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AngkorBlog is a website about the art and architecture of the Angkor area in Cambodia, including the Buddhist and Hindu temples at Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Bayon, and Preah Khan.  It is about the stories, historical and legendary, told by that art.  It is about the medieval Khmer kings, about Apsaras, Rakshasas, Nagas, Devas and Asuras, and many others.

Going to Angkor on New Year’s Day

In the 21st century, one can travel around Angkor by boat, bus, and SUV.  Here is a video from New Year’s Day, 2007:

In medieval Cambodia, one travelled on foot. Those who could afford to do so might travel by chariot or on horseback or by palanquin (a relative of the sedan chair).  Armies included horses and elephants. Boats plied the rivers and the great lake Tonle Sap. Goods were transported on one’s back, on one’s head, by oxcart, or by boat.  Here is an annotated slideshow showing how Angkorian artists represented the means of transportation available in historical Angkor.

PAGES

The website consists of the following pages, all of which can be accessed using the drop-down menu at the top right

  • The Homepage (this page): Here are the links to the videos associated with angkorblog, as well as to other useful websites. 
  • Banteay Srei: The “Temple of Women” is known for the detail of its bas-reliefs depicting such mythological events as the duel between the monkey princes Bali and Sugreeva, Narasimha’s slaying of the demon Hiranyakasipu, and the burning of Khandava Forest.
  • Preah Khan: Originally a Buddhist temple, the “Sacred Sword” is now one of Angkor’s most intriguing sites, with depictions of meditating sages, armed guards, and celestial dancers.
  • Ta Prohm: Encroaching jungle plants and the omnipresence of Devatas, or minor female deities installed as guardians of the premises, make this Buddhist temple the most romantic site at Angkor.
  • Bayon: The official state temple of Angkor Thom, the Bayon was founded by megalomanic Buddhist king of Cambodia Jayavarman VII.  It is famous for its “face towers” and bas reliefs.
  • Apsaras: Celestial dancers born when the gods extract the elixir of immortality from the fabled Ocean of Milk grace the walls of Angkor’s temples, providing the mythological inspiration for the Khmer classical dance of modern Cambodia.
  • Garuda: The hulking man-bird carries Vishnu and Krishna into battle and wages a private vendetta against the Nagas, until a future Buddha causes him to change his ways.  He also protects the premises at Preah Khan.
  • Elixir of Immortality: Devas (gods) and Asuras (a race whose status declines from that of gods to that of demons) churn the Ocean of Milk so as to recover Amrita, the elixir of immortality, from its depths.
  • Devatas: Minor female deities serve as guardians, hostesses and custodians for Angkorian religious buildings, especially at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Preah Khan.
  • Battle between the Khmer and the Cham: In 1178, the Khmer King Jayavarman VII defeated the Cham of southern Vietnam in a battle commemorated by stone carvings at the originally Buddhist temple of Bayon.
  • Towers of the Bayon: The maze of massive and beautiful stone faces atop the temple of Bayon represent King Jayavarman VII and the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, symbolizing the king’s oversight over the Khmer empire and his compassion for his subjects.
  • Lingams of Kbal Spean: A creekbed in the jungle near Angkor is the canvas for stone carvings of lingam, the symbol of Siva.
  • Battle of Lanka: A bas-relief at Angkor Wat depicts the mythological Battle of Lanka pitting Rama, supported by King Sugriva and the Vanaras or monkeys, against Ravana, supported by his legions of Rakshasas or demons.
  • Angkor Wat: The largest of the Angkorian temples, it is also the most renowned.  The architectural plan represents the realm of the gods and coordinates it with the realm of the Khmer King Suryavarman II, while the famous bas-reliefs depict mythological and historical subject-matter. 
  • Meditating Ascetics: Relief sculptures of monks, sages and ascetics meditating or praying adorn the walls of the originally Buddhist temples constructed by Jayavarman VII at Preah Khan and Ta Prohm.
  • Naga: Hooded serpents protect the temples and are preyed upon by Garuda, their legendary enemy.  Vasuki, the king of the Nagas, serves as the rope in the churning of the Ocean of Milk.
  • Demons: In the art of Angkor, the Asuras and Rakshasas of Indian mythology represent the demonic element.  Ravana, the king of the Rakshasas, is the most prominent demon at Angkor.
  • Art of Champa: Exhibits in Vietnamese Museums showcase the Hindu art of the Cham, regional rivals of the medieval Khmer.  Included are statues of Shiva, a female Garuda, an apsaras, and a priestly woman at prayer.
  • Gods and Kings of Angkor: The Angkorean period witnessed several changes in the religious self-definition of Cambodian kings, who at various points in history identified with Shiva, Vishnu, Avalokiteshvara, and the Buddha.
  • Stories from the Mahabharata: The Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were the most important literary source for the stories depicted at Angkor.  Due to lack of time or space perhaps, some of the best stories were not depicted in the bas-reliefs.

LINKS

Here are some other useful websites:

BOOKS

Here is a listing of some useful books.

  • Lawrence Palmer Briggs, The Ancient Khmer Empire.  Philadelphia: 1951.  Briggs, an American diplomat, draws upon the tradition of French scholarship to provide a comprehensive historical introduction that includes useful references to primary sources such as insciptions.
  • David Chandler, A History of Cambodia.  Boulder, CO: 2008.  Chandler’s overview of Cambodian history is weighted toward the modern, but it includes about 100 pages on Angkor and pre-Angkorian Cambodia.
  • Michael D. Coe, Angkor and the Khmer Civilization.  New York: 2003.  This book is the best English-language introduction to Angkor that I have seen.  It is not a tour guide, but a historical overview.
  • George Coedès, Pour mieux comprendre Angkor.  Hanoi: 1943.  Our historical knowledge of Angkor is due in large measure to the efforts of 20th century French scholars, and Coedès is one of the greats.  In this book, Coedès discusses his theory that Angkorian monuments are the remains of a state religion centered on the apotheosis of the Khmer monarch.
  • George Coedès, The Indianized States of Southeast Asia.  Translated from the French.  Honolulu: 1968.  Coedès offers a detailed and readable account of the Indianized civilizations of Southeast Asia, including Angkor (and its predecessor Funan) and Champa (and its predecessor Lin Yi).
  • Zhou Daguan, A Record of Cambodia.  Translated from the Chinese by Peter Harris.  Chiang Mai, Thailand: 2007.  Zhou was a Chinese diplomat who resided at Angkor for one year from 1296 to 1297 A.D.  His travel memoirs are our best source regarding life at Angkor at a time when the kingdom was just beginning to decline.
  • Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques, Ancient Angkor.  Bangkok: 1999.  Illustrated with beautiful photographs and drawing upon the results of historical scholarship, this compact book can serve as a tour guide to those visiting Angkor.
  • Vittorio Rovedo, Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand.  Bangkok: 2005.  This magnificent and comprehensive work endeavors to catalog the significant narrative (story-telling) bas reliefs of Angkor and to explain them in terms of the stories they tell.
  • Benjamin Walker, Hindu World: An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism (2 volumes).  New Delhi: 1983.  Organized as an encyclopedia with alphabetized title words, this book is full of information helpful to understanding the Hindu themes at Angkor. 

VIDEOS

Nagas of Champa

 

Khmer Classical Dance

 

The Mystery of Ta Prohm

 

The Bakong

 

Devatas of Angkor Wat

Garudas of Preah Khan