Friday, June 18, 2010

Cambodia: Angkor's Royal Foundations

Then we go to the grandest of all the temples of Siem Reap, the most well-known, the most visited, the best preserved, the mere sound of which is synonymous with the country Cambodia itself. They have it on their national flag and on their bank notes. It is the source of their national pride. It is Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

Dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection, the temple was originally built under the name Vrah Vishnuloka or "the sacred abode of Vishnu." It is this god's image you will see upon entering the first of the three levels of the temple.

Angkor Wat

Vishnu, Angkor Wat

The two temples in this group, Angkor Wat and later, Preah Khan, exemplifies the ancient Khmer's veneration for their kings and their king's dedication to them. He is their provider and guardian, which is what made him construct these grand temple complexes they each considered paradise on earth.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Walking around, you will still see remnants of what life was back then. The ancient Khmer people came to Angkor Wat to pray, I suppose, on the third and highest level. Then, on the second level, our guide explains, the king provided them four huge pools of water where they could drink from.

Angkor Wat

What I was most amazed about, really, are the intricate, elaborate and extensive carvings on the walls, found on the hallways of the temple's first level. They are the most well-preserved in all of Angkor and the most beautiful. They depict, not the ancient Khmer's daily life, as with most temples, but rather the battle between good and evil, as told in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Carvings in Angkor Wat

I was first told of the story of King Rama and Queen Sita when I was in high school. Among the carvings, our guide showed us the reliefs of King Rama and his ally, ape-king Hanuman, battling demon-king Ravana. Seeing all of them depicted on ancient art was an experience for me. I knew it made my trip to Cambodia.

Angkor Wat

We visited the temple in the afternoon. As this was the most famous of all the temples, we knew it was going to be full of people. And it is. All kinds of people from all nations of the world come here, even Buddhist monks themselves come here to visit.

Monks, Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

I would recommend an early morning visit though. Yes, tourists come here for the sunrise. And they should. The sun rising from the back of Angkor Wat is a sight to behold. But after the sunrise, most of them leave to visit other temples. You will find a more solemn and maybe even spiritual exploration of Angkor Wat, walking around the temple all by yourself.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat


Preah Khan

One of the last temples we visited was Preah Khan, "the Sacred Sword." One of the temples left unrestored, Preah Khan can be found in the middle of the jungle. From the temple entrance, we had to walk for around five to 10 minutes on this tree-lined path before we got to the temple gates.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

We did not enter the temple from its main entrance though. From the gate, we followed the path on the left and got to a wide platform leading us to, I think, the temple's northern gates.

Preah Khan

Once inside, you cannot help but notice how much of it is in ruins. I think this is the most unrestored temple we visited. In some parts, you will have to crouch down to get to the next hallway. The fact that it is in ruins, however, does not in any way diminish the temple's beauty.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

The temple is mainly Buddhist but, from what I read, there are quite a number of Hindu deities depicted in the temple. Our guide even showed us sort of an altar dedicated to the queen of the apsaras, the ancient Khmer dancers, to whom women come to pray for fertility.

Preah Khan

One of the last things we saw walking around in the temple is this young local artist making sketches of the images he sees in the temple. I see all these paintings around town and I am impressed by the workmanship and artistry involved in creating them. It would not be easy to depict the temples of Angkor with all their details and intricacies. But somehow, the local artists manage to do it. I guess the Khmer talent for art has passed on over the years, from generation to generation. And that's good.

Artist in Preah Khan


* More photos from Cambodia: Siem Reap, the Royal Foundations set can be found in my Flickr account: click here.


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