Friday, May 27, 2016

The Sad Sights in Cambodia

Unbelievable! Unless you see it.
We have found the Cambodian people to be as friendly and open as any we have met in the world. Our guides freely discussed the political and cultural ways of their world and shared much history with us.

I found it very sad to realize how many decades of war have torn this country apart, killing millions of people. In fact, something like fifty percent of the population is under age 25 because there has been so much killing over the years.

One of the many dig sites.
In preparation for one of our onshore tours, we watched the movie, "The Killing Fields" on the Mekong Princess and had a discussion with our guide. The actual visit to the Killing Fields was every bit as moving as the War Museum in Vietnam. Maybe more so.

I found this information about the political motivation at the time:

Fabric and bones are still surfacing from the earth.
"In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, a communist group led by a man named Pol Pot, took over the capital city of Phnom Penh. The Cambodians rejoiced as the civil war had come to an end. However, three hours after the Khmer Rouge victory, all civilians living in the cities were forcibly evacuated to the countryside, signaling the reign of terror. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge planned to bring the country back to “Year Zero” creating an equal society comprised of one agricultural class. Every intellectual Cambodian became an enemy. If a Cambodian had on glasses, knew another language, had foreign friends, or held a job other than farming, he or she would be tortured in prison. Those that refused to cooperate were executed. Those that did cooperate were sent to the fields to work 12 to 15 hours a day with only watery porridge to eat. Many workers in the field died of starvation, exhaustion or were murdered."

A tower of skulls!
The Khmer Rouge ruled under the motto, “To have you is no benefit, to lose you is no loss.” An estimated one to three million people died in what became known as the “Killing Fields.” We only visited one of the 343 Killing Fields in Cambodia. You can see why the population is so young; everyone older was killed by their own government!

Graves of victims at S-21
The genocide under the Pol Pot regime ended in 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded the country, liberating the Cambodian people. Every Cambodian knows exactly how long they endured the horror: 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days. Many families were separate and have not been reunited. It is commonly accepted that the missing members are probably in one of the "killing fields."

One of the S-21 buildings
As we walked through the field, we saw the areas of excavation from which they have removed hundreds of bodies that filled these mass graves. There were displays of shreds of fabric that were from the victims clothing. We saw bones in the ground as in display cases.

Interrogation and torture room.
There were signs indicating how many children were discovered in some of the graves. It was quite unnerving. However, children weren’t just victims, many of them were the executioners. The Khmer Rouge brainwashed children into becoming Khmer Rouge soldiers. They taught them to hate their parents and many of the child soldiers’ first victims were their own parents.

The most disturbing of all for me was the monument structure that housed hundreds of skulls, all looking out on four sides of the glass structure. It was unbearable to think of the torture they had endured before their deaths. Even though it sounds gruesome - and it was, it is important to have these reminders of the atrocities of war to remember the victims and avoid a repeat of such dreadful history.

Two of the cells.
We were all quite sullen when we left the Killing Fields. Everyone had been moved emotionally. Our next stop wasn't much more uplifting either. We went to S-21 Prison, the place where prisoners were held prior to being sent to the Killing Fields. Such torture! Death may have been a welcome escape. And this was just one of many of these prisons.

The building complex was originally the Tuol Svay Pray High School, but was renamed S-21 in 1976 when the Khmer Rouge turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. There were only seven survivors from the known 14,000 prisoners who entered there!

There were hundreds of portrats on display.

The torture chambers were gruesome! The prison cells were about 4'x5'. And the nearly 6,000 photographic portraits of the prisoners illustrate the horror of their situation. They actually pinned the identification numbers to the prisoners muscles! This place is very disturbing. It serves as another reminder of what should never be allowed to happen again.
Cells on both sides.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cambodian Temple: Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom, which means “Great City” in Khmer, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. Established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII, it covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors.

At the center of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. There were several other earlier cities in the region that were known as the capital, but the name of Angkor Thom—great city—was in use from the 16th century.

Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building program. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride.

The complex was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, "as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato." It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000–150,000 people. The city was abandoned when the Khmers were driven out. Wars have been ongoing in Cambodia for centuries and they are taken a toll on the architecture and the people.
Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the Naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers. A number of the heads of the figures are missing or have been restored.

The city lies on the west bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 8 m high and flanked by a moat, are each 3 km long, enclosing an area of 9 km². The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top.

There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the centre of the city. Another gate—the Victory Gate—is 500 m north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon. This gives you an idea of just how large this complex is which makes it even more amazing considering when it was built!

The faces on the 23 m towers at the city gates, which are later additions to the main structure, take after those of the Bayon and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire's cardinal points, or some combination of these.

A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war.

This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the “Churning of the Sea of Milk.” The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures.

At each corner of the city is a Prasat Chrung—corner shrine—built of sandstone and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. These are cruciform with a central tower, and orientated towards the east.

Before entering the South gate by car, we stopped to take in the view of the complex from a distance. Several elephants were coming down the causeway and our guide explained that the elephants come here every morning. Nowdays it is for the purpose of giving visitors a chance to sit on an elephant, but in the time when this was an active community, the elephants were part of everyday life and lived inside the walls.
Overall, this temple development was very sophisticated in both size and engineering. Angkor Thom is considered “an expression of the highest genius” by archeologists. It is said to be “in three dimensions and on a scale worthy of entire nation, the materialization of Buddhist cosmology, representing ideas that only great painters would dare to portray.”

Angkor Thom is the last capital of the Khmer Empire. It was a fortified city enclosing the residences of priests, officials of the palace and military as well as buildings for administrative operations of kingdom.
The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest. It is thought that many of these buildings were made of woods and perished many years ago.

Symbolically, Angkor Thom is a microcosm of the universe, divided into four parts by the main axes. The temple of the Bayon is situated at the exact center of the axes and stands as the symbolical link between heaven and earth. The wall enclosing the city of Angkor Thom represents the stone wall around the universe and the mountain ranges around Meru. The surrounding moat (now dry) symbolizes the cosmic ocean.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cambodian Temple: Ta Prohm

One of the most interesting temples – and a favorite of tourists – is known as the “jungle temple.” Its proper name is Ta Prohm (pronunciation: prasat taprohm). Ta Prohm is the modern name of the temple at Angkor, Siem Reap Province of Cambodia, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara.  It is located approximately one kilometer east of Angkor Thom. Originally it was a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Our guide pointed out a number of areas referred to as libraries.

The legend is that the temple was built by Ta Prohm. Supposedly, King Jayavarman II was traveling through Tonle Bati and fell in love with a fisherman’s beautiful daughter. He spent three months with her before moving on. However, she was pregnant so upon leaving, the king gave her a ring with instructions to send the child with the ring to the Ankgor and he would educate the child.
When Prohm, her son, presented the ring, he was welcomed into his father’s palace and given an education. Later Prohm was sent back to govern the Takeo province where he built the temple and named it after himself. He also built one for his mother, the Yeay Peau Temple.

The reason this temple is so famous is that it has been destroyed by several large trees that have been growing up through it over hundreds of years. It almost has an eerie feeling to it when you see the huge trunks and roots winding in and out of the blocks of stone. For years, the jungle had its way with Ta Prohm.
Today, much of the underbrush has been cleared away, but the trees remain. It is unlikely that this temple will be rebuilt. The foundation is very unstable due to the root growth and it is such an attraction the way it is that it will remain as we saw it. Although, some work is being done to shore up walls and clear out fallen blocks.
Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. In 1992, UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List.

Today, it is one of the most visited complexes in Cambodia’s Angkor region. The conservation and restoration of Ta Prohm is a partnership project of the Archaeological Survey of India

and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap).
For this particular temple, the photos tell more story than documentation provides. It was an interesting one to visit.



Monday, May 16, 2016

Cambodian Temple: Banteay Samre

We also visited a smaller temple in the Ankgor complex: Banteay Samre. The French painstakingly restored this 12th century temple. The temple is one of the finest examples of elaborate architecture and fine carvings. Unfortunately, thieves have mutilated many of the treasures over the years.

Built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, the main shrine is well preserved and depicts scenes from Vishnu and Krishna legends in bas-relief. It was built in the middle of the 12th century by king Suryavarman II, who reigned from 1113-1150. It is in the Art Style of Angkor Wat. It is also referred to as The Citadel of Samre.

Banteay Samre is said to be one of the most complete complexes due to the application of a restoration method known as anastylosis. However, the lack of maintenance over the past quarter of a centry is evident in the amount of deterioration. Many of these temples were built of sandstone that does not stand up well to the elements. Sandstone is very porous and becomes pitted which weakens it.

We learned that the name, Samre, refers to an ancient ethnic group of mountain people from Indochina. They were probably related to the Khmers. Since no inscriptions have been found in this temple, the style has been attribute to both the Angkor Wat and the Bayon styles. Perhaps it was built over time incorporating both styles.

There is an interior moat with laterite paving. It is suggested that when filled with water, the moat would give an ethereal atmosphere to the temple. All of the buildings around the moat are on a raised base. The decorations run horizontally and feature the lotus bud motif and figures. There are no smooth surfaces as they are all carved.

Since this temple is relatively close to Siem Reap, it is convenient for artists to visit and use for inspiration. There were a number of young artists drawing and painting in the area. Their works were for sale


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cambodian Temple: Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei, otherwise known as the Citadel of Women was discovered 1914. It is located in the heart of the jungle, about 20 kilometers north-east of Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei dates to AD 967, according to early records. It was not built by royalty, but by two Brahman brothers, one of whom was the King’s Brahman advisor, according to an inscription at the site.

However, in the 1920’s there was great debate about the actual age of the temple as the various archeologists could not agree and spent much time and effort discounting each other. I guess some things never change in this world!

After they all finally agreed to work together and were finally able to produce dates for all of the temples in the Angkor area. Banteay Srei was one of the first to be rebuilt for several reasons: it is of artistic interest and due to the certainty of finding all of the stones in the vicinity.

When you see the size of the stones used to construct these temples, it is hard to imagine how they were constructed. Putting them back together is like doing a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The technique used to reassemble the structure is called anastylosis. It involves removing and repositioning each stone block. They are massive in size!

In 1995, Banteay Srei was declared off limits as some tourist were killed by a group identified as bandits with Khmer Rouge backgrounds. Due to its remote location, the temple posed a security risk and was a target from art theft. It was reopened to tourist in 2001

Banteay Srei decoration is virtually intact and reveals a wealth of symbolism. We walked on what is left of the triumphal causeway into the inner sanctuary. Guarding the entrance stairs are sculpted kneeling human sculptures that had originally had heads of monkeys or lions, but most of the heads have been hacked off by treasure hunters. The carvings throughout are amazing – especially when you realize how old they are!

Even today there are still conflicting thoughts about this temple. The modern thought is that the name Banteay Srei translated to “citadel of women” and refers to the delicate beauty of the carvings and not that it was built for a woman or women. The temple displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art - the walls densely covered with some of the most beautiful, deep and intricate carvings of any Angkorian temple. The temple's relatively small size, pink sandstone construction and ornate design give it a fairyland ambiance.