Friday, 30 January 2015

Day 10 Beng Mealea

Again we met Mr Pen early to go to Beng Mealea 63km to the east of Siam Reap, which took about 2 hours in the tuk tuk.

Beng Mealea or Bung Mealea means lotus pond, a sprawling jungle temple covering over one square kilometer. The temple is largely overrun by vegetation giving it an adventurous, ‘lost temple’ feel. Constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style under the same king that built Angkor Wat, Beng Melea preceded and may have served as a prototype of sorts for Angkor Wat. Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are comparatively sparse. When the temple was active, the walls may have been covered, painted or had frescos. In its time, Beng Melea was at the crossroads of several major highways that ran to Angkor, Koh Ker, Preah Vihear (in northern Cambodia) and northern Vietnam.

The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style, identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Smaller in size than Angkor Wat, the king's main monument, Beng Mealea nonetheless ranks among the Khmer empire's larger temples: the gallery which forms the outer enclosure of the temple is 181 m by 152 m. It was the centre of a town, surrounded by a moat 1025 m by 875 m large and 45 m wide.

Beng Mealea is oriented toward the east, but has entranceways from the other three cardinal directions. The basic layout is three enclosing galleries around a central sanctuary, collapsed at present. The enclosures are tied with "cruciform cloisters", like Angkor Wat. Structures known as libraries lie to the right and left of the avenue that leads in from the east. There is extensive carving of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being borne by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.

It was built mostly of sandstone: Beng Mealea is only 7 km far from the angkorian sandstone quarries of Phnom Kulen, as the crow flies. Presumably sandstone blocks used for Angkor were transported along artificial water canals and passed from here.

This drive was through the more business part of the city on the major highway to Phnom Penh before we turned off and travelled through the country side once again. Below was the most colourful shop selling kites.

We stopped at this little stand and Mr Pen brought some bamboo pieces about 30cm long which had  been hollowed out and a mix of rice and black beans were placed inside and then placed over a fire, this is Cambodian take away food, it was quite sticky so once you peeled back the bamboo it was easy to pick out and eat. A very bland but interesting type of food.

After having lunch nearby it was on the road to Kompong Phluk a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake which means Harbour of the Tusks.

After arriving by tuk tuk we boarded a small boat with out own driver and we slowly wound our way along the river looking at the houses and the way of life of these people of the Phluk. On the edge of the lake we got off the boat and took a tour in a canoe through what appeared to be a type of mangrove forest, the trees did not have roots above the water like ours do and there was no odour to the area like the mangroves in Australia get. It was late afternoon by this stage and the stillness of being the only ones in the forest slowing drifting along in the canoe after viewing the simplicity of life along the river really made one think of just how simple life is and that all is provided that we need it is just through our need for more than we need the pace of life increases and we lose track of the way life was meant to be. A wonderful 1/2 canoe ride to really put life into perspective and appreciate that there is no need to place pressure upon ourselves or to live by the clock.

On the drive through the villages we would hear very loud music and as we passed even the most humble of homes would have tents up and people would be dressed in their finest clothes gathering together and celebrating what we assume are weddings. This would be the season to do it in the cooler months, before the wet season, it is surprising just how many we have passed in only a couple of days, below is the tent for one of the weddings to give you an idea.

At first I could not understand why some of the homes along the way had a beautiful male cow in the front yard, all of which seem to be cared for so well, at the end of the day we saw people taking the cows either home or to new pasture. Then I saw some farmers using the cows as we image a horse to pull carts, farming implements etc so no wonder they are so precious. I imagine they would be the pride and joy of the owners.

The first homes on the floating village, these do not look very old and brightly painted such a contrast to the land.

This is one of the bridges that crosses the river, the balance these people have to walk the bridges, balance on the very tip of boats catching fish or casting nets, sitting in a squatting style on the ground, just leaves me speechless. In comparison I am clumsy and a person requiring many more comforts that what I would normally think about.

A wedding in the floating village.

Even here they have built a beautiful temple very high up out of the water, quite an engineering feat.

The restaurant out on the lake with absolutely nothing around but stillness and silence.

Here is a floating vegetable garden, everything to same as on the land just floating.

The setting sun on the way home across the rice fields.

Day 11 Rolous Group of Temples and More

People are out selling their wares early in the morning as we make our way to the Rolous Group of temples. I just loved the little woven houses that he had for sale.

The Roluos Group is a collection of monuments representing the remains of Hariharalaya, the first major capital of the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire. It has become known as the ‘Roluos Group’ due to its proximity to the modern town of Roluos. The ancient capital was named for Hari-Hara, a synthesis of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu. Though there was an existing settlement in the area before the rise of Angkor, Hariharalaya was established as a capital city by Jayavarman II and served as the Khmer capital for over 70 years under four successive kings. Setting the pattern for the next four centuries, the first great Khmer temples (Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei and a baray) were constructed at Hariharalaya. The last king at Hariharalaya, Yasovarman I, built the first major temple at Angkor, Phnom Bakheng, and moved the capital to the Bakheng area in 905 C.E. With the exception of a 20 year interruption in the 10th century, the capital would remain at Angkor until 1422 C.E. The Roluos Group is located about 13km southeast of Siem Reap. 

Our first temple for the day was Preah Ko six brick towers arranged in two rows of three facing east on a platform, with beautifully preserved carvings. The sanctuaries are dedicated to three divinized forefathers of Indravarman and their respective wives. The front central tower is dedicated to Jayavarman II, the founder of the Khmer empire. The tower to the left is dedicated to Prithivindreshvara, King Indravarman's father; the tower to the right to Rudreshvara, his grandfather. The three rear towers are dedicated to the wives of these three men. The central towers all bear images of the Hindu god Shiva. Originally surrounded by walls and gopuras of which only vestiges remain. Preah Ko was one of the first major temples of the empire at the early Khmer capital of Hariharalaya. Preah Ko (Sacred Bull) derives its name from the three statues of bulls at the front of the central towers. These statues represent Nandi, the white bull who serves as the mount of Shiva.

The temple was built under the Khmer King Indravarman I in 879 to honor members of the king's family, whom it places in relation with the Hindu deity Shiva.

The design on this lintel includes warriors mounted on three-headed nāgas, horsemen, and a deity mounted on a kala.

Bakong is the first temple mountain of sandstone constructed by rulers of the Khmer empire at Angkor. In the final decades of the 9th century AD, it served as the official state temple of King Indravarman I in the ancient city of Hariharalaya.

The structure of Bakong took shape of stepped pyramid, popularly identified as temple mountain of early Khmer temple architecture. The striking similarity of the Bakong and Borobudur temple in Java, going into architectural details such as the gateways and stairs to the upper terraces, suggests strongly that Borobudur was served as the prototype of Bakong. There must had been exchanges of travelers, if not mission, between Khmer kingdom and the Sailendras in Java. Transmitting to Cambodia not only ideas, but also technical and architectural details of Borobudur, including arched gateways in corbelling method.

In 802 AD, the first king of Angkor Jayavarman II declared the sovereignty of Cambodia. After ups and downs, he established his capital at Hariharalaya. Few decades later, his successors constructed Bakong in stages as the first temple mountain of sandstone at Angkor. The inscription on its stele says that in 881 King Indravarman I dedicated the temple to the god Shiva and consecrated its central religious image, a lingam whose name Sri Indresvara was a combination of the king's own and the suffix "-esvara" which stood for Shiva ("Iśvara"). According to George Coedès, the devarāja cult consisted in the idea of divine kingship as a legitimacy of royal power, but later authors stated that it doesn't necessarily involve the cult of physical persona of the ruler himself. 

Bakong enjoyed its status as the state temple of Angkor for only a few years, but later additions from the 12th or 13th centuries testify that it was not abandoned. Toward the end of the 9th century, Indravarman's son and successor Yasovarman I moved the capital from Hariharalaya to the area north of Siem Reap now known as Angkor, where he founded the new city of Yaśodharapura around a new temple mountain called Bakheng.

The site of Bakong measures 900 metres by 700 metres, and consists of three concentric enclosures separated by two moats, the main axis going from east to west. The outer enclosure has neither a wall nor gopuram and its boundary is the outer moat, today only partially visibile. The current access road leads at the edge of the second enclosure. The inner moat delimits a 400 by 300 metres area, with remains of a laterite wall and four cruciform gopuram, and it is crossed by a wide earthen causeway, flanked by seven-headed nāgas, such as a draft of nāga bridge . Between the two moats there are the remains of 22 satellite temples of brick. The innermost enclosure, bounded by a laterite wall, measures 160 metres by 120 metres and contains the central temple pyramid and eight brick temple towers, two on each side. A number of other smaller buildings are also located within the enclosure. Just outside of the eastern gopura there is a modern buddhist temple.

A statue of a lion guards the stairs on the central pyramid. The pyramid itself has five levels and its base is 65 by 67 metres. It was reconstructed by Maurice Glaize at the end of the 1930s according to methods of anastylosis. On the top there is a single tower that is much later in provenance, and the architectural style of which is not that of the 9th century foundations of Hariharalaya, but that of the 12th-century temple city Angkor Wat. 

Though the pyramid at one time must have been covered with bas relief carvings in stucco, today only fragments remain. A dramatic scene-fragment involving what appear to be asuras in battle gives a sense of the likely high quality of the carvings. Large stone statues of elephants are positioned as guardians at the corners of the three lower levels of the pyramid. Statues of lions guard the stairways.

On the steps of the monks house there was a ceremony being done with a young lady being washed with many many bowls of water by the monk.

Lolei ruins of an island-temple built in the middle of a now dry baray, Indratataka, the first large-scale baray constructed by a Khmer king. Lolei consists of four brick towers on a double laterite platform. It was the last major temple built at Roluos before Yasovarman I moved the capital to the Angkor area. Though the towers are in poor condition, there are some lintel carvings in very good condition displaying the distinctively detailed Preah Ko style. An active pagoda has been built amongst the ruins.

Lolei is the northernmost temple of the Roluos group of three late 9th century Hindu temples at Angkor. Lolei was the last of the three temples to be built as part of the city of Hariharalaya that once flourished at Roluos, and in 893 the Khmer king Yasovarman I dedicated it to Shiva and to members of the royal family. The name "Lolei" is thought to be a modern corruption of the ancient name "Hariharalaya," which means "the city of Harihara." Once an island temple, Lolei was located on an island slightly north of centre in the now dry Indratataka baray, construction of which had nearly been completed under Yasovarman's father and predecessor Indravarman I. Scholars believe that placing the temple on an island in the middle of a body of water served to identify it symbolically with Mount Meru, home of the gods, which in Hindu mythology is surrounded by the world oceans.
Today, the temple is next to a monastery, just as in the 9th century it was next to an ashrama.

Today, the temple is next to a monastery, just as in the 9th century it was next to an ashrama.

Pre Rup an architecturally and artistically superior temple-mountain has beautifully carved false doors on upper level, as well as an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. Richly detailed, well-preserved carvings, particularly on the lintels. Traditionally believed to be a funerary temple, but in fact the state temple of Rajendravarman II. Historically important in that it was the second temple built after the Khmer capital was returned to Angkor after a period of political upheaval when the capital had been moved to Koh Ker.

Dedicated in 961 or early 962 a temple mountain of combined brick, laterite and sandstone construction. The temple’s name is a comparatively modern one meaning "turn the body". This reflects the common belief among Cambodians that funerals were conducted at the temple, with the ashes of the body being ritually rotated in different directions as the service progressed.
Pre Rup is aligned on a north-south axis with the East Mebon temple, which is located on what was an artificial island in the baray.

Pre Rup's extensive laterite and brick give it a pleasing reddish tone. The temple has a square lay-out and two perimeter walls. The outer enclosure is a platform bounded by a laterite wall, 117 meters N-S by 127 meters E-W. A laterite causeway gives entry from the east; unfortunately, a modern road cuts across it. The four external gopuras are cross-shaped, having a central brick section (consisting of three rooms flanked by two independent passageways) and a sandstone vestibule on both sides. To either side inside the eastern gate is a group of three towers aligned north to south. One of the towers appears to have never been built or to have been dismantled later, however they are later additions, probably by Jayavarman V. Further ahead, through another gate, libraries lie to either side of the walkway on the second platform. Just before the entrance there is a stone "cistern", but scholars believe it was a basement for a Nandi bronze statue rather than being used for cremation ceremonies.

There is also a series of long distinct galleries running along each side, a distinctive feature of 10th century architecture that would be substituted by a continuous gallery from Ta Keo onward.
The final squared pyramid, measuring 50 m at its base, rises in three steep tiers a dozen metres in height to a 35 m square platform at the summit. The lowest tier is symmetrically surrounded by 12 small shrines. At the top, five towers are arranged in a quincunx, one at each corner of the square and one in the center. Deities carved as bas-reliefs stand guard at either side of the central tower’s eastern door; its other doors are false doors. The southwest tower once contained a statue of Lakshmi, the northwest tower a statue of Uma, the southeast tower a statue of Vishnu and the northeast tower a statue of Shiva. The last one has an inscription on door jams that dates from Jayavarman VI and is the only proof of his reign at Angkor.

East Mebon is a large temple-mountain-like ruin, rising three levels and crowned by five towers. Jayavarman IV, a usurper, moved the capital from Angkor to Koh Ker in 928AD. Sixteen years later Rajendravarman II returned the capital to Angkor and shortly thereafter constructed East Mebon on an island in the middle of the now dry Eastern Baray. The temple is dedicated to Shiva in honour of the king’s parents. Inscriptions indicate that it was also built to help re-establish the continuity of kingship at Angkor in light of the interruption that occurred when the seat of power had been moved to Koh Ker. There is some scholarly debate as to whether East Mebon should be categorized as a temple-mountain. Inscriptions record activity as early as 947AD, but the temple was not consecrated until 952AD.

Ta Som is a small classic Bayon style monastic complex consisting of a relatively flat enclosure, face tower gopuras and cruciform interior sanctuaries much like a miniature version of Ta Prohm. Many of the carvings are in good condition and display particularly fine execution for late 12th century works.

A small island temple located in the middle of the last baray to be constructed by a Khmer king in the Angkor area (Preah Khan Baray or Jayatataka). The central temple sits at the axis of a cross or lotus pattern of eight pools. Originally known as Rajasri, Neak Pean took its modern appellation, which means ‘coiled serpents,’ from the encoiled nagas that encircled the temple. The temple is faced by a statue of the horse, Balaha, saving drowning sailors. Though originally dedicated to Buddha, Neak Pean contains several Hindu images. Neak Pean may have served an absolution function, and the waters were thought to have healing properties, with people coming to this temple for bathing, drinking and steaming in the waters.


Preah Khan, meaning 'sacred sword,’ is a huge, highly explorable monastic complex, full of carvings and passages. It originally served as a Buddhist monastery and school, engaging over 1000 monks. For a short period it was also the residence of King Jayavarman VII during the reconstruction of his permanent home in Angkor Thom. In harmony with the architecturally similar Ta Prohm that was dedicated to Jayavarman VII's mother, Preah Khan is dedicated to his father. Like most of Jayavarman VII's monuments, the Buddha images were vandalized in the later Hindu resurgence. Some Buddha carvings in the central corridor have been crudely carved over with Bodhisattvas, and in a couple of odd cases, a lotus flower and a linga. The cylindrical columns on the building west of the main temple the only round columned complex in Angkor.

Built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII. It is located northeast of Angkor Thom and just west of the Jayatataka baray, with which it was associated. The temple is flat in design, with a basic plan of successive rectangular galleries around a Buddhist sanctuary complicated by Hindu satellite temples and numerous later additions. Like the nearby Ta Prohm, Preah Khan has been left largely unrestored, with numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins.

Preah Khan was built on the site of Jayavarman VII's victory over the invading Chams in 1191. Unusually the modern name, meaning "holy sword", is derived from the meaning of the original—Nagara Jayasri (holy city of victory). The site may previously have been occupied by the royal palaces of Yasovarman II and Tribhuvanadityavarman. The temple's foundation stela has provided considerable information about the history and administration of the site: the main image, of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the form of the king's father, was dedicated in 1191 (the king's mother had earlier been commemorated in the same way at Ta Prohm). 430 other deities also had shrines on the site, each of which received an allotment of food, clothing, perfume and even mosquito nets; the temple's wealth included gold, silver, gems, 112,300 pearls and a cow with gilded horns. The institution combined the roles of city, temple and Buddhist university: there were 97,840 attendants and servants, including 1000 dancers and 1000 teachers.

The initial clearing was from 1927 to 1932, and partial anastylosis was carried out in 1939. Since then free-standing statues have been removed for safe-keeping, and there has been further consolidation and restoration work. Throughout, the conservators have attempted to balance restoration and maintenance of the wild condition in which the temple was discovered: one of them, Maurice Glaize, wrote that;
The temple was previously overrun with a particularly voracious vegetation and quite ruined, presenting only chaos. Clearing works were undertaken with a constant respect for the large trees which give the composition a pleasing presentation without constituting any immediate danger. At the same time, some partial anastylosis has revived various buildings found in a sufficient state of preservation and presenting some special interest in their architecture or decoration.
Since 1991, the site has been maintained by the World Monuments Fund. It has continued the cautious approach to restoration, believing that to go further would involve too much guesswork, and prefers to respect the ruined nature of the temple. One of its former employees has said, "We're basically running a glorified maintenance program. We're not prepared to falsify history". It has therefore limited itself primarily to stabilisation work on the fourth eastern gopura, the House of Fire and the Hall of Dancers.

The fourth enclosure wall bears 5 m garudas holding nagas. Buddha images in the niches above were destroyed in the anti-Buddhist reaction of Jayavarman VIII.

The outer wall of Preah Khan is of laterite, and bears 72 garudas ( large bird-like creature) holding nagas (In Sanskrit, a nāgá is a cobra, the Indian cobra (Naja naja). A synonym for nāgá is phaṇin. There are several words for "snake" in general, and one of the very commonly used ones is sarpá. Sometimes the word nāgá is also used generically to mean "snake".), at 50 m intervals. Surrounded by a moat, it measures 800 by 700 m and encloses an area of 56 hectares (140 acres). To the east of Preah Khan is a landing stage on the edge of the Jayatataka baray, now dry, which measured 3.5 by 0.9 km (2 by 1 mi). This also allowed access to the temple of Neak Pean in the centre of the baray. As usual Preah Khan is oriented toward the east, so this was the main entrance, but there are others at each of the cardinal points. Each entrance has a causeway over the moat with nāga-carrying devas and asuras similar to those at Angkor Thom; Glaize considered this an indication that the city element of Preah Khan was more significant than those of Ta Prohm or Banteay Kdei.

Halfway along the path leading to the third enclosure, on the north side, is a House of Fire (or Dharmasala) similar to Ta Prohm's. The remainder of the fourth enclosure, now forested, was originally occupied by the city; as this was built of perishable materials it has not survived. The third enclosure wall is 200 by 175 metres (656 by 574 ft). In front of the third gopura is a cruciform terrace. The gopura itself is on a large scale, with three towers in the centre and two flanking pavilions. Between the southern two towers were two celebrated silk-cotton trees, of which Glaize wrote, "resting on the vault itself of the gallery, [they] frame its openings and brace the stones in substitute for pillars in a caprice of nature that is as fantastic as it is perilous." One of the trees is now dead, although the roots have been left in place. The trees may need to be removed to prevent their damaging the structure. On the far side of the temple, the third western gopura has pediments of a chess game and the Battle of Lanka, and two guardian dvarapalas to the west.

West of the third eastern gopura, on the main axis is a Hall of Dancers. The walls are decorated with apsaras. North of the Hall of Dancers is a two-storeyed structure with round columns. Freeman and Jacques speculate that this may have been a granary. Occupying the rest of the third enclosure are ponds (now dry) in each corner, and satellite temples to the north, south and west. While the main temple was Buddhist, these three are dedicated to Shiva, previous kings and queens, and Vishnu respectively. They are notable chiefly for their pediments: on the northern temple, Vishnu reclining to the west and the Hindu trinity of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma to the east; on the western temple, Krishna raising Mount Govardhana to the west. 

Connecting the Hall of Dancers and the wall of the second enclosure is a courtyard containing two libraries. The second eastern gopura projects into this courtyard; it is one of the few Angkorian gopuras with significant internal decoration, with garudas on the corners of the cornices. Buddha images on the columns were changed into hermits under Jayavarman VIII.

Between the second enclosure wall (85 by 76 m or 279 by 249 ft) and the first enclosure wall (62 by 55 m or 203 by 180 ft) on the eastern side is a row of later additions which impede access and hide some of the original decoration. The first enclosure is, as Glaize said, similarly, "choked with more or less ruined buildings". The enclosure is divided into four parts by a cruciform gallery, each part almost filled by these later irregular additions. The walls of this gallery, and the interior of the central sanctuary, are covered with holes for the fixing of bronze plates which would originally have covered them and the outside of the sanctuary—1500 tonnes was used to decorate the whole temple. At the centre of the temple, in place of the original statue of Lokesvara, is a stupa built several centuries after the temple's initial construction.

We then drove to Angkor Wat to watch the sun set, however due to the pollution and smog this was disappointing and there were no great golden hues shining on the temple, but lovely to just sit and look upon the temple.