Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Day 8 - Banteay Srei and The River of a Thousand Lingas

Today Mr Pen took us in the tuk tuk for a two hour ride through the country to see Banteay Srei 37km north of Siem Reap.

Banteay Srei or Banteay Srey is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. These factors have made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and have led to its being widely praised as a "precious gem", or the "jewel of Khmer art."

Consecrated on 22 April 967 A.D., Bantãy Srĕi was the only major temple at Angkor not built by a monarch; its construction is credited to a courtier named Yajnavaraha / Yajñavarāha, who served as a counsellor to king Rajendravarman II.The foundational stela says that Yajnavaraha, grandson of king Harsavarman I, was a scholar and philanthropist who helped those who suffered from illness, injustice, or poverty. His pupil was the future king Jayavarman V (r. 968- ca. 1001). Originally, the temple was surrounded by a town called Īśvarapura.

"Bantãy Srĕi" (meaning Citadel of Women or Citadel of Beauty) originally called "Tribhuvanamaheśvara" (Great Lord of the Threefold World), an appellation of the god Siva. The name is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves. Some have speculated that it relates to the many devatas carved into the walls of the buildings.

Banteay Srei is built largely of a hard red sandstone that can be carved like wood. Brick and laterite were used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. The temple is known for the beauty of its sandstone lintels and pediments. A pediment is the roughly triangular space above a rectangular doorway or openings. At Banteay Srei, pediments are relatively large in comparison to the openings below, and take a sweeping gabled shape. For the first time in the history of Khmer architecture, whole scenes of mythological subject-matter are depicted on the pediments.
A lintel is a horizontal beam spanning the gap between two posts. Some lintels serve a structural purpose, serving to support the weight of the superstructure, while others are purely decorative in purpose. The lintels at Banteay Srei are beautifully carved, rivalling those of the 9th century Preah Ko style in quality.

Noteworthy decorative motifs include the kala (a toothy monster symbolic of time), the guardian dvarapala (an armed protector of the temple) and devata (demi-goddess), the false door, and the colonette. Indeed, decorative carvings seem to cover almost every available surface. According to pioneering Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize, "Given the very particular charm of Banteay Srei – its remarkable state of preservation and the excellence of a near perfect ornamental technique – one should not hesitate, of all the monuments of the Angkor group, to give it the highest priority." At Banteay Srei, wrote Glaize, "the work relates more closely to the art of the goldsmith or to carving in wood than to sculpture in stone".

The site consists of three concentric rectangular enclosures constructed on an east–west axis. A causeway situated on the axis leads from an outer gopura, or gate, to the third or outermost of the three enclosures. The inner enclosure contains the sanctuary, consisting of an entrance chamber and three towers, as well as two buildings conventionally referred to as libraries.

The gopura is all that remains of the outer wall surrounding the town of Isvapura. The wall is believed to have measured approximately 500 m square, and may have been constructed of wood. The gopura's eastern pediment shows Indra, who was associated with that direction, mounted on his three-headed elephant Airavata. The 67 m causeway with the remains of corridors on either side connects the gopura with the third enclosure. North and south of this causeway are galleries with a north–south orientation.

Above the east-facing pediment on the southern library shows Śiva seated on the summit of Mount Kailāsa, his mythological abode. His consort Umā (Goddess) sits on his lap and clings anxiously to his torso. Other beings are also present on the slopes of the mountain, arranged in a strict hierarchy of three tiers from top to bottom. In the top tier sit bearded wise men and ascetics, in the middle tier mythological figures with the heads of animals and the bodies of humans, and in the bottom tier large animals, including a number of lions. In the middle of the scene stands the ten-headed demon king Rāvaṇa. He is shaking the mountain in its very foundations as the animals flee from his presence and as the wise men and mythological beings discuss the situation or pray. According to the legend, Śiva stopped Rāvaṇa from shaking the mountain by using his toe to press down on the mountain and to trap Rāvana underneath for 1000 years.

I was told that this carving is of Kala, a mythical creature representative of time,  and this temple was set outside the central five temples, or is also referred to as a library.

This pediment shows the burning of Khandava Forest.

We had to stop and buy fuel to continue our journey, it is sold on the side of the road in discarded plastic bottles like lemonade bottles.

Then onto Kbal Spean ("Bridge Head") a 150m stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River.

Kunlen mount is situated to the north east of the Angkor Complex about 50 km away, the hill top with 487 meters in height and the plateau stretches 30 km long. Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. The hill was used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802.

At the peak the waterfall, splits in two spots the first waterfall is four or five meters the second waterfall is 15 to 20 meters. The water is considered holy and Khmers like to bottle it to take home with them. The source of water eventually flows in to Tonle Sap Lake and is thought to bless the water ways of Cambodia.

The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the "Valley of a 1000 Lingas" or "The River of a Thousand Lingas". The motifs for stone carvings are mainly myriads of lingams (phallic symbol of Hindu god Shiva), depicted as neatly arranged bumps that cover the surface of a sandstone bed rock, and lingam-yoni designs. There are also various Hindu mythological motifs, including depictions of the gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi,Rama, and Hanuman, as well as animals (cows and frogs). 

The river, being sanctified by flowing over the religious sculptures, flows downstream, bifurcating into the Siem Reap River and Puok River, which eventually flows into the Tonlé Sap Lake after passing through the plains and the Angkor temple complex. 

The carving of vestiges began with the reign of King Suryavarman I and ended with the reign of King Udayadityavarman II; these two kings ruled between the 11th and 12th centuries. The 1,000 lingas, but not other sculptures, are attributed to a minister of Suryavarman I during the 11th century, and these were carved by hermits who lived in the area. Inscriptions at the site testify to the fact that most of the sculpting was done during the reign of Udayadityavarman II. It is also mentioned that King Udayadityavarman II consecrated a golden ling here in 1059 AD. 

The bridge is a natural sandstone arch. Just after the monsoon season, when the water level in the river starts dropping, the carvings are visible in a 150 metres (490 ft) stretch upstream of the bridge and from the bridge downstream up to the falls. The 11th century carvings in this stretch of the river are a galaxy of gods, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva or Maheswara and celestial beings; several carvings of Vishnu with Lakshmi reclining on the serpent Ananta, Shiva with consort Uma, known as Umamaheswar Brahma on a lotus petal over a plant stem rising from the navel of Vishnu, Rama and Hanuman are the sculptures seen not only in the river bed but also on the river banks.
Sequentially, while walking along a path which skirts the eroded channel of the river-formed natural stone bridge, one can see a pair of Vishnu sculptures with Lakshmi seated at his feet in a reclining pose. Upstream of the bridge, there is a sculpture of Shiva and Uma mounted on the bull. Approximately 30 metres (98 ft) downstream of the bridge, there are additional Vishnu sculptures. Further downstream up to the water fall and till the water pool are the Sahasra lingas in Sanskrit languaue with English equivalent name of "River of a Thousand Lingas". The sculpted lingams in the coarse sandstone river bed outcrops are seen from about 6 metres (20 ft) downstream of the bridge. According to the journalist Teppo Tukki of Phnom Penh Post who visited the site in 1995, the lingams, some of which date back to the 9th century, are about 25 centimetres (9.8 in) square and 10 centimetres (3.9 in) deep and lined in a perfect grid pattern. The river runs over them, covering them with 5 centimetres (2.0 in) of pristine water. The holy objects are designed to create a “power path for the Khmer Kings”.

After the carvings, the river falls by 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to a clear water pool. As it flows over the holy lingams, the river attains a sanctified status and passes through the temples that are downstream. The visible lingams are in a rectangular enclosure with a channel flowing out, which is interpreted to represent the yoni as the "female principle". Beyond these lingams, the river stretch of about 40–50 metres (130–160 ft) includes a small rocky island and ends over a fall into a pool. In this stretch of the river, there are bas reliefs on the rock faces. It has been inferred that one of the bas reliefs in this stretch, the central figure, unrecognizably damaged, could be that of Shiva as an ascetic, similar to the bas relief seen in Angkor Wat temple. The meaning of the crocodile carving seen here has not been ascertained. Near to this location, a boulder has been carved as a frog. The pond, in a rectangular shape, filled with water at all times, has many "Reclining Vishnu" carvings on the walls, and here again, a pair of crocodiles are carved but with their tail held by women. The small island formed in this stretch of the river has carvings of Shiva and Uma mounted on a bull. 

This is the Kings bath area to wash away the sins in the holy water, about 1 metre deep with carvings all around the edge even now in the dry season, makes you wonder how were these carved in the first place?

this is the Queens bath again to wash away the sins, however her bath is only about 1/2 metre deep and the water falls over the edge forming the second water fall.

Then it was home again on the road, you see so much when you go in the tuk tuk rather than in a taxi that would be rushing past, you get such a feel for how the people live their lives on a daily basis.

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