Thursday, June 28, 2012

Celestial Dance: Angkor Wat

      The splendor of the huge Angkor Wat complex has been well documented in blogs, photographs and documentaries, many of which I have seen. Because of this I was not sure what to expect when I actually visited the place myself. Had I taken all of the mystery out of the place by knowing so much about it? I was a little afraid I would be disappointed, although it had been very exciting seeing the famous gate on the way into the hotel.
     The complex was originally built as a Hindu temple site at least 800 years ago, though there are alternative scholars who have reason to believe it is much older than that. Despite the fact that it is one of the most famous ancient cites in the world there is still so much restoration work which needs to be done on the complex. This is most obvious when visiting the famous Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is the least restored temple on the cite and is actually believed to be one of the younger temples. Ta Prohm has huge trees growing all over it and mother nature has made an easy mess of the huge carved blocks that make up the temple and its enclosures. "This is how all the cites looked before being rediscovered"our guide told us. ""The complex is the world's largest jigsaw puzzle." Indeed it is. All the cites have hundreds, or more, stones laying around on the ground waiting to be pieced back together.
     The most restored of the temples is the famous Angkor Wat- the temple whose three main peaks (of 9) have celestial alignments with the sun on the solstices and equinoxes. The 9 peaks each represent one of the 9 planets. Celestial references abound at the cite, our guide ticking off different parts of the complex which relate to the number of days in the week, the number of months in a year, etc.  The walls of the complex are adorned with a woman smiling playfully as she dances. Apsara, the celestial dancer. There are hundreds, probably thousands of carving of her.
      Angkor Wat has only three levels, but upon approaching it, one is filled with a sense of awe and wonder at its imposing size and powerful presence. Its size and mystery makes one feel small. I was filled with a  strange sense of wonder, amazement and fear while viewing this giant from the ground. We entered the temple from the back gate and, fittingly, watched a monkey descend the first set of large steps. Our guide commented that it looks like the monkey has been fighting. The story of the kidnapping of Sita from the Ramayana is carved on a huge wall on this level. From the second level the structure is still awesome, but the top does not seem so far away and dreadful but much more manageable from this point.The second level is large and accommodating.
      The climb to the top level of the temple is exciting. Despite modern wooden stairs set atop the original steps (70 degrees), the steps are still very steep.The walk up them looks long and difficult but a sense of excitement overcomes me and because of this I ascend the steps quickly, and alone, to the top. The climb proves to be quick and easy and before I know it I am on top of the Cambodian jungle. The view is amazing. The top level feels small and intimate. You are on top of the world yet is is safe and comfortable. With a great sense of excitement and wonder I explore the top of the temple. It is so weathered in some places yet there are inner nooks which are filled with meticulous detailing. The patterns carved into the sandstone are repetitive but beautiful. I even stop for a short meditation.
      After my descent it hits me- the temple, hundreds of years after its construction is still serving its purpose. It is ingenious and unbelievable. The mystery of Angkor Wat becomes less so while my wonder becomes more. The temple represents our soul''s journey through life on this planet, one of the nine. We come into this world small and fearful with a great sense of wonder. As we journey on we feel more comfortable and life's lessons have taught us what we once thought too difficult is still within reach. By the end of our lives we have learned many of life's mysteries and are no longer afraid of what the future holds. At our time of 'death' we realize the glory of our souls and are on top of the world with nothing to fear and only joy. It all makes sense; the alignments, the churning of the ocean milk, Apsara, the repetitive carvings,The faces of Angkor Thom, even the current state of Ta Prohm; it is all a celestial dance; the Earth and time are locked in an endless celestial dance, as is the soul and its divine creator.
Ta Prohm
Angkor Thom

Ta Prohm. All temples were found in this condition, or worse when 'discovered.'

Restoration on Ta Prohm is still underway.
The world's largest jigsaw puzzle.
Second level, back entrance of Angkor Wat.

A monkey descends the modern stairs of the back entrance to Angkor Wat.
At the top. The third level of Angkor Wat has been closed for the past three years for restoration work.  I was lucky to be able to ascend. 

Apsara, the celestial dancer, gracing an inner wall on the third level of Angkor Wat. 

The inner court yard on the top level of Angkor Wat. It was surprisingly windy and cool up here.  A little rain had begun to fall. 


  1. Krista,
    This was a beautifully written piece. It sounds like you are having an amazing time! Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog posts!

  2. For those who know the Ramayana,(Rah-my-yan-ah) the appearance of the 'fighting monkey' bounding down the stairs at this exact spot in this vast temple complex, at that very moment, for you to witness, is a very meaningful, significant, powerful, good, meaningful omen, a divine sign really, that only the most sincere truth seekers will 'see', recognize, and acknowledge. Jai Hanuman! Hare Rama!
    Somehow or other you were meant to see this for a reason. The guide was meant to speak as he spoke. Ain't nothin' a koinkidink...(coincidence : ) Just See.