Wednesday, January 28, 2009

King of kings

The South Gate of Angkor Thom
I find the giant faces of Angkor, whether it be at the Bayon or the five gates that permit access to Angkor Thom, or even as far away as Banteay Chhmar or Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, absolutely fascinating and spellbinding. I always have. Ever since I first saw them in 1994 when I turned up in Angkor, wet behind the ears on my first trip outside of Europe, and stepped foot into this incredible world of gods and demons, kings and temples. They captured my heart and soul then, and still do today. I simply can't get enough of them. And any chance to show them off and I will. So that's why I will close my recent visit to the South Gate of Angkor Thom with yet more pictures of this impressive gateway into the palace of the gods. I know everyone who has been to Angkor will include photos of the South Gate in their collection and I admit to taking photos there on all of my numerous visits over the years. I can't stop myself. But of course, it's easy to miss the detail when you are blinded by the sheer scale of the whole. And there's enough detail on the gates themselves as well as the causeway lined with gods and demons to keep you occupied for hours. As for who is represented in the faces you see, looking out and surveying the scene from all angles, I tell myself it's the king of kings himself, Jayavarman VII. Today most Cambodians have a picture of the king on the wall of their home and in his day, during the 12th century, this was just another version of the same, images of the king on the wall of his home, reminding his subjects who was in charge and to whom they owed their allegiance.
The gate is crowned by a triple tower with four giant faces looking out at the four cardinal points; north, south, east and west
The faces of Ravana, leader of the demons, is dwarfed by the face-tower of Jayavarman VII
Indra sits atop his elephant steed Airavata on four sides of the South Gate entrance
The face of Jayavarman VII stares out at visitors to the South Gate
The detail of gods and worshipping figures are lost to most eyes who concentrate on the giant faces and the elephant trunks
The faces of the multi-headed gods are also dwarfed by the impressive face-tower of the South Gate
The western face of the South Gate is a little indistinct
Part of the moat surrounding the walls of Angkor Thom reflecting the late afternoon sun

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On the side of good

One of the gods, with broken nose and less than smiling lips, at Angkor Thom's South Gate
With those damn demons getting all the press, its about time we celebrated the gods, who're on the side of good, and are represented at the gates of the great city of Angkor Thom. Like the demons, there are 54 of them lining the causeway to the South Gate, and other gates, and they are distinquished by their serene look, almond-shaped eyes and conical headwear. Unfortunately, I was at the end of my tiring afternoon cycling around Angkor Thom and was heading for home when I stopped to take a few photos of the gods and I haven't really done them justice. Expect some more pics when I next visit, in the meantime, here's what I have.
The gods line up on the side of all that's good in the world
The majority of the heads of the gods and demons are copies. A room at Angkor Conservation is bursting at the seams with the originals from Angkor Thom and Preah Khan
The moat surrounding Angkor Thom is over 300 feet wide
A final look at the South Gate bathed in late afternoon sunlight before I cycle for home

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the side of evil

The evil wrongdoers of the South Gate of Angkor Thom
Continuing yesterday's theme of demons and evil wrongdoings, here's a few more shots of the row of 54 Asuras or demons, at the South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom. Identifiable by their grimaces and fierce visage, the demons are in direct confrontation with the gods for the elixir of life that springs from the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The number of demons and gods are the same on the South Gate causeway, though there's a difference when you view the same scene on the walls of Angkor Wat - in that famous bas-relief there are 92 asuras and 88 gods. Never a good idea to have more demons than good guys in my view. Just below the demons is the moat that encircles Angkor Thom, approximately 3km in length on each of the four sides. The demons and gods both grip the naga tightly, which is also meant to represent a link between the world of men (outside the temple) and the world of the gods (inside).
More evil demons with their fiercesome expressions
A view of the moat that surrounds Angkor Thom
The last section of the 54 demons pulling the naga
This photo shows the wall of the causeway and the demons along its length
Taken from the wall of the city, you can see the demons on the left and the gods on the right

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Demon faces

The face of a demon, an Asura at the South Gate of Angkor Thom
How about a few more ancient faces, notably from the latter part of the 12th century and who currently reside at the South Gate of Angkor Thom. All of these belong to the Asuras, commonly known as demons and who dominate the causeway and bridge on the right-hand side as you approach the gate on arrival at the great city. They are easily recognisable by their grimace, their elaborate crown and bulbous eyes as they grip the naga in their cosmic tug of war with their sworn enemies, the gods, as the myth of the Churning of the Sea of Milk is played out in all its glory. There are 54 of them in total, an identical number to the gods, who line up in similar formation on the left-hand side of the causeway. The South Gate is the most popular, and most photographed, as the sculptures here have been extensively restored, though many of the heads are replicas rather than the originals, the majority of which have mysteriously taken flight. At the end of the row of demons, nearest to the gate itself, is the multi-headed demon ruler Ravana holding the head of the naga, Vasuki. Well, that's what the experts would tell us and who am I to argue. The overall scene crowned by the magnificent South Gate itself makes a great way to enter Angkor Thom and I never tire of passing through this glorious entrance into the city.
The lack of eyes and a broken nose make this demon appear even more fierce
An elaborate feathered headpiece for this chubby looking demonThe bulbous eyes and downturned mouth are typical features of Asuras
This demon looks almost distasteful in his pose
The multi-headed demon king, Ravana, occupies the final spot before the gate itself
Detail of the feet of a demon, pointing in different directions!
This is the top of the demon's sampot and belt, finely carved in all its detail

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