Public Health Care and Education in Ancient Cambodia

The reign of Jayavarman VII saw 102 new hospitals built throughout the kingdom. In her 1976 book, Angkor Un Peuple-Un Art, Madeleine Giteau, former director of the National Museum of Cambodia, documents royal dedications from steles at hospital sites that spell out the open door policy to all four castes. For instance, the stele of Say-fong outlines the administration staff of 98 members, their duties, their pay and the inventory of the hospital's pharmacy.
While Hindu civilizations often limit education to men only — and elite men at that — Jayavarman VII's monasteries were open schools and training centers that welcomed men and women, girls and boys, alike. In two illustrations in the Bayon, it appears that Queen Indradevi and Queen Jayarajadevi are portrayed as professors teaching groups of students (see and mouseover photo below). While my evidence strongly suggests that these images are the queens themselves, the idea of female professors is revolutionary in and of itself.
To perpetuate these social systems, the inscriptions encouraged future kings and aristocrats to follow their charitable example of supporting public works by promising merit and heavenly rewards.

Education in Bayon bas-relief. In the top register, the two queens lecture before crowds of girls and boys.
The lower register depicts military arts training. Men are briefed in the classrooms.

These important Khmer beliefs were not only expressed on steles, as previously thought. Every visitor to the Bayon, Angkor Wat and Banteay Chhmar, to cite three examples, sees illustrated stories that communicated these ideals to the illiterate, disparate population. These permanent carved illustrations appear in bas-relief and on monument pediments.

Clear Public Respect for King and Queens

On the second floor's inner gallery bas reliefs of Bayon, the lifestyle of this enterprising royal triad appears to be illustrated with details about their familial, social, political, and civil activities. The two queens most frequently appear sitting directly behind the king, tending to affairs of state in their palaces.
In a bas-relief depicting their romantic and personal lives, the king followed the lead of Queen Jayarajadevi. On exterior reliefs at the Bayon, the two queens followed the king's processions. In one particular bas-relief, one queen sits before the king, with both figures praying for the safety of their soldiers and victory in an upcoming battle (see photo below).

Angkor Thom
The queens lead the way in these illusrations.

Seeing a queen sitting before this great Khmer conqueror (above right) implies that Jayavarman VII recognized Indradevi as a worthy military strategist. Many bas-relief depictions emphasize the important roles the two queens played in Jayavarman VII's life. The implication is that this great Khmer king could not have realized his ambitions without Queen Indradevi and Queen Jayarajadevi by his side, organizing and managing his vast empire. Together they formed a royal trinity that changed the world from their capital of Angkor Thom, a metropolis of one million inhabitants in the 12th century.

The Dynamic Power of the Royal Trinity

Angkor Thom
The royal Mahayana trinity included Avalokiteshvara, Buddha, and Prajnaparamita.

Observing this dynamic, active profile of the royal triad challenges many historical stereotypes that cast Jayavarman VII and his queens as placid, aging ascetics. Some historians portray them as devout Buddhists absorbed by meditation in search of enlightenment. Based on my research, this misinterpretation appears to confuse passive Theravada Buddhism with the active Mahayana Buddhism that they practiced. The Mahayana Buddhist dharma called upon these three royals not only to enlighten themselves, but to actively take its message to the entire population.
The royal trinity's brand of Mahayana Buddhism was infused with respect for women through the goddess Prajnaparamita, the Mother of all Buddhas. The trinity included the Lord Buddha; Lord Avalokiteshvara, the compassion of all Buddhas; and the goddess Prajnaparamita, the perfection of transcendent wisdom. During their reign, the empowerment of this trimurti or trinity, was represented in bronze statues (above) and extensively carved on the royal triad's monuments (below).

Ta Prohm
Each alcove originally held the Mahayana trinity in relief, but religious conflict caused them to be removed later.

Particularly in the Rajavihara, the royal monastery, now known as Ta Prohm, this trinity was carved every two meters in the inner galleries. During the iconoclasm that followed Jayavarman VII's reign Hindu successors painstakingly chiseled out thousands of royal Mahayana trinities from the walls (see photo above).
In Ta Som, Shivaists removed pediments featuring Avalokiteshvara at the main temple entries along with the entire façades. On pediments, where the king and the queen worshiped Prajnaparamita, the images of the Prajnaparamita and the royals were later defaced, and then, demolished (see photos below).

French conservators reconstructed a vandalized pediment at the temple's entrance.
The king, on the left, worshiped Avalokiteshvara.
Ta Prohm
On the left was a restored pediment showed traces of a standing Prajnaparamita,
who the defaced royals worshiped. On the right, a pediment is now missing Prajnaparamita.