Śivapāda in Cambodia

hindu aesthetic
3 min readJul 1, 2021
Śivapāda, from the second half of the 7th–8th century, Northern Cambodia (Pre-Angkor period), Metropolitan Museum of Art

The worship of footprints as a symbol of the deity is undoubtedly an ancient Indian practice. Though we see Viṣṇupāda worshipped more frequently than Śiva’s footprints (Śivapāda), texts confirm their existence, especially the Skanda Purāṇa, which describes the marking of Śiva’s sacred geography. In the Āvantya-khaṇḍa is described the implanting of the Himalayan mountain Mahālaya with Śivapāda — which Śiva sanctified by pressing with his foot while in his ferocious cosmic form, Mahākāla. By virtue of that act, the locale was henceforth considered to be a preeminent salvific space (mahātkṣetra).

“A crore of sins were torn (destroyed) by means of the big toe of the foot. Hence it is famous as Koṭi Tīrtha, destructive of all sins.”

The Skanda Purāṇa was the text favored by the Paśupata sect of Brahmana ascetics, who played a central role in propagating Śiva worship in early Cambodia and could have been instrumental in introducing the Śivapāda concept. The inscription in the image above reads ‘shivapadadvayambhojam’ (“pair of lotus feet of Shiva”).

From as early as the fifth century CE, regional mountain landmarks were reimagined as manifestations of Śaiva divinity and invoked as sources of divine empowerment for emerging rulers and polities. According to Alexis Sanderson, “The effect of the practice is to transfigure the Khmer realm by creating a Śaiva landscape whose sacred enclaves could be seen as doubles of the religion’s homeland” — in other words, create kṣetras as holy as the original Shiva kṣetras in India, in an effort to expand the holy land. For instance, a pair of fragmentary inscriptions in Sanskrit and Old Khmer dated to 673 CE and 699 CE, are preserved at a site called Prasat Neak Buos, called The Śivapāda Mountain, located along the Dangrek mountain range that flanks the modern Thai-Cambodia border allude to the same.

The opening ślokas refer to a mountain on which the Lord Śiva (as the “Immovable”) was manifest through a pair of footprints (pāda). The mountain on which this occurred is known as Śivapāda.

the inscription at Prasat Neak Buos

Khmer kings also often bore the titles Śivapāda, for instance Jayavarman IV acquired the posthumous name of Paramasivapada.


1. Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, Guy, John

2. A Natural Wonder: From Liṅga Mountain to Prosperous Lord at Vat Phu, Elizabeth A. Cecil

3. Skanda Purana, GV Tagare


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