I’m no longer in Cambodia but the place is stuck inside my head! The other day, I dreamed about its fantastic temples. I was walking on this graveled road, to my right is Angkor and to my left is Manila. I’m sure this means nothing. I think I’ve been imagining seeing these two places the moment I fell asleep.
I was revisiting some of my notes and found a page of factoids about Angkor Wat. These were written before I went to Cambodia. They’re what I call ‘reviewer slash checklist’. This ensures I don’t miss out on anything.
A few things about the Angkor Wat that might interest some of you.
The Angkor Wat is a rectangle area of 1500 by 1300 meters. The moat that surrounds it is about 190 meters wide – all in all, it covers around 200 hectares. Which means the temple’s moat alone is four times the size of Intramuros!
So what’s so special about this temple? Everything. From how it was built to the motive why it was constructed. It is our region’s version of a pyramid. Like the Pyramids of Egypt, it was designed for the mortal to bridge the after life. The Khmer king, Suryavarman II wanted a funeral temple that would do just that — so he had the Angkor Wat built!
According to the head of Service Archéologique des Indes Néerlandaises, Dr. Bosch, the westward orientation was ‘typical of the Indo-Javanese funerary monuments’. So the biggest religious site in the world was nothing more than what we Filipinos call, ‘museleo’, those elegant house-like tombstone of the elites in our cemeteries. Angkor Wat is that only a million times bigger.
A buddha with its head stolen.
While many deified Suryavarman II, experts suggest that he was more of a saint in his kingdom religion. Now, the temples started as a Hindu site but was later rescued by Buddhists that took the liberty in adding Buddhist icons everywhere. Some of it were looted by locals and sold to westerners in the 1900’s. But the Siamese (in the 14th century) ransacked it first. And I’m not surprised that people stole from it. The bas reliefs and other religious items were once adorned with pure gold!
Suryavarman II plans ahead. He had the Angkor Wat constructed (first half of the 12th century) in less than 40 years — enough time for him to be accommodated by it after his death (his ashes is believed to had been scattered around the temple). While the rest of the west was constructing their opulent Christian churches and having all sorts of problem keeping them together (majority of which were finish after nearly a century) the Khmers completed theirs in just a few decades. And to add more difficulty to what’s already a daunting task, they picked a site that was in the middle of a tropical forest!
“Bayon, placed exactly in the center of the Khmer capital and acting as the mythical omphalos or navel of the Khmer empire, would have taken the position of the ecliptic North Pole in Hancock’s celestial diagram…built by King Jayavarman VII in the early 13th Century, was amongst the latest temples ever built at Angkor. Jayavarman VII moved the capital to Angkor Thom, which he encircled within a 9 Km long wall pierced by 5 gates (one in each cardinal directions, and two to the East) and a moat over 100 meters wide. He built the Bayon as his state temple in the heart of Angkor Thom, at a place which symbolically represents the ecliptic North Pole and the heart of the celestial dragon. Each one of the 54 towers bears a face of the Bodishattva Lokesvara, which many identify with Jayavarman VII himself.” – Uncharteredruins.blogspot.com
The Khmers had to quarry the stones from Mt. Kulen, transport it in rafts to place them on site where it is transformed into pieces of arts and not only building components. It’s easy to do these kind of operations today with all of our heavy equipment but think about how they accomplish this using their bare hands in the 12th century? The transportation of these massive rocks was one thing, putting them together and transforming them into a temple bedaubed with exotic religious art is another story. The Khmers technique was without a doubt superior to that of the west during its time. Seeing these monolithic structures ancient aliens believers theorize that it must have been by giants!
The problem in studying the ancient Khmers is that their written records is somewhat lacking. For example, not much is known about their day to day lives. But such an advance society for certain established a library where records were kept. These records were either lost to some natural event or was intentionally destroyed by their enemies. It’s hard to imagine that Suryavarman II and his scholars skipping record keeping because they evidently recorded so much about them in their temples. The absence of written documents is one of the reasons why scientists are finding it hard to complete the puzzle that is Angkor Wat.
According to Hancock, the city of Angkor is a diagram of cosmic precession, recording precise astronomical constants. In the book, Hamlet Mill’s, the authors gives us this analysis: ” Each of these roads is bordered by a row of huge stone figures, 108 per avenue, 54 on each side, altogether 540 statues of Deva and Asura. And each row carries a huge naga serpent with nine heads. Only, they do not “carry” that serpent, they are shown to “pull” it, which indicates that these 540 statues are churning the Milky Ocean, represented (poorly, indeed) by the water ditch, using Mount Mandara as a churning staff, and Vasuki, the prince of the Nagas, as their drilling rope. The whole of Angkor thus turns out to be a colossal model set up for “alternative motion” with true Hindu fantasy and incongruousness to counter the idea of a continuous one-way Precession from west to east.”
This is the bridge figures going to Angkor Thom. They represent the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. 54 figures on each side pulling a mythical snake with several heads.
Where did they acquired this unbelievable knowledge of the cosmos? How could they have known the positions of the stars (not visible to the naked eye)? The precession of the equinoxes? The earliest type of telescopes was invented in Europe sometime in the 1600’s, where did their stargazers studied the cosmos, under who?
This is what you’ll find in the center of Bayon temple. A small vent on top of its tallest tower. The Angkorians are masters of stone carving and aligning their works to significant celestial bodies.
Around the 13th and 14th centuries the Khmers was moving away from their Hindu roots and was slowly gravitating towards Buddhistism. This shift disconnected the Khmers from the tradition that gave birth to their golden age. The transfer of knowledge was severed and this should explain why there’s very little known about the Hindu Khmers.
These people inhabited the largest pre-industrial settlement in the history of man – why did it suddenly vanished?
There are several theories why the whole kingdom collapsed around 1400’s. Popular theory is that a combination of climate, economic and political factors overwhelmed the kingdom. The kingdom and its subjects depended on their complex water system — I wonder if severe droughts drove them to go out. Some believe that it was the conversion from Hindu to Buddhism, others postulates that it was the continuous wars with its rival states that destroyed the state.
No one knows really what brought the kingdom down — but imagine if the ancient Khmers did not leaved behind their mystical and exotic temples?
The end of a memorable temple run. For now.
A researcher who blog’s at http://unchartedruins.blogspot.com has been a great resource for me.