Saturday, February 14, 2009

Closing the page on Preah Pithu

Though indistinct, this is Vishnu on Garuda fighting Bana - I think - at Temple Y
In finally closing the chapter on my recent visit to the secluded Preah Pithu group of temples in Angkor Thom, there were two more to visit, Temples V and Y, with the first having little carving to speak of, whilst the latter was very different in style to the others but with some indistinct carving still in situ. On the ground, around all of the five shrines were pieces of sculpture that were worth inspecting, so if you do have a poke around Preah Pithu don't forget to inspect the many fallen stones, which you can easily overlook if you concentrate on just the shrines themselves. It's an easy mistake to make, especially if you have a restricted time-frame. Preah Pithu is worth a visit, for a slice of peace and quiet in an otherwise busy Angkor Thom area around the Bayon, it has some interesting carvings on show, especially the friezes of Buddhas in Temple X. It's also nice to have a temple to explore all on your own. Try it and see for yourself.
This is definitely Vishnu taking three strides across the world, with an orderly court scene below, in an unusual half pediment at Temple Y (#485)
The pale green lichen and time has weathered this pediment so I can't identify its message (at Temple Y). I feel like a failure.
The trees provide a background for Temple X, and a good example of the stone blocks strewn over the ground
The sun is shining on Temple V, pictured from the southwest corner
An almost perfect Naga head on the ground near Temple X
I can't be sure but this looks like a carving of my favourite minor god, Vishvakarma, usually seen on lintels, sat above a grinning kala. This is the guy who created the universe, so why they call him a minor god I'm not so sure. He's up there with the best of them in my book.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Temple X revealed

Temple X and its 40 Buddhas
A week ago I promised more photos from Temple X (aka Monument 483), the temple within the Preah Pithu group of Angkor Thom which is bedecked with Buddhist iconography whilst the other four shrines at the site are decorated in more traditional Hindu-inspired motifs and reliefs. The inner walls of Temple X house a very unique series of seated Buddha carvings, forty of them in total, which renowned scholar Claude Jacques suggests that the temple was built, or certainly partially decorated in the 14th century. All of the Buddhas are posed in the same seated stance and are shown in the attitude of Calling The Earth to Witness, relating to the moment of enlightenment of Buddha. The legs are crossed, the left hand is in the lap of Buddha and the right hand is pointing to the ground with the palm facing inward. It relates to how the Buddha meditated all night to overcome the fears and temptations sent by the demon Mara. Instead, the Buddha called the Earth Goddess to witness that the Buddha achieved enlightenment in order to share with the rest of the world. Witnessing that, the Earth Goddess wrang her hair, releasing flood waters that swept away the demon Mara and all the temptresses he had released. It was that easy.
Two rows of Buddhas line the inner sanctuary walls at Temple X
A corner niche of Buddhas with a small amount of vegetation
The bottom row of Buddhas are slightly larger than the top row
Some of the individual Buddha carvings are quite simple
At the left hand side of the rows of Buddhas are two kneeling worshippers
Parts of the inner wall of Temple X display differing colours of the sandstone, due to weathering over the centuries
The roof is open to the elements allowing the sun to highlight the carvings
The final set of 13 of the total of 40 Buddhas of Temple X
A weathered lintel inside one of the chambers shows a row of seated Buddha figures in various poses
In a side chamber of Temple X, a linga stands upright without its yoni

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Friday, February 6, 2009

X marks the spot

One of the 40 seated Buddhas on the inner wall of Temple X
Temple X (aka Monument 483) is the temple within the Preah Pithu group which is bedecked with Buddhist iconography whilst the other four shrines were decorated in more traditional Hindu-inspired motifs and reliefs. More photos to follow, especially of the inside walls of the main shrine of Temple X which have a very unique series of seated Buddha carvings, forty of them in total, which renowned scholar Claude Jacques has suggested means the temple was built, or certainly partially decorated in the 14th century.

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Back in the day

A faceless devata on the wall of Temple U in a typical Bayon style dress
Delving into history, it was King Yasovarman II in the middle of the 12th century that began building the Preah Pithu group, though it continued through the 13th and into the 14th century. There's a mix of Hindu and Buddhist iconography at the temples, with Temple X full of friezes of Buddha. The French conservators of EFEO restored the temples in 1908 and 1920 and it's worth scouting around the fallen stones and fragments on the ground surrounding the main shrines for a few gems of sculpted stone. Back in time Yasovarman was assassinated and Angkor was sacked by the invading Chams and abandoned before being revitalised by the king of kings, Jayavarman VII from 1181 onwards who went onto construct the Bayon, Ta Prohm and many more temples. Here are a final flurry of photos from Temple U or Monument 482 as it's also known, one of the five shrines of the Preah Pithu group.
This lintel looks unfinished and could represent Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana above a grinning kala
On this corner stone, a devata is accompanied by a dvarapala guardian with his mace
A complete dvarapala standing guard, ready to repel invaders, on the wall of Temple U
Vishvakarma, who symbolises the idea of a powerful god and of central power, sits above a kala with typical Bayon floral relief either side
This dvarapala guardian appears to have lost his feet in the restoration of the temple in the early 1900s
Devatas at different levels populate the walls of Temple U
This wall decoration of dancing figures is above a window opening
A fallen stone column with more dancing figures inside medallions

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Temple 482 = Temple U

This lively lintel has the multi-armed dancing Shiva, accompanied by Vishnu and Brahma, as well as two lions being devoured by a fiercesome kala
Sat in a quiet corner of Angkor Thom, though they are better known by their letters, the five shrines at Preah Pithu also have numbers designated to them. Temple U for example is Temple 482, whilst Temple T is 481. Located behind Temple T and surrounded by a moat, Temple U has a wealth of carvings to keep you occupied for half an hour. The sanctuary, on a high base, has male guardian figures, dvarapalas, as well as female devatas in niches at the corners, in varying states of disrepair, as well as three lintels showing three very different stories. There's the Churning of the Sea of Milk, there's a lively scene of a dancing Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma trio on top of a kala head and an unfinished lintel that might be Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana above a grinning kala. As I stood at the top of Temple U I noticed a couple of Apsara guards amongst the trees surrounding the temple, enjoying a crafty cigarette, the first people I'd seen since I entered the complex.
Temple U in shade taken from the southeast corner
A broken fragment of a god lying on the ground
Two worshippers pay their respects to a re-designed linga on a plinth
The Churning of the Sea of Milk lintel facing north
Vishnu is the central character here, sitting on the giant naga being pulled by gods (left) and demons (right). Below Vishnu a tiny elephant and a horse are featured.
The full Shiva dancing lintel in situ on the west side, a lively central theme then a more sedate floral pattern towards the ends
On the right is a dvarapala guardian and behind are two devatas, one of which has been unsuccessfully hacked away by thieves
This voluptuous devata is incomplete, as her lower half is missing

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U for unrestored

A scene from the Churning of the Sea of Milk
The second temple of five at Preah Pithu is Temple U, similar in style to Temple T but with more carvings to see. Here's a picture of the detailed carving from a lintel showing Vishnu dancing during the Churning of the Sea of Milk, whilst a line of gods pull on the giant naga Vasuki. More photos from Temple U later. Vishnu is the Protector, the god who preserves universal order and fights to restore harmony. He's one of the good guys.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Time for T

Temple T's best lintel showing the Churning of the Sea of Milk. In the middle a 4-armed Vishnu dances.
Amongst the trees and a water-filled moat was Temple T. It was early afternoon, not a soul in sight and just some birdcalls as a backing soundtrack to my visit. This is the first of the five temples of the Preah Pithu group that sits to the northeast of the Royal Square in Angkor Thom and sees practically no visitors. Occasionally the Angkor elephants come here for a dip in the moat but not on this day. The five temples have no names, just letters and numbers (Temple T is Monument 481). They were built in the 12-13th century. Temple T's approach is via a terrace with nice naga balustrades that lead onto a three-tier foundation topped by a shrine, without a roof. On the grassy floor surrounding the shrine are fallen lintels and carvings that house a few gems, whilst the tower itself has a few devatas in various states of disrepair. The best lintel I could find amongst the stone fragments was a Churning of the Sea of Milk lintel that was difficult to make out due to weathering and the lichen covering the carving. I moved onto Temple U that sits closeby.
The small sandstone pyramid of Temple T in the afternoon shade
A white-faced devata on the wall of the ruined shrine at the top of Temple T
A fragment of a kala lintel on the ground at Temple T
Two dancing figures on a decorative stone
Another kala figure devouring garlands of flowers with a beheaded figure sat on top

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The five letters of Angkor

Faces of the faithful, sitting on the ground at Temple T, from the Preah Pithu group
Continuing my look at some of the minor temple sites in Angkor that I visited a couple of weeks ago, sometime today I will post photos from Preah Pithu, one of the less-visited group of temples within the walls of Angkor Thom. If you didn't know they were there, you'd miss them in the blink of an eye but they are well worth a look, if you have oodles of time to spare. Its a quiet corner of the city, well away from the crowds you find at other sites, and you'll be rewarded with an attractive forest setting, only birdsong for company and a wealth of carving if you keep your eyes peeled, as much of it sits on the grassy floor. There are five temples in all, curiously known by letter or number, rather than by name. More later.

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