Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cambodia Journal II: Mom’s Temple

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm for his mother in 1186. He would build a second temple, Bayom for himself. Today both temples are Unesco sites which have been adopted by India and Japan respectively. The sound of hammers alternates with the chirping of the Lorakeets and the restoration process by which the stones are restored even has a name, anastylosis. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed at Ta Prohm and Angelica Jolie who starred in the movie ended up adopting a Cambodian child. Bayom has 49 towers. The Khmers liked odd and prime numbers which insured a certain immortality by virtue of indivisibility. Each tower has four Buddha’s facing in the cardinal directions, east, west, north and south adding up to a total of l96 Buddhas. When Pol Pot was ravaging the country, his army attempted to erase the faces of many Buddhas, but the abandonment of the temples due to a drought which caused the Khmer monarchy to move to Phnom Penh in 1434 did even greater damage. At the height of their importance there were 300 temples in over 300 square miles of the Siem Reap area that serviced a population of 1 million inhabitants. The temples were brought to the attention of Westerners in the l9th century primarily by Henri Mouhot, the French explorer.  Now the roots of trees have grown around the fallen stones. And while the refurbishing of the eastern side of the south wing is admirable, it loses the sense of the sublime that Wordsworth would recreate in his famous poem Tintern Abbey and that occurs when time reduces man’s search for immortality to rubble.

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