18 March 2012

Splendor of the Khmer kings

With the city of Siem Reap as our new base, we were once again touring on our own. We met our guide, Mr. Thy (pronounced "tEE"), who would quickly win our hearts with his passion for the archaeological sites of Angkor, the UNESCO heritage site that brought us and so many others to this region of Cambodia.


Stretching over some 400 square kilometers, and including forested area and manmade lakes, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its enigmatic stone faces. In the late morning light, these beautiful sculptures were challenging to photograph.

It would be easy to write a dozen posts about all that we saw in our three days of temple exploration. We'll share a little about the Bayon Temple because it is both famous and beautiful. Your really cannot see the sculpted detail of the temple from a distance; at first site it looks like a pile of rock, albeit a pile of rock guarded by both gods (below left) and demons (yes, below right).

The Kyhmer king, Jayavarman VII, began construction of Bayon Temple in the 12th century. Building was continued by his successors as they too looked to leave their mark on the kingdom. Banyon Temple is a state temple, built by the king to serve the royal city of Angkor Thom. As my guide book, Ancient Angkor by Freeman and Jacques explains, it uses a mass of face-towers to create a stone mountain of ascending peaks. Today there are 37 towers standing, although there is debate about how many towers were constructed.

The complexity of Banyon Temple speaks to the passing of relgious phases in the Khmer kingdom. Again, according to my guide book, the temple was initially built to honour the pantheon of Hindu gods, then shifted to Buddhism. We learned that the religious focus of this and other Angkor temples changed over time, almost like waves washing over a sand beach, as warring groups achieved victory and imposed their beliefs on the temples. Even today, the temple holds Buddha statues which are considered sacred. Often these statues were attended by people who served in a lay capacity as monks and nuns.

This sweet elderly lady (a lay nun) offered me an additional blessing, wishing that the blessings of Buddha would stay with me. I believe they will.


No comments:

Post a Comment