The Khmer Empire varied in size under different rulers and Khmer culture came into prominence during the period between 802-1431. The language belongs to the Austroasiatic language family that is related to a number of Asian languages. The writing is derived from Indian systems as early as the third century C.E.
Hinduism was embraced in the first centuries and then Buddhism spread in the later years of the Khmer Empire. Brahmanistic practices are a part of the Khmer culture and are now deeply intermingled with the practice of Buddhism, so much so that they are not considered as separate religions. Brahmanist and spirit practices are localized and Buddhism is a national tradition.
In Khmer culture, etiquette is very important. People of different ranks are addressed differently, with the linguistic systems becoming complex when addressing monks or royalty. Rank is taken into consideration even the way people are greeted by the way the palms are raised together and the degree of the elevation of hands. The way they dress is dependent on their social stature and financial status of the person. It is a patriarchal society with the father heading the family, and is respected as such.
Cambodians have a strong belief in the spirits and this is the reason the birth of a child, in spite of being a happy occasion, is also believed to bring harm from the spirits because the woman and the child are exposed. Similarly, a woman who dies in childbirth is believed to turn into an evil spirit. One of the most surprising cultural beliefs is that death is not considered as an occasion of grief, as it is said to be the beginning of a better life.
Mention of Khmer culture inevitably brings to mind the exotic cuisine, which is well-known for a variety of delicacies, such as the prahok, is a fermented fish paste used to flavor several dishes or kapi, a fermented shrimp paste. Coconut milk is one of the main ingredients used in curries and in the preparation of desserts.
Khmer art flourished during the Angkor period. Graphic arts, performance arts and literature are the lifeline of Khmer culture. Domestic storytelling and narrative singing to the playing of a Banjo like instrument are important culturally. They have a long tradition of writing religious texts, epic poetry and royal chronicles; although, no modern text exists. Classical dance and music associated with the courts originally, enjoy a huge popularity even to this day. They have a unique way of expressing emotions through the use of hands and feet. These local traditions are kept alive by the small-time singers, theater artists and musicians.
The–th century saw Khmer culture come in to its own, but it had hit a rock bottom during the devastation of the Khmer rouge. But this political upheaval could not suppress the rich culture for long and it now thrives in all villages and cities of Cambodia in every form of art and in the lifestyle of the Cambodians.