Cambodia Part III, Angkor Wat and Other Scenes

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Tuesday March 09, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The main temple of Angkor Wat is designed to be a microcosm of the Hindu universe. The moat that surrounds the temple symbolize the mythical oceans that surround the earth; the concentric galleries and the towers represent the mountains that lead up to Mount Meru the home of the gods. It should be visited more than once if time allows and one of the times should be at sunrise. The opening photos of this sequence display the quiet mood that pervades as visitors have come across the causeway leading into the grounds from the west. The scene is far away from any sounds of the city or civilization and one can watch the sun peacefully climb over the towers and structure.

Another impression both of Angkor Wat and the many other temples that surround it, is the vast quantity of stone that had to be quarried and moved by elephant from mountains near Thailand and elsewhere. It could not be quarried in this open plain area. Even after all this stone was moved here, then there is the challenge of construction followed by the vast army of artisans needed to create tremendous number of relief and sculptured works. It is no wonder that over a million people lived in the environs. Yet they all drifted away and the temple buildings, the dwellings and the acres of land were abandoned.

In the numerous corridors of Angkor Wat, the corridors that stand out the most are those with bas relief of the Hindu epics the "Ramayana" and the "Mahabharata." Filled with battle scenes and representations of Heaven and Hell, one can spend hours taking all the intricacy in.

Other impressions are also strong. To climb many of the temples one is not so much walking up stairs as literally climbing or scaling a mountain. Look at figure 13, a picture taken from the top of one of the temples; the height is evident from the small size of the bus in the lot in the background. The steepness of the stairs is evident from the one man beginning to cautiously descend the stairs, like one climbing down a ladder.

Final thoughts are on the competition of religious traditions. The Hindu dominates, but the Buddhist influence is also in many of the statues and relief. One wonders how, with the change of rulers, the religious influence also changed depending on the personal belief of the king. In this respect, Buddhism suffered as many of its images were defaced by succeeding Hindu loyalists. Like the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, or the abandoned cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Angkor Wat leaves many unanswered questions as to why in the end it was abandoned, and left for nature to reclaim.