Friday, April 26, 2013

Pre-Med at Preah Khan, Plus Pre Rup

We started our second day of temple hopping with Chek at Preah Kahn.  This is the third temple complex, along with Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, built by King Jayavarman VII. You surely know by now that he was the best king ever in the whole wide world.

We got up early on a Sunday, the first day of Khmer New Year, since we had planned an ambitious itinerary of 7 - 8 temples.  Several of these were smaller, and required only 20 - 30 minutes to see.  Preah Khan was more extensive.

Chek and Sarah near the entrance in the serene morning light

Sarah bonds with Bird Man, the divine Hindu being Garuda

There were a couple of noticeable features about Preah Khan.  It had a series of ~ 25 consecutive hallway entrances over a distance of ~ 150 meters.  This is difficult to completely capture in a photo, but it is striking in person.

Two headless security guards in front of a series of doors

This security guard reminds everyone to "Mind The Gap"

Another interesting aspect of Preah Khan is that it housed a university, and was thus not purely a place of worship.

This area of the temple contained many classrooms

Students crammed for exams, dreamed of fame in this courtyard
The library, as always, is housed in a separate building

Preah Khan also provides several good examples of the widespread desecration of temples that occurred during the last two centuries of the Khmer Angkor empire.  After mutual tolerance for two hundred years, religious infighting led to the removal of Buddhist icons, as Hinduism won out for the time being.

There used to be Buddhist idolatry in the bell-shaped area

Hindu carved figures are intact on one side of the wall....

 .....while the Buddhist figures on the other side have been removed

The Buddhist stones were smashed and removed to the surrounding jungle.  It is a shame that the age-old "my God is better than your God" game had such an adverse effect on the aesthetics of many temples.

One of the reasons that it takes years to reconstruct temples such as Preah Khan is that the many large stones must be retrieved from the jungle.  After that, the unique stones are matched to their missing locations, meticulously labeled with numbers, and returned where they were originally.  Completing this task is like re-assembling a massive 3-dimensional puzzle.

Numbered stone available for restoration at the back of Preah Khan

Several alcoves contained altars with male and female symbols:

Can you guess whether this symbol is male or female?

Bright light streams in through a designed hole in the wall

 Female altar collects holy water through a small aperture at the peak

The detail above this doorway illustrates traditional Khmer apsara dancing, as well as the removal of Buddhist imagery:

We ran out of time to see a live apsara dancing show in Siem Reap

Twisted trees, though not as spectacular as the ones at Ta Prohm, were taking over the back courtyards of Preah Khan.  This part of the temple had not yet been reconstructed.

This beast of a tree is mutating into two pieces

A rear courtyard is badly in need of repair

The man at the bottom right may be the tree's next target

It was time to move on to some other temples.  One down, six to go!

The exit to Preah Khan is as tranquil as the entrance

We stopped later at a temple called Pre Rup.  It is on the way out to Banteay Srei, which is much further away from Siem Reap.

Pre Rup had a different look and feel to it than the other temples we had visited thus far.  It was built in the 10th century, primarily with bricks.  It has entirely Hindu motifs, because the Khmer Empire had not yet conquered any territory populated by Buddhists.

In addition to its reddish color, Pre Rup is more out in the open, with a symmetrical buffer zone around it.  The 20-meter dirt/sand area circumscribing the temple has kept the jungle at bay thus far, and focuses attention on the building structure rather than the surrounding foliage.

The brick structure and open feeling are evident upon approach

You can get an aerobic workout running up these steps

Sarah pauses midway up to enjoy.....

 .....this view

Of course, the jungle is never that far away in Cambodia:

Lions look out over the back corner of the temple

From the top of Pre Rup, you can look a half mile down the road and see the tops of other lotus bud-shaped towers at another similar temple.

We could have gone here, but we had a Pre Rup agreement

The architectural style differed somewhat from what we saw at Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat and Preah Khan, and not just because of the brick vs. sandstone or laterite materials.

Appealing door design and columns above four sentries

Inset carvings around one of the 10 towers

There are lions, lions everywhere:

We found a shady plaza spot to relax, before heading down

A lion commands attention.  His buddy is missing....

It was time for an excursion to Banteay Srei, after refueling with a Khmer food lunch.

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