In Search of the Khmer Bhikkhunī: Reading Between the Lines in Late Classical and Early Middle Cambodia (13th–18th Centuries)

Trude Jacobsen


Was there ever a tradition of bhikkhunī in Cambodia? The precincts of wats, or Buddhist temples, in modern-day Cambodia usually include a handful of white-clad, shaven-headed women, whose status hovers somewhere between upāsikā and novice monk. Yet the inscriptions of the past refer often to a corpus of women as “nuns”. What are we to make of this seeming dichotomy?This paper explores the inscriptions of the 13th to 18th centuries– the period in which Theravada Buddhism became entrenched as the national religion – for an answer.

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