Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rock carvings at Koh Ker

Sunlight shines on carvings of multi-headed Brahma and Yama holding his heavy mace
Now back to those carvings at Koh Ker that I promised you a few days ago. Koh Ker is a fascinating site in many ways. It was a brief blip in the dominance of Angkor as the capital of the Khmer Empire for over 500 years, when Jayavarman IV based himself there for a 23 year period from 921. At that time it was called Chok Gargyar. The temples built there were mainly dedicated to Shiva and the brief period saw a frenzy of temple construction and gigantic sculpture, topped off by the 40m-high pyramid of Prasat Thom. It was believed that a linga of at least 5m in height stood on top of Prasat Thom though no trace of it has been found. On my recent whistle-stop visit, I came across a series of rockbed bas-relief carvings at the site for the first time, numbering around 100 individually carved figures, representing all of the major gods, including Vishnu, Indra, Shiva and Brahma. The reliefs lie in two locations, close to the small pond of Trapeang Ang Khnar, and carved into the sandstone bedrock facing the small pool. Time and thieves have taken their toll on some of the carvings at the site but they are well worth a quick detour to see them and they provide the path for a nice walk through the forest to visit Prasat Damrei. Once the conservation folks have had chance to renovate and clean the carvings, and dig away at some of the earth to expose even more reliefs, then this will become a key stop on any tour of Koh Ker, a site that is now easily accessible by a 2-hour road journey from Siem Reap.
My guess is a brown bear - what's yours? This carving is the first in a long line of rock-bed carvings at Koh Ker
This carving looks almost prehistoric in its form. Does anyone want to hazard a guess as to what animal it is? My guess is rhinoceros.
I think the figure on the left is a rare relief of the elephant head of Ganesha, accompanied by a series of praying females
This looks like a carving of Yama - king of the dead - riding on his buffalo, or it could be Shiva riding on the bull nandi
This is Indra on the 3-headed elephant Airavata, though Indra's head has been cut away
Both central figures riding their mounts have lost their heads. It looks like Indra riding his elephant on the right but the other carving is too indistinct to identify
Varuna was the god of invisibility and is shown ridng his hamsa (swan) mount
Two seated figures, one holding a ball (!), the other a mace, though I'm loathe to guess either of them!
I'm erring on the side of Brahma for this carving though like many of the others, its indistinct and worn through time



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