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The devarāja cult grew out of both Hinduism and indigenous traditions. It taught that the king was a divine universal ruler, a manifestation of the Hindu god, often attributed to Shiva or Vishnu. The concept viewed the monarch to possess transcendental quality, the king as the living god on earth. The concept is closely related to Indian concept of Chakravartin (universal monarch). In politics, it is viewed as the divine justification of a king's rule. The concept was institutionalized and gained its elaborate manifestations in ancient Java and Cambodia, where monuments such as Prambanan and Angkor Wat were erected to celebrate the king's divine rule on earth.
In Sanskrit the term deva-raja could have different meanings such as "god-king" or "king of the gods". In Hindu pantheon the title of king of gods is often attributed to Shiva, sometimes Vishnu, or previously Indra. Thus the mortal kingdom on earth mirrored the celestial kingdom of gods, the concept regarded the king as the living god on earth. It is also from influences in Hinduism and indigenous traditions.
Example of devaraja cult — such as demonstrated by Jayavarman II — associate the king with the Hindu god Shiva, whose divine essence was represented by the linga (or lingam), a phallic idol housed in a mountain temple. The king was deified in an elaborate and mystical ceremony, requiring a high priest, in which the divine essence of kingship was conferred on the ruler through the agency of the linga. The safeguarding of the linga became bound up with the security of the kingdom, and the great temple architecture of the Khmer period attests to the importance attached to the belief.
The devaraja concept has been established through rituals and institutionalized within the Indianized kingdoms of Southeast Asia. It enables the monarch to claim the divine authority which could be used on ensuring political legitimacy, managing social order, economic and religious aspects. In political aspects, it strengthens the justification of the king and the ruling dynasty as the righthful ruler of the land. It also used to maintain social order, exalting the king as living god definitely demands the utmost service and devotion of his people. Introducing the Indian caste system also defining social class, occupations, as well as the way of life of their people.
The devaraja cult also enabled the king to embark on large scale public works and grand projects, by mobilizing their people to create and maintain elaborate hydraulic irrigation system to support large scale rice agriculture, or to construct imposing grand monuments and temples in the king's honor. The example of this grand projects are Borobudur, Prambanan, also temples and barays in Angkor.
The cult of devaraja or God King was the ancient Cambodian state religion, but it probably originated in Java where the Hindu influence first reached Southeast Asia. Circa 8th century, Sailendras allegedly ruled over Java, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula and parts of Cambodia. In ancient Java, since Sailendra dynasty. The devaraja cult is believed to be introduced to Java in 732, when king Sanjaya installed a linga to consecrate a new Mataram Dynasty, as stated in Canggal inscription, thus the king seek Shiva's protection of his rule.
Even older Tarumanagara kingdom, the state religion regarded the king as god incarnated on earth. The Tarumanagara fifth century CE Ciaruteun inscription, inscribed with king's sole print, regarded King Purnawarman as incarnation of Vishnu on earth. The Kebon Kopi I inscription, also called Telapak Gajah stone, with an inscription and the engraving of two large elephant footprints, associated king's elephant ride as Airavata (elephant ride of God Indra), thus associated the king also with Indra.
In Medang kingdom in Central Java, it is customary to erect candi (temple) to honor and sent the soul of a dead king. The image of god inside the garbhagriha (central chamber) of the temple often portrayed the deceased king as a god, as the soul of the dead king finally united with the revered god in svargaloka. Some archaeologists propose that the statue of Shiva in the garbhagriha of Prambanan main temple was modelled after King Balitung, serving as a depiction of his posthumous deified self. It is suggested that the cult was the fusion of Hinduism with native Austronesian ancestor worship. The 11th century great king Airlangga of Kahuripan in East Java, was deified posthumously as Vishnu in Belahan temple. In Java, the tradition of divine king continued well to Kediri, Singhasari, and Majapahit kingdom in the 15th century.
After the coming of Islam in the archipelago and the fall of Majapahit, the concept of God-King were most likely ceased to exist in Java, since Islam rejects the concept of divinity in mortal human being. Yet the concept survived in traditional Javanese mysticism of Kejawen as wahyu, suggesting that every king and rulers in Java was bestowed wahyu, a divine authority and mandate from God. A heavenly mandate that could be revoked and transferred by God, to explain the change of dynasty in Java during Demak, Mataram Sultanate era, well to the succession of the president of Indonesia.
In ancient Cambodia, devarāja is recognized as the state's institutionalized religion. The Cambodian the cult of the "god-king" is believed to be established early in the 9th century by Jayavarman II, founder of the Khmer empire of Angkor, with the brahmin scholar Sivakaivalya as his first chief priest at Mahendraparvata.:97,99 For centuries, the cult provided the religious basis of the royal authority of the Khmer kings.
In a Khmer context the term was used in the latter sense as "god-king", but occurs only in the Sanskrit portion of the inscription K. 235 from Sdok Kak Thom / Sdok Kăk Thoṃ (in modern Thailand) dated 8 February 1053 CE, referring to the Khmer term kamrateṅ jagat ta rāja ("Lord of the Universe who is King") describing the protective deity of the Khmer Empire, a distinctly Khmer deity, which was mentioned before in the inscription K. 682 of Chok Gargyar (Kòḥ Ker) dated 921/22 CE.
In the Sdok Kăk Thoṃ inscription a member of a brahmin family claimed that his ancestors since the time of Jayavarman II (Khmer: ជ័យវរ្ម័នទី២), who established around 800 CE by marriage to the daughter of a local king in the Angkor region a small realm which became at the end of the 9th century the famous Khmer Empire, were responsible for the cult of the Devarāja (kamrateṅ jagat ta rāja). Historians formerly dated his reign as running from 802 CE to 850 CE, but these dates are of very late origin (11th century) and without any historical basis. Some scholars now have tried to identify Jayavarman II with Jayavarman Ibis who is known from his inscriptions from Práḥ Thãt Práḥ Srĕi south of Kompoṅ Čàṃ (K. 103, dated 20 April 770) and from Lobŏ’k Srót in the vicinity of Kračèḥ close to the ancient town of Śambhupura (K. 134, dated 781 CE). The Sdok Kăk Thoṃ inscription incised c. 250 years after the events (of which their historicity is doubtful) recounts that on the top of the Kulen Hills, Jayavarman II instructed a brahmin priest named Hiraṇyadāman to conduct a religious ritual known as the cult of the devarāja (Khmer: ទេវរាជា) which placed him as a cakravartin, universal monarch, a title never heard of before in Cambodia.:99
Coedes states, "...in southern India, Mount Mahendra was considered the residence of Siva as king of all gods (devaraja), including Indra Devaraja, and as sovereign of the country where the mountain stands. The ritual of the Devaraja established by the brahmin Hiranydama was based on four texts - Vinasikha, Nayottara, Sammoha, and Siraccheda...the four faces of Tumburu. These Tantras "were supposed to have been uttered by the four mouths of Siva represented by the gandharva Tumburu." He goes on to state, "In the Indianized kingdoms of Southeast Asia, the Hindu cults...eventually became royal cults. The essence of royalty...was supposed to reside in a linga...obtained from Siva through a brahmin who delivered it to the king...the communion between the king and the god through the medium of a priest took place on the sacred mountain.":100–101
- Sengupta, Arputha Rani (Ed.) (2005). "God and King : The Devaraja Cult in South Asian Art & Architecture". ISBN 8189233262. Retrieved 14 September 2012.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
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- M. Fic, Victor (2003). From Majapahit and Sukuh to Megawati Sukarnoputri: Continuity and Change in Pluralism of Religion, Culture and Politics of Indonesia from the XV to the XXI Century. Abhinav Publications. p. 91. ISBN 9788170174042. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
- Khan, Nahar Akbar (2017-09-27). The Malay Ancient Kingdoms: My Journey to the Ancient World of Nusantara. Partridge Publishing Singapore. ISBN 9781543742602.
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- Woodward, Mark (2010-10-28). Java, Indonesia and Islam. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9789400700567.
- Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.
- Claude Jacques, "The Kamrateṅ Jagat in ancient Cambodia", Indus Valley to Mekong Delta. Explorations in Epigraphy; ed. by Noboru Karashima, Madras: New Era Publications, 1985, pp. 269-286
- see for example Michael Vickery, Society, Economics, and Politics in Pre-Angkor Cambodia: The 7th-8th Centuries, Tokyo: The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, The Toyo Bunko, 1998, p. 396: "Not only was Jayavarman II from the South; more than any other known king, he had particularly close links with Vyādhapura. This place is recorded in only one pre-Angkor inscription, K. 109/655 [exactly: 10th February 656], but in 16 Angkor-period texts, the last dated 1069 [K. 449 from Pàlhàl, dated Sunday, 3rd May 1069] … Two of them, K. 425/968 and K. 449/1069, are explicit records of Jayavarman II taking people from Vyādhapura to settle in Battambang”
- Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol. V, Paris 1953, pp. 33-34
- Inscriptions du Cambodge, Vol. II, Hanoi 1942, pp. 92-95
- Wales, H. G. Quaritch (14 April 2005) [First published in 1931]. "Chapter IV, the kingship". Siamese state ceremonies (digital ed.). London: Bernard Quaritch. p. 31. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
... to-day we find the only certain relic of the cult of the Royal God in the symbolism of the Coronation Ceremony by which the brahmin priests call down the spirits of Visnu and Siva to animate the new king ...