Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Three of the best one at a time.

The next three places on our list were, as it turned out, my favourites of all the temples we have been to so far. They are just through the northern gate of Angkor Thom.

Preah Khan, built in the 12th century, like Ta Prohm is gripped by huge tree roots which are probably not doing temple preservation any favours but make great oracular statements in photographs. There has been some restoration but efforts have been made to retain its overgrown Indiana Jones atmosphere. Steeped in royal history Preah Khan was created by one of the most prolific builders of the Angkorian empire, Jayavarman VII, for his father Dharanindravarman (they must have had nick names surely) as a Buddhist temple. It was filled with shrines to 450 Buddhist deities as well as altars to Hindu cosmotological gods, local genies, royal ancestors and other sanctified human figures. Now that’s what I call covering all your bases!

In its day Preah Khan was not only a royal palace (while the king waited for his new home in Angkor Thom to be constructed) but also a Buddhist monastery and a university employing more than 1000 monks. According to its foundation stele, which was found at the site, it took ten tons of rice (provided by the surrounding villages) to sustain the temples population of more than 97 000 inhabitants.

It’s a large temple with long passages, multiple doorways, countless fantastically preserved carvings and some unusual statues. Two huge beheaded dvarapalas, reminiscent of the colossal Egyptian statues we saw at Christmas time, guard the main entrance.

Pediments and lintels are illustrated with Hindu characters Rama and Ravana and Shiva and Kama in scenes from Hindu scripture. In each area dedicated to a particular god or deity identified by carved depictions of their lives; the battle of Lanka, the Ramayana, Shiva Nataraya the ‘lord of the dance’, dragons, serpents and the often fearsome Garuda, who appears in both Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

At the centre of the temple, in place of the original statue of Lokesvara, is a stupa built several centuries after the temple's initial construction.

Other enclosures and niches hold Buddhas, although many are without heads or have been defaced, stupas, Garuda and Kinnari, winged mermaid like creatures with garlands of flowers for legs.

There is an incredible two storey columned structure in the courtyard called a pavilion in the guide books. It no longer has access to the second floor nor a roof but it is impressive none the less. Just on its left is a large raised platform guarded by lions at the base of the steps which is thought to have been used for ceremonies or even cremations.

We sat opposite the ‘pavilion’ for a while poured over the guide book and tried to take everything in. We definitely missed things just as well we will be back!

We had to walk back through the complex, down the wide entrance avenue, past the band of landmine survivors, back to where our beaming tuktuk driver was waiting. On to Neak Pean one of the most important and unusual sites in Angkor.

1 comment:

Sreisaat said...

Wow - looks like you are having fun exploring the temples!!