Thursday, December 18, 2008

Iconic Khmer architecture in Cambodia

Image of Lokesvara faces on towers in the Bayon temple complex in Angkor Thom.Dear Gentle Reader,

Here are the iconic images of what people generally, though incorrectly, call Angkor Wat... the towers with the faces...

The faces incised into the blocks of sandstone are of the compassionate bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara.

The compassionate bodhisattva has achieved enlightenment, and is therefore able to leave the wheel of life and enter nirvana, but instead the compassionate bodhisattva chooses to stay behind and help unenlightened humans try to find enlightenment, or at least learn how to ease their karmic burden.

These images are from the Bayon complex, inside Angkor Thom.

Angkor Thom is a large complex that includes Angkor Wat, and the Bayon complex, as well as many other temples (Wats). The Bayon complex is the state temple of both Jayavarman the VII and Jayavarman the VIII (reigning from 1181-1220 and 1243-1295 respectively).

Over the course of three reigns, Jayavarman the VII and Jayavarman the VIII with Indravarman II coming in between those two, the Bayon temple complex was significantly changed as different kings had different religious beliefs and different levels of tolerance for religious differences.

Here is an overview of the Bayon complex. In order to get the bulk of the towers into the photo (and in reality there are towers behind the ones you see here) we lose the clarity of details to make out the faces well...

Image of the Bayon temple complex in Angkor Thom.
Most of these towers have the faces carved into them. Most of the faces are carved in each of the four directions. There used to be forty-nine towers; only thirty-seven towers are still standing.

It is still a lot of towers. When walking up, down, through and around the Bayon it is easy to become a bit disoriented. But one look up, or across, at one of the Lokesvara-faced towers is enough to calm your scribe.

Here is a close-up again of two of those towers with a Lokesvara pointing in each of the four cardinal directions...

Image of towers with the Lokesvara pointing in each of the four cardinal directions at the Bayon temple complex in Angkor Thom.
To your scribe and your Heroine, these are the iconic images of Khmer architecture, though they only represent a small portion of the architectural output of the Khmer's and are only found at very few sites.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes


Cloudia said...

Our old friend Kwan Yin in her Avaloktishvara guise! Great post.

gigihawaii said...

I have 2 temple rubbings from Angkor Wat hanging on my walls. I am told they are very valuable and hard to get now.

Heidelweiss said...

Beautiful. SO much great info. You put my Asian Humanities professors to shame (don't tell them I said so). Give that edelweiss a hug (or at least don't step on it).

Sepiru Chris said...

Cheers Cloudia, How right you are. And having visited your blog this morning, how write you are at overcoming your block...

Hello Gigihawaii, You must have visited a few years ago when some walls were more accessible. If you hang them on your walls then I am sure they are valuable. And that is such a better way to have memories than simply pointing to heads on a picture and paying vandals to remove the head from a temple for a fee and illegally smuggle it out of Cambodia. Too popular, unfortunately.

Hello Heidelweiss,

Hopefully not TOO much info... I am sure that your professors were saving their best for the next seminar... always keep them wanting more... I'll give that Edelweiss a hug for you. Rest assured that I will not step on any. Have you ever seen it in the wild? It is quite pretty and delicate, but larger than I ever thought it would be. It is a very attractive alpine flower.

Happy Holidays to you three and thanks for stopping by.