IKTT (Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles), from SiemReap Cambodia
IKTT (Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles), from SiemReap Cambodia

Abstract Part 3: Cambodian Textile and Khmer and Cham Culture

Part 3: Cambodian Textile and Khmer and Cham Culture

Session 6

“Different Kinds of Cambodian Textile and its Producing Districts”

Mr. In Siyonda

Department of Plastic Arts and Handicraft,

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Director


“The Contradictions of Khmer Textile Art and Products in Different Areas”


Director of Department of Plastic Art and Handicraft

Ministry of Culture and Fine Art

First I would like to respects to Excellencies, ladies and gentleman, and all
of participants. I am very glad to all attendance attend this seminar organized
by Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles. It is important for us to learn
about traditional silk weaving in Cambodia. Khmer silk weaving is an important
national tradition and it is an integral part of our national cultural heritage.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my best wishes for the 50th
anniversary of a good friendship of Khmer and Japan. This year will be momentous
year for both of two countries.

Khmer textiles is a form of Khmer art and part of Khmer consciousness for one
thousand years. It is an important part of Cambodian cultural identity. During
the civil war and Khmer Rouge regime, our culture and also both of cultural
sense and identity were destroyed. We lost a lot of artists and tools of national
culture. In order to prevent further loss, it is important to revitalize our
cultural traditions and pass it down to the next generations.

In 1993, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts made efforts to inspire Khmer
artists to use their skills to restore the destroyed art form of silk weaving.
Khmer artists showed traditional silk fabrics at a national exhibition in 2000.
The last five years of Khmer silk weaving progress has been on the upgrade both
in quantity an quality of production. Nowadays, Khmer silk weaving is revitalized
in many places such as Kandal province Srok Phonialeu (Koh Dach, Prek Thaong,
Kampong Leung, etc) where known as abounding Phamuong (‘Phamuong Leat’ , ‘Phamuong
Bontok’ ,‘Phamoung Chorchung’ ), ‘Chou Robab’, ‘Sarong Sot’ and ‘Kroma Sot’,
‘Hol ‘ produces in Takeo province (Srok Bati, Srok Prei Kabas, etc), both modern
and ancient Ikat methods are required according to people’s predilections. A
different style of Sampot Hol from other provonces is produced in Kampong Cham
province (It is famous for its motifs and colors). Artistic weaving of Hol,
Sarong and silk Kroma is famous in Prek Chong Kran district.

In Banteay Meanchey province in western Cambodia, people follow weaving techniques
of their forefathers. Here they produce Phamung leat, Labuk and Kroma. This
region is very suitable for sericulture of high quality silk yarn. They also
sell silk yarn to other local regions in Cambodia. The weavers along the Lake
can produce their own raw materials and don’t need to import raw silk from other
countries. Silk weaving of Kampong Speu province is perfected one step at a
time. People are wanted to buy Labouk in this district, which is an original
style of silk weaving derived from ancient times.

For nearly three years, silk weaving efforts have been supported by national
and/or international organizations in Siem Reap province. Siem Reap is the main
place where they want to secure and spread all kind of Cambodian arts, especially
with the rise of tourism and increasing tourists.


Cambodia silk fabrics have survived more than a thousand years of history. The
high quality motis and designs are still the same. Now, they use fabrics for
different purposes and they refer to age, a festival celebration, or rank in
society. The King and queen mostly use fabrics made from gold and silver metal
threads. At present, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts make efforts to preserve
this traditional art form and show the meaning and use of Khmer textiles such
as Sampot Labauk, Paeleap, Onlunh, Sarong Sot, Choro Bab, Hol and Phamung.

Explanation of terms

- Labauk This fabric is made of gold/metal yarn. It has a small flower and a
bird figure on the foreground. The fabric is mainly woven in Phnom Srok and
Kampong Speu.

- Prae Leap This fabric has a white color but sometimes they dye a black color
by the Makleu tree. The fabric has a flower design and it is mainly worn by
rural women.

- Onlunh This fabric has many stripes and colors but no motif. Old women mostly
wear white or black fabrics with a traditional shirt (Aov Bompong Vaeng) during
weddings, festivals or funerals. It is mainly worn by rich women who are already

- Sarong Sot This sarong has many colours such as red, yellow, black, blue
and white. Now they call them Sarong Por and Sarong Sor. Mostly rich women but
sometimes also men wear it in their daily life. One can also find Sarong Sot
at traditional dances such as Robam Kon Saeng Sae (love handkerchief dance or
better known as the ‘Cham dance’), Robam Kangok Pailen (Peacok dance in Pailen),
Robam Poe Tav dance (a woodcutters ritual) and a Miss World competition.

-Sa Robarb, Chor Robarb This fabric is woven with metal, gold or silver threads.
The king and queen wear it at festivals or celebrations. One can also find it
in the Preah Reach Trop dance, Apsara, Mony and Makala dance. Sometimes it is
also worn at weddings.

-Sung This fabric has a silver color motif on the edge. One can see this fabric
at the Robam Ka Ngkok Pailen (the peacock dance in Pailen) and Robam Ken (Ken
dance) along the Prek Lung channel.

- Hol This Ikat has many kinds of designs. It is a difficult technique and it
takes a lot of time to produce a Hol. One can divide Hol in three ways;

 Hol for man – This Ikat is decorated by large pictures and designs such as
Naga, Kom Pich, Angkor, Sovan Mayura, Reach Sei and Horng.

 Hol for women – This fabric is decorated by small motifs such as ‘Pha Krochab’,
‘Phka Phtom’ and ‘Hol Pha Chung’. Some hol is worn both by men and women such
as ‘hol Phka Mates’ and ‘Phka Takol’.

 hol use for religion ceremonies and a decoration for ceilings in Buddhist
temples. One can find designs such as a bird, a temple, a buddha, a boat. A
Hol can also cover the Kom Pie (buddhist books in ancient times) such as ‘Hol
Phka Takol’, ‘Phka Rung’ and ‘Phkay Pruk’.

- Phamung In contemporary Cambodia people use Phamung instead of Hol at weddings
or other ceremonies. Phamung comes from Siam language (Pha=Kronat, Mung=violet
color). Khmer weaving however, is not a copy from Siam, because Cambodia already
had a weaving culture before the Klung civilization. At this time, we still
do not know what the word Phamung meant in that time. Phamung contains more
than thirty colors such as red, blue, green, dark red, etc. These colors refer
to certain days in the week;

- Sunday is Red,

- Monday is Dark yellow

- Tuesday is violet

- Wednesday is green

- Thursday is light green

- Friday is blue

- Saturday is dark red

Note: This article is translated from Khmer language into English. Please excuse
any change of meaning or misrepresentation that may have occurred in what the
author originally wanted to explain.

Session 7

“Antique Buddhist Pidan of Cambodia - Themes and Functions”

Ms. Gill Green

Author and independent scholar, Australia

This presentation focuses on pidan, uniquely Cambodian textiles illustrated
with narrative themes. Woven in silk in an uneven twill groundweave they are
patterned using the resist, tie-dye method called hol. The word pidan indicates
their traditional use as a hanging or canopy. Some antique silk weft hol-patterned
pidan are approximately one and a half meters long and ninety cms wide while
others though the same width, are over three meters long. The narratives are
usually oriented on the cloth to be viewed in the warp direction - the long
axis of the textile. A small number of pidan are, however, patterned to be viewed
in the weft direction, ninety degrees to the long axis.

Despite the veneration with which antique examples are regarded, very little
of their traditional function has actually been recorded or researched. Their
‘descendants’ have, however, appeared in the form of so-called ‘elephant and
temple’ cloths. These hangings feature a composition with simplified iconic
references to the more complex renditions of the same themes as their ancestors.
They are used on festive occasions in contemporary Cambodian life such as house
building completions; as well as for sale as tourist items.

The composition in these antique pictorial pidan employs iconographic images
representing three principal themes in Theravada Buddhist belief.

1. The life of Prince Siddharta, the future Buddha

2. The Trey Phum ‘Three Worlds’ cosmology

3. The Jataka stories

The first theme is characterized by a particular set of iconic references.
Prince Siddharta on his white horse secretly leaving the palace in which he
has spent the first part of his life. This is followed by further iconic images
references such as him cutting off his hair prior to becoming an ascetic; his
temptation by the evil Mara; the washing away of Mara by the goddess Durani;
his Enlightenment sitting under the bodhi tree and then, as the Buddha, preaching
to his father. The second theme, theTrey Phum , is a cosmological scheme depicting
the three fundamental realms of the universe – heaven; the world of humans including
an enchanted forest Prei Haembopean; and the underworld. And finally pictorial
narratives derived from the Vessantara Jataka are minutely portrayed on many
pidan again in the form of iconic references.

Two functional models with which to enlighten the original purpose for which
these Cambodian pidan were created present themselves. The first model draws
on images derived from these themes but created in other media. These include
sequences of painted or printed panels on wood or board or of murals all located
just below the roof in the vihear of a temple complex. Panels with these same
images modeled in stucco or carved in wood are also seen but usually on outside
the building. A series of fourteen painted cotton panels on the theme of the
Vessantara Jataka dated to 1877 still actually in place have been described
by Dupaigne.

The second model is a religious celebration, Bun Phra Wes (The Festival of
Vessantara) celebrated in Isarn, northeast Thailand and in Laos. Here a long
cotton banner painted with a sequence of scenes from the Vessantara Jataka is
paraded through the village before being hung inside the temple as a backdrop
to the monk’s sermon. The woven cotton banner painted with scenes from the Vessantara
Jataka paraded through the village serves a similar ultimate purpose as the
individual panels. Interestingly at least two examples of a silk weft hol -
patterned banner on the Vessantara Jataka theme are known in the form of a long
banner. These features undoubtedly relate them to this particular format and

In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, whatever the medium in which these images
are created - painted, printed, modeled in stucco or carved in wood - they provide
a visual reference for the monk’s sermon to the community gathered in the vihear.
The sermons exhort the members of the community to meritorious deeds, merit
being essential to being reborn into a better life. The subjects of the panels
are the visual inspiration for this endeavor by adherents.

It is proposed here that antique Cambodian silk weft hol pidan patterned with
the same didactic images were a uniquely Cambodian response to providing images
on these three themes for use as pictorial hanging panels in temples or for
celebratory parades. These responses accorded with the needs of Theravada Buddhist
practice a century ago and have been largely superseded by less complex image
production since then.

Dupaigne, B. and Khing Hoc Dy, 1981, Les plus anciennes peintures datees du
Cambodge: quatorze episodes du Vessantara Jataka, Arts Asiatiques, Tome XXXVI:26-36.

Gittinger, M. & Lefferts, L. 1992, Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast
Asia, The Textile Museum, Washington DC: p.124

Session 8

“The Motif of Naga in Old Cambodian Ikat Textile and its Original Meaning”

Ms. Him Nala

Faculty of Choreographic Arts, Royal University of Fine Arts, Vice-Dean


“Meaning of HOL design”

By Ms. Him NALA Vice Dean

Faculty of Choreographic Art, Royal University of Fine Arts

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts

Nation Religion King


I would like to welcome all participants of this seminar and to say that I
am very pleased to be here. I want to thank the Institute for Khmer Traditional
Textiles for giving me the chance to demonstrate the meaning of ‘Khmer Hol’
design, which is such an important part of the history of our culture. At this
time, I also want to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Khmer Japan friendship.
This friendship and Japanese aid is very important among others for the rebuilding
of Cambodian infrastructure. In this presentation, I would like to explain about
traditional textile art and the effect it has on the lives of the people in
Cambodia. In doing so I want to explain the following six characteristics of
traditional silk culture in detail.

1 The history of the word Mae (mother) in Cambodian culture

2 Traditional wedding in Khmer society

3 Khmer traditional dances

4 Traditional equipment

5 Design and colors of Khmer HOL

6 The legend of monk celebration

1) The history the word Mae (mother) in Cambodian culture

We know that from the beginning of the century, the word Mae is an important
part of Cambodian traditional custom and culture. The word Mae refers to the
queen Soma (or Liv-Yi in Chinese) and has many meanings. It refers for instance
to the worship of the ancient spirit ‘Neak ta’, which comes from the words Neak
Neakk Neang Srey Mae (Mekong Metophum). It also refers to the word Me bar
(Male + female) (water +land).

*Neak (Naga) means immortality

*In Khmer society Mae is the main figure or person. It refers to important things
or positions such as the roof of a house, leaders, chiefs or managers. In Khmer
language one can see the word Mae as follows:

Mae Krom (Chief Group)

Mae Phum (Village head)

Mae Srok (District leader)

Mae Duk Num (Manager)

Mae Top (Soldier chief)

Mae Kun (Chief of Monk)

Mae Dombol (High or the top)

Mae Dai (Biggest)

Mae Pteas (family leader)

Mae Chor (The leader of a gang)

2) Traditional wedding in Khmer society

• A man asks a woman to marry him

• Preas Tong (king) carries the scarf of the Neang Neak (woman) walking behind

• In accordance to Khmer tradition, a wedding takes three days. The Bride and
Bridegroom wear garments with jewelery and are surrounded by many participants.
By wearing the garment the bride and bridegroom show respect to their parents.

3) Khmer traditional dances

• Teva dance

• Sakara dance

• Preas Reach Trop dance

4) Traditional equipment used in a Khmer family

• Loom

• Bow

• Tro Khmer

• Sickle

• Boat

5) Design and colors of Khmer Hol

• The most importance design of Khmer Hol is Naga

• In ancient times, the color of Khmer Hol is yellow

6) Legend of NAGA (Monk ceremony)

There was a monk named Sama Sampoth who lived in Wat Jatta Pon. Naga was also
there, and transformed his body in a human becoming a monk (Naga). Naga however,
cannot stay a monk for a long time. After a day, his body transformed into a
snake again. The real monk Samma Sampoth saw Naga inside his room and how he
became a snake. Naga wanted to become buddhist. However, when he asked the real
monk to baptize him as a buddhist, Sampoth answered that he could not do that
because he is not a human being. After some time however, Sampoth agreed to
baptize Naga into a Buddhist monk. This is why the monk ceremony is referred
to as ‘the legend of Naga’.


According to the strong belief and respect for Buddhist religion and their ancestors,
Khmer people build temples, churches, palaces and pagodas. Every place is decorated
by the Naga figure. These places are important intermediaries between the people
on earth and the heaven.

Note: This article is translated from Khmer language into English. Please excuse
any change of meaning or misrepresentation that may have occurred in what the
author originally wanted to explain.

update : September 13, 2004 2:45 PM

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