Pursat Travel Blog› entry 49 of 86 › view all entries
I was lucky enough to have the long corridors to myself. Around me on the walls, the men of Angkor fight a battle; Mystical bird-men engulfed by flames, shell covered dragon-lions and elephants carrying important men. I passed descriptions of heavens and of hells full people being beheaded, hung, stretched, pierced with stones and who lie dead in piles. The battle scenes ended with the men of Angkor kneeling before their god-king. Holy men in deep meditation. Some soldiers were smiling and women were dancing. But to no avail, as in the next corridor another battle was being fought. Again dragon-lions accompanied by large armies, wagons, many headed snakes and the bird men all charging towards each other.
These are tales from the ancient Hindu literature but at the time I don't know them. The pictures let me see glimpses of the ancient world and it's belief systems. The thick walls and sheer size of Angkor let me understand the importance of the gods and the power of the kings who ruled here.
In the ancient city of Angkor thom, at the bayon, we watched the sunrise the next day. It was a powerful experience and although we were now armed with knowledge of long names, style descriptions and important dates, the sensual experience took over completely: Amongst the ancient ruins bats twittered inside the dark towers, but as daylight began to break coo coos and other birds took over. Now and then a monkey would loose it's temper or call out and break the sounds of the cool morning-forest around us.
As daylight lets us explore the dark corridors of the Bayon I recognize various gods in the reliefs. Instead of just letting them fuel my imagination like at Angkor wat, I try to remember the ancient stories of the khmer kingdom.
I learnt about the beginnings, about a mountain king, holding magic powers and the animist beliefs around him and I read about the three powerful Hindu gods that are pictured everywhere in the Angkor complex; About Vishnu, the god of preservation who holds fire, water, earth and wind.
These gods were brought here by Indian traders who waited for convenient monsoon winds to take them home. Shiva became the link between the animist religions and Hinduism. Through statues erected on the mountains people could now reach their gods in a different way and they began worshiping through them. Shiva became the god of the mountain and Narishma -an incarnation of vishnu in shape of the lion- became the protector of the khmer people.
Later I sat amongst the rubble in a mossy and cool court yard. Ancient covered walks still stand there, supported by heavy pillars.
Shes not the only female godess. All the gods have 'saktis', female aspects. They will sit next to them in the carvings or like Lakshmi stand alone. Furthermore they are always represented in symbolically with a female fertility symbol, always accompanying the male fertility symbol, which represents the three gods. I like the strenght and importance of women in this belief system. Whatever happened to Maria Magdalena?
And there's so much more to angkor; the creatin myth, the churning of the milk, the heavy presence of deamons amongst the gods, the fact that angkor wat symbolises the universe and all the amazing temples we almost had to ourselves. There's the little wooden villages that sell food and drink and souveniers, the orphanages along the road, the annoying japanese tourists that trample you down in big herds and nudge you out of the way for their photo and all the little children that play amongst the ruins or force postcards upon you in a polite way. We took three days to explore the ruins, another day in museums and galleries and a couple of days to rest up. By the time we left I felt we had given it a good amount of time but now writing about it i miss wandering in the ruins. It is a truely amazing place.