Chinese martial orchestra in Bayon

Last update:  July 30, 2021

Two Chinese instruments for martial use are visible in the iconography of the Bayon. As far as we know, there are no such instruments anywhere else in Cambodia. We know that the Khmers had diplomatic relations with China since at least the seventh century and that King Suryavarman II, builder of Angkor Wat, re-established relations with the Middle Kingdom at the early twelfth century after a long period of neglect. The Chinese fought the Chams alongside the Khmers during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. In the iconography, the Chinese soldiers are recognizable by their very particular "hairstyle".

The large bas-relief in the outer east gallery, north wing of the Bayon, shows two instruments of martial use: a double membrane drum and what appears to be a pair of cymbals. The representation of this drum is clearly different from that of the circular shields and cannot be confused. The drummer carries two sticks with curved ends with which he strikes the two membranes, thus ruling out the possibility that it is a gong. The device for carrying the drum is not shown. As for the cymbals, their shape is enigmatic. These two instruments require further research.