Variety

When heaven played hide ‘n’ seek

J. SRINIVASAN | Updated on January 09, 2014

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Among the rediscovered treasures of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

It was a vanishing act of monumental proportions. A vast complex of grand temples was built from 7th century until the 15th by kings whose origins can be traced to a Tamil king. But for reasons not completely clear, the temples were abandoned and forgotten. The Angkor Wat shrines in Cambodia remained under insidious vegetation till French naturalist Henri Mouhot discovered them in 1874 and then began their restoration, opening the world to quite literally a Heaven on Earth. The Angkor temples are a metaphor for the Hindu idea of four Yugas and recreate the spatial universe in miniature. The central tower is Mt Meru, with its surrounding smaller peaks, bounded by continents (the lower courtyards) and the oceans (the moat). Constantly recurring themes are the divine serpent Vasuki, celestial damsels Apsaras, Vishnu’s mount Garuda, and motifs from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Buddha too occupies a key place. A change in the religious predilection of the ruler meant a shift away from Vishnu to Shiva to the Buddha and back to Shiva. One of Angkor’s holiest sites is high in the Kulen Hills at the headwaters of two rivers, the Puok and the Siem Reap. Amid the lush greenery, submerged in the clear waters are row after row of Shiva lingas, and rock carvings of Vishnu, complete with Brahma rising from his navel. The temples are without doubt one of the stunning feats of human endeavour that leave the world in wonder.

TEXT AND PICTURES: J. SRINIVASAN

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Published on January 09, 2014
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