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The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.
The Threads of Khmer History:
A ‘warped’ look at the temples of Angkor
by Jaina Mishra
A solo traveler’s journey is a quest for the unknown, not quite knowing what the destination or goal is, nor knowing what exactly to expect. And, just as in the journey of life, sometimes, you trudge along empty handed, still seeking, still searching, and at other times, the journey - like life - rewards and delights you beyond imagination. My trip to Angkor Wat did the latter.
Being allergic to history lessons since childhood, I left for Cambodia equipped with as much knowledge of its ancient civilization, as could fit into a single sentence. All I knew was that they had great monuments that are worth looking at for their stunning architectural beauty. So I went with just a backpack and half a page full of jottings from the Lonely Planet website. The day at Angkor Wat began with sluggish walking and lazy viewing because of the hot white roasting sunshine. A picture taken here and another there. Resting on the cold stones for hours every few minutes! And through this cumbersome tedious walk in the heat, I began noticing the ladies in stone. Initially, I did not think about them at all, because they are an expected feature in temples in the region anyway. But as I walked on and found them all over the walls, and on every panel, I inadvertently began absorbing their details. And a spellbinding awareness dawned upon me slowly – slower than the pace at which I walked - that they wore the most amazing adornments I had ever seen on sculptures.
Textile adornments, jewel adornments and possibly flower & bird adornments. I was awe-struck, and from then on, my attention and my camera were energized and devoured by the varied adornments of these ladies. My reaction was envy, frustration and delight; I was envious that I didn’t have all their wonderful things; I was frustrated that it would never ever be possible to examine the physical articles that these sculptures depicted. And I was delighted that the trip yielded more viewing pleasure than I had anticipated. The net take-away was that I profited as much from finding these adornments as I did from understanding the complex architecture of the temples.
This is the oldest temple, built around the year 1100 AD. As I sat amongst the large stones that were laid out during the restoration, on level 3 of the temple, it seemed to me that the diagonal distances between the corner towers in each subsequent layer, were in the Fibonacci number sequence. When I checked with the Google gods, none of this was confirmed but it appears that Fibonacci sequence does connect the Angkor Wat and the pyramids in a way that I have yet to read and understand!!!
Banteay Srei is the most intricately sculpted carved temple in the area. The ornaments of the ladies in red stone show much greater detail.
This place totally took my breath away. It is currently in the ‘jungled’ condition that Angkor Wat must have been in, just a few years ago. The meaning of ‘ruin’ is conveyed perfectly by taking a precarious walk through the various chambers of the temple, over the fallen stones and overgrown roots, as the forces of the earth gradually consume the manmade structure.
I heard about Angkor for the first time through Somerset Maugham’s writing - who in an entirely different context also mentions that ‘In 50 years none of this will matter’. This impactful line came to life, when I experienced these ruins - that were once beautiful living structures built on investments of love, spirit, effort and dreams of an invincible eternity.
Bayon was built later, and the fashionistas at Bayon exhibit different adornments from the ones at Angkor Wat.
The number and range of adornments found in the sculptures at Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei and Bayon, suggest that this aspect of life was an important one in the Khmer life of that time. Below I have put down some of what I captured.