These sculptures demonstrate the persistence of indigenous spirit-cults during the Hindu-Buddhist period in Southeast Asia. The adoption of Indic religions in the region was highly successful, largely due to the receptivity of preexisting animistic belief systems. Personified nature-spirit deities, or folk geniis, embodying the spirit of the land, rivers, rocks, and trees were widely worshipped, some into modern times. In Indic Sanskrit they are known as yakshas and nagas, and in Southeast Asia they provided a belief system upon which Indic ideas could be comfortably grafted. Prosperity and wealth-enhancing deities metamorphosed into Kubera, Indic king of the yakshas and guardian of riches. In an Indian setting, Kubera is typically depicted surrounded by jars overflowing with jewels; in Southeast Asia, with luxuriant plant forms. The earliest Cham-language inscription belongs to fifth-century central Vietnam and praises the "divine serpent of the king," affirming the protective role of naga cults in early Cham kingship. Other yakshas appear as obese dwarfs, often decorating the bases of Buddhist monuments. Such grotesques are understood to represent pre-Buddhist nature-cult deities submitting to the authority of the new religion.

Selected Artworks