I had read a fair amount about the Khymer Kingdoms and the cities and temples built by them .I also bought the book "Angkur" by Dawn Rooney which served as a glue for the bits and pieces I had read on the internet.This book also gave quite a few tit bits that added meaning to the "pilgrimage" to the Angkur Temples.Here’s agood example ….." Frank Vincent Jn , a frail young American who dropped out of university because of illness at the age of seventeen , was determined .. to make a systematic tour of the most interesting parts of the world. In 1872 he visited Cambodia and the ancient ruins of Angkur. Vincent describes his journey over land from Bangkok to Seim Reap in vivid detail .. "The total distance covered was 245 miles , of this 30 miles was by canal in boats , and the remaining 215 miles was on horse back and elephants , in bullock carts, and on foot ; the greater part of the journey was however on horse back. The time consumed in making this trip was 17 days "
By contrast our modern day trip was just 45 mins from Phnom Phen to Seim Reap by air and approx 15 to 20 mins by a bus to Angkur Wat!!It was great to read of how the ancient Indians brought religion ,a legal system, a script ,astronomy and many more about 1000 years ago.Makes you swell up with pride when you think of how advanced the ancient Indians were.Not so good was to read about the apparent miss management of restoration work by the ASI at Angkur Wat.It was mentioned in the book that the Indian Government under Indira Gandhi had agreed to support the restoration work under the DRK government in Cambodia .The ASI was reported to have used inappropriate material and port land cement and used ill trained labour ,causing damage to the structures. The book however did state that the ASI was working under severe constraints during the time of the civil war when both building material and labour were scarce .. besides the ever present threat of war made working conditions most difficult.
We did see a large placard at Angkur Wat near the famous "Churning of the milk " bass relief sculptures ,that repairs and corrective work was on to correct for earlier incorrect restoration work . A couple of ASI staffers who were with us were quite indignant about reference to the mis management and did talk about the difficult conditions under which they had been carried out during the civil war.They also said that the work of that period ,late 70’s and 80’s , cannot be compared with modern day restoration practices as major advancements had taken place in restoration techniques.Later on during our visit to the Ta Prohm temple ,were restoration work is currently on by ASI , the ASI staff took pains to to explain how locally available stones and resins from the trees surrounding the temple were being used in the restoration work , just as they are likely to have been used over 700 years ago.
The Ta Prohm temple was almost completely taken over by forests .Many structures had gaint trees growing out of them .It made for great and fascinating viewing.This is a very popular temple made unique by the ingress of the forest and the curious juxtaposition of man made structures and the natural forests.. both giant structures.
The ASI staff took us through the restoration effort going on at the "Hall of Dances" .Considering the current state of ruins this hall is in , it does seem a mamoth task to retore.I guess the final objective will be to restore the structures just enough so that viewers can see partially the glorious structures of the past and to prevent it from total disintergration when it will be lost for ever.
It was interesting to read that during the reign of the Khymer Kings there was no written records left behind or traceable ; even for the reign of Suryavarman 2 , the builder and patron of the Angkur Wat city and temple.It was only through painstaking research and breaking of the codes of inscriptions on later temples that the complete linearage and accomplishments of some of the Kings could be unravelled.It is fascinating to read how the jig saw puzzle was put together by groups of dedicated professionals.Some names refered to in literature inclure ,Henri Mouhot , a French Expedition lead by Ernest Doudari de Lagree ,Dutchman Hendrik Kern who was the first to decipher the Sanskrit inscriptions found in Cambodia and the two Frenchmen , Aguste Barthe and A Bergaigne ,who are credited with furthering the field of Khymer epigraphy which lead to the translations of 1200 inscriptions relating to the genealogy of the Khymer Kings .Hats off to these explorers and archiologists .These individuals reconstructed a bygone age in Cambodia ( 700 to 1200 AD ) and helped build world opinion for the restoration and preservation of these great treasures of humanity.
Each of the four temples we visited, had distinctly different features and each was appealing in it’s own way.The Bayon Temple in Angkur Thom was characterised by huge images of Bodhisattvas ,as this was originally a Mahayana Buddhist temple built by Jayavarman 7th .The temple was converted into a Hindu temple under the reign of Jayavarman 8th and eventually converted into a Theravada Buddhist Temple.Jayavarman 8th was supposed to be anti Buddhist to the extreme and is said to have defaced or removed most of the Buddhist images from the temple.We could see this at the Bayon temple where at several places only recesses remained where earlier Buddhist images would have been .
There is an interesting theory I read regarding the fall of the Khymer Empire.During the period when the Khymer Empire expanded and established itself as Khambudesa , the Kings were deemed incarnations of Gods as for instances Suryavarman 2nd considered himself as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.They therefore had unquestioning loyalty and devotion of the people.Their advanced knowledge of water management techniques also lead to prosperity and the ability to carry out gainful trade. During the influence of Theravada Buddhism , the link between the Divine and the King was snapped ; it became more difficult to harness the people for major projects and with the ability to manage water also declining , a gradual decline in affluence and a consequent decline of power and authority of the Dynasty took place.The Khymer Kingdom was gradually pushed down to PhnomPhen before dying away.
While the Angur Wat temple is the most talked about and also the representative symbol of Cambodia ,it was the other temples the Bayon , Ta Prohm and Bantey Strei which caught my fancy alot more. Well this may just be the impressionistic view of an uninitiated observer such as myself , who knows little or nothing of archeology or for that matter history or sociology !!!You explore ,experience and discover the beauty and fascination of these great structures in your own unique way.Just as I knew little or nothing of the archeological significance of these monuments ,I did intutively take to the structures in my own way and discovered them in my own way just as I presume every visitor would in his or her own way.
As I came away from Siem Reap I did feel I was the richer for this experience.Even though I set off believing this was not the most timely or most appropriateof holidays , I came away fascinated ,humbled and in more ways than one enriched.