jun 9th, 2007
angkor wat in cambodia, most of you are aware, is the largest hindu temple in the world. it is no longer an active hindu temple, though: the eight-armed vishnu has been reconceived as the buddha, and he is worshipped by buddhists there; moreover, the temple itself is more of a national monument than a religious structure now, although some of the immense bas-reliefs, from the mahabharata in particular are extraordinary. one depicting the kurukshetra battlefield is my favorite. another great one is one on the death of bali, brother of sugriva.
i once posted here a url to a remarkable website that had a walk-through view of angkor. one of these days, i'll post my photos to flickr or something and post a link, too. my photos are not bad, but not good enough for print publication.
last year, when i went to angkor wat, i made three mistakes:
1. didn't manage to get to the national museum in phnom penh
2. didn't bring a good enough digital camera (mine was an old 2 megapixel camera) even though (see 3) i transited through bangkok and could have bought a new camera there. i'm kicking myself
3. didn't know i could just fly straight into siem reap and get a visa on arrival. i spent two days in bangkok unnecessarily getting a cambodian visa -- i am not all that crazy about bangkok although it's spiffed itself up and the food is delicious
so i neither saw the wonderful pieces in phnom penh, nor am i able to do justice to what i did saw. sigh. well, i'll go again some time with a better camera.
however, i did see examples of the looting of treasures. the most heart-breaking was in the wonderful water temple of Kbal Spean, where there are images carved right into the rock under running water and in shallow pools. there were two reclining vishnus (anantasayanam), and one had recently been hacked out, no doubt for some collector. the raw wound in the rock was clean, as if the murti had simply been scooped out with some mechanical cutter.
in my personal opinion, the angkor wat temple itself is an extraordinary example of engineering: built in the 1100's CE, it must have been as complex a job as the creation of the space shuttle. it is unbelievable that they managed to handle the logistics without computers! and there are at least a thousand other less grand temples scattered around the area.