Angkor Future, Angkor Past

Neak Pean5

"Neak Pean is a tiny temple and was built by Jayarvarman VII. The King ordered the construction of a vast baray (reservoir) east of Preah Khan temple to provide water to its hundred-thousand support workers."

Some people may be wondering why there has been so little mention of the temples as that is the primary reason the vast majority of people visit Siem Reap. For one, there is so much information devoted to the temples that I don’t feel like I have much to add to that body of information and experience. The other reason is that we didn’t really visit many temples this time. I did go to see my favorites which included Banteay Srei (which I previously wrote about in The Lingas and the Lady), Angkor Wat, Bayon, Preah Khan, and Neak Prean. Unfortunately the visit to one of my real favorites, Ta Prohm, fell victim to my conviction I was leaving on Sunday when on Friday I discovered I was leaving on Saturday.

There were three distinct differences to my visits this year

Preah Khan15

"Preah Khan, meaning 'sacred sword', is a huge, highly explorable monastic complex, full of carvings, passages and photo opportunities. It originally served as a Buddhist monastery and school, yet it was more than just a monastery, it was an entire city enclosing a town of 56 hectares. About 100,000 farmers produced rice to feed about 15,000 monks, teachers, and students."

to this limited number of temples. One was using once in a while a very interesting downloadable audio tour of some of the temples from Tourcaster either during, before or after the visits when reviewing my photos. The second was the entirely different perspective I gained on the Angkor empire from the excellent recent coverage of the subject by National Geographic. I highly recommend reading this material before your temple visits. Thanks to the style and depth that is unique to good stuff from National Geographic, I was able to visualize and feel the immensity and complexity of this social, spiritual and engineering wonder that makes the Angkor temples and the Angkor empire so unique in world history.

But the third and most special difference this year was going to see the temples with Chov. I was moved by his quiet and reserved sadness when we witnessed all the evidence of the poaching that has been done over the years of these marvelous antiquities. I was also impressed by his emotional connection to the great ancient history that his people has experienced.


"The Bayon was Jayavarman VII's state-temple and in many ways represents the pinnacle of his massive building campaign. Bayon features fascinating bas-reliefs on its exterior walls. Some contain real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmers and the Cham, and others give a unique insight into Angkorian daily life depicting market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth."

He spoke of what a shame it is that more attention is not given in school to the ancient Angkorian empire. I asked if he saw in the temples merely interesting antiquities or his past. He answered that he thinks most Cambodians unfortunately only see interesting antiquities while a minority perhaps experience some spiritual connection since these were all mostly once temples. But for him, these remains represented his past and the historical roots of himself and his people.

Later he continued to talk about his admiration for Jayarvaman VII who was one of the greatest and most productive of the Angkorian kings. At this point in the coversation we were waking around Bayon, Jayarvaman VII’s state temple. The temple originally had 54 towers with what some believe to be a combination of Buddha and the face of Jayavaman VII carved into the four sides of all 54 towers (only 37 towers remain standing). It was as if he was inspired by the presence of the king whose spirit if not face dominates Bayon.


Is Angkor's future to be found in Angkor's past?

When I later looked at the portrait I shot of Chov next to the face that dominates Bayon, the similarity in looks and serene strength of both faces was striking. Chov was quite touched in his quiet and reserved way when I remarked that perhaps the spirit and strength of Jayarvaman VII resides in his own soul (something of which I myself am convinced now that I know Chov so well).

The Cambodian nation and people has lost so much from its thirty year period of devastating social destruction. To rebuild the spirit of a nation is an extreme challenge when the cultural and intellectual foundation has been destroyed. I wonder if one way to reconnect to a well-spring of strength, deep roots, historical continuity and pride that any peoples need to flourish could partly lie in reviving the knowledge, appreciation and embrace of ancient Angkor – one of the most unique spiritual, social and engineering marvels the world has ever seen.

Angkor Future, Angkor Past

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services!)

~ by Leonard on October 30, 2009.

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