Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our 13 days trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand

Cambodia – Part 2

On day 7, March 28th we flew to Siem Reap in Cambodia.  Did you know Cambodia  used to be called “Kambhoja Deasa” in olden days?! As with the rest of the country, Siem Reap's history (and the memories of its people) is colored by specter of the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime.  It was very interesting to learn about the Khmer Rouge Regime from our tour guide.  People were evacuated from their homes near Angkor Wat and it was occupied by the soldiers.  The name "Siem Reap" literally means "Siam Defeated", a reminder of the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and the Khmer.

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-rang of programs to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.  Now, it is to be noted that Indian Archeological department is also actively participating in restoring the Angkor Thom temples.

Angkor wat:
Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century by Suryavaran II, honors the Hindu god Vishnu and is a symbolic representation of Hindu cosmology. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its five inter-nested rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and the cosmic ocean. But 14th century leaders converted the site into a Buddhist temple.  “The temples were places not for the.Worship of the Kings but rather for the worship of Gods.  The Angkor temples were instruments for assisting humans in their realization of the divine”.
The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. It is surrounded by a moat and an outer wall 3.6 km (2.2 miles) long with three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the center of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west.  Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-twentieth-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style”. 

Originally, the main temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu and a huge statue used to be in the center of the inner sanatorium, but when it was converted into Buddhist temple, the statue was moved to the outside building and replaced with Buddha statue.  Lord Vishnu appears more like a Buddha in features with 8 hands.  The temple proper stands on a terrace raised above the level of the city. It consists essentially of three rectangular Galleries rising to a central tower; with each level higher than the last. Historians interpret these galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma and the moon, and Vishnu, respectively. The inner walls bear a series of bas-reliefs, depicting large-scale scenes mainly from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, like Bhishma on Ampasayya, Rama fighting with Ravana, Gitopadesam, Ksheera sagara madhanam etc.
There are no words to describe it; you have to see it to believe.  The sunrise and sunset
At Angkor Wat is magnificent!
Angkor Thom: meaning A Great City was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. Angkor Thom is undeniably an expression of the highest genius. It is, in three dimensions and on a scale worthy of an entire nation, the materialization of Buddhist cosmology, representing ideas that only great painters would dare to portray. The Angkor Thom complex has an area that is much larger than the Angkor Wat complex. But unlike Angkor Wat, it houses several 'smaller' temples instead of just one. The complex also has a moat surrounding its outer walls; it's 100 meters wide, and 12 km long. Here, the moats aren't as full as Angkor Wat. There are also several Wats (Buddhist temples) inside, two of them are just across from the Bayon temple. These are active Wats, and you'll often see monks, people visiting the Wats, and maybe even some religious ceremonies.  This huge temple complex has 5 elaborate entrance gates (gopuras). On each side, there are 54 demon statues (on the left) and 54 god statues (on the right) pulling snake, with the entrance gopura representing Mountain, which reminds us of Ksheera sagara madhanam.  It was funny to see these Hindu figures outside, where inside is full of Buddhist temples.  
Some of the important temples inside Angkor Thom are Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Prasat Suor Prat, Preah Palilay and Tep Pranam. Every one of them is worth seeing, but the most visited and awestruck was the Bayon Temple. 
Bayon Temple: Built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.   The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara with one facing outward and keeeping watch at each compass point.  The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been dubbed by some the "Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia." There are 51 smaller towers surrounding Bayon, each with four faces of its own, totaling more than 200 faces all together.  In various ways the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism is seen here.  Wherever you stand or whichever direction you stand, one or the other Face would be watching you over your shoulder!
Ta Phrom: popularly known as the “jungle temple” was built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992.  It is to be noted that as of 2013, Archaeological Survey of India has restored most parts of the temple complex some of which have been constructed from scratch.  Wooden walkways, platforms and roped railings have been put in place around the site to protect the monument from further damages due to the large tourist inflow.
At the end of the day, all I can say is, there is so much of history, kings, wars, Hinduism, Buddhism was involved in Angkor Wat, that any pages of writing or any photos taken would not even do 10% of justice to the magnificent ruins, the picturesque scenery, the intricate carvings, the imagination of the rulers to build such structures, and marvel how they still stood awesomely handsome in the settings of the nature! 

Sailaja Somayajula (Damerla)

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