Monday, January 21, 2013

Cambodia Journal IV: When in Rome

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
When in Rome do like the Romans, which in touristic terms means that if you are in France you will visit cathedrals. In Cambodia you visit temples. It’s interesting that a French explorer Henri Mouhot, was one of those responsible for rediscovering the lost civilization of Cambodian temples since the architecture of the temple, like for instance the Gothic church, is a petrie dish of sensibility. The Khymer king Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm and Bayon in the 12th Century but his ancestor Indravarman I was responsible for Bakong which was built in 881 A.D, when the more caste orientated Hindu influence emanated from Hariharalaya, the Sanskrit for the then capital city near what is now Siem Reap. Hari is synonymous with Vishnu, Hara with Shiva. Buddhist influences on the temple would occur after 1000 in the era of the construction of Angkor Wat, most particularly in the use of sandstone instead of brick. Both Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation and while Chartres and Notre Dame never cease to amaze us, the discovery of the ancient temples of Cambodia is a little like our childhood fantasies about the lost civilization of Atlantlis. Mouhot's great find is a little like reincarnantion, n’est ce pas?

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