cambodia)
Speaker: Seo Min Woo
Topic: Language and spatial and temporal frames
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


It is well known that the traditional Cambodian Politics based on Mandala scheme. The geometrical expression which reflects ancient Indian Cosmological schemes, was established as a political and diplomatic philosophy by Kautilya, Subsequently, the Mandala was introduced to Southeast Asia during its Indianization procedures. The Mandala is composed of two elements—a core (Manda), and a container or enclosing element (La). Cosmological schemes of various genres in Tantric Hinduism and Buddhism have been referred to as Mandala.

This paper discusses various aspects of the Mandala and its applicability to Cambodia. Firstly, I discuss that its main characteristics relate to the relationship between the ‘Manda’ and ‘La’, and as the size of power of each individual(la) becomes predicated on the distance from the king(center). Therefore individuals near the center exhibit more power than others. Second;y, I discuss that characteristics of the Mandala scheme include its replicative capacity. Here, the Mandala replicates to the microscopic level even the village and family. This suggests that not only do institutions, organizations, and bureaucracies, but also individual relationships, become designed by this scheme.

The paper then discusses that thus far, studies of the Mandala in Southeast Asia have focused on a large scale polities of which the centers are King or Overlord. Those studies have presented as largely theoretical, rather than empirical and evidential. Through evidential work, and hence ethnographic work, this paper suggests that should the Mandala replicate itself at the village level in Cambodia, the village can show vividly how politics operate in Cambodia.

The paper then discusses that in Cambodia, the state and village share similarities in their geopolitical structures. Here, both draw on the cosmology generated by Hindu-Buddhist traditions, and hence in this tradition, the temple structure becomes realized on the earth. More so, as a village polite replicates the state polity, they both indicate a minimal differentiation of functions. Finally, their hostilities toward neighboring polities also appear as similar.
In this paper, I thus mainly describe these three aspects to indicate the political nature of Cambodia based on the Mandala. Consequently, I shed light on the political notions of Cambodia, by showing the generating, maintaining, extinction, and operating principles, of the Mandala, and the transactions within its structure and philosophy.

Keywords: Mandala, Hinduism, Buddhism, Cambodia, Semiotics