Sunday, January 27, 2013

Angkor, The city of the Celestial Dragon (Part III)

Serpents in the Sky, serpents on Earth

- The small pyramid-temple of Phimeanakas, "The Palace of Heaven" within the ancient city of Angkor Thom -  According to ancient legends, a powerful genie dwelt on top of this temple in the shape of a nine-headed Naga. It would take the form of a beautiful serpent-woman to sleep every night with the King. Nobody except the King, not even his wives and concubines were allowed access to the upper terrace of the temple.
Where did this wealth of astronomical and geodetical knowledge come from to the ancient Khmer? One immediate source is India. One shall remember the legends of the birth of the Khmer empire and the mysterious ceremony of the Deva-raja. The ties between the ancestors of the Khmer empire – the kingdoms of Funan and Chenla – and India date back to at least the 5th Century BC, at a time when the major trade routes between South-East Asia and the Mediterranean reached as far as Kattigara, in the present day Mekong delta (where hoards of Roman coins have been found at major Oc Eo sites, testifying very active East-West trade relationships). Additional influences may have come from the island of Java, ruled by the powerful Saliendra dynasty of Borobodur. Yet a third element appears in Khmer legends and tales of the origins of Angkor, the Nāga.

According to Hindu and Cambodian beliefs, the Nāga were a powerful reptilian race of serpent-like creatures which once ruled from a vast island-continent in the Pacific and later retreated into the underground. Indeed, one can find depictions and statues of Nāga almost everywhere at Angkor, on the balustrades of the temples or as protectors of the sacred places. The ancient Khmer expressed the myth of their origins through the union of an Indian prince Kaundinya and a beautiful Nāga princess, the daughter of the King of the Nāga, who dwelt in a Mountain called Kok Thlok.
One famous account of 13th Century life at Angkor from the Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan tells of a powerful genie living in the pyramid temple of Phimeanakas (the “Palace of Heaven”). Every night the genie would take the form of a beautiful serpent-woman to sleep with the King. Terrible ruin would have befallen the kingdom had the King missed even one of his nightly appointments. Another account dealing with the end of Angkor recounts the story of the “Leper King”, who was cursed with leprosy after killing a Nāga. This same episode was also considered as the cause of the decline and fall of Angkor.

- A Nine-headed Naga from the moat of Angkor Thom -  Likely a depiction of the Prince of the Naga Vasuki, who also plays a key role in the cosmological myth of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. Giant Naga statues were frequently employed as guardians to the Temples to scare off intruders and wild beasts - Similar to Egypt, the Naga was also commonly employed as a symbol of Royal power. 
In ancient cultures, the Serpent was also a powerful symbol of the subterranean world and of telluric currents. As such, it may come as no surprise that Angkor allegedly occupies a very important spot in the Earth’s geomagnetic grid. According to researcher Jim Alison [6], Angkor is linked to a number of ancient sites through a network of coordinates of latitude and longitude. These sites include the Great Pyramid of Giza, Easter Island, Machu Picchu and the Nazca lines of South America, and the ancient cities of Petra, Persepolis and Mohenjo Daro. Also, Angkor is significantly located at 72° of longitude East of Giza (when one takes the meridian of Giza as the prime meridian to which is assigned longitude 0°), and 144° West of Easter Island – which is also 144° East of Giza.

Even though some of these speculations may seem too far-fetched, many other clues and symbols seem to link Angkor with ancient Egypt and the other major pyramid-building civilizations of antiquity. The very name of Angkor, supposedly a corruption of the Sanskrit Nagara (meaning City), bears striking similarities to the Egyptian hieroglyphic Ankh-Hor , meaning “The God Horus lives”. The giant Lingas located in most of the Angkor temples are reminiscent of the Egyptian Benben or the Greek omphaloi, significantly located at places of geodetic relevance. Also, similar to Egypt some divine architect was apparently involved in the construction of Angkor Wat and the major Angkorian monuments (Viskakarman, the architect of the Gods, who was later tributed divine honors just as his Egyptian counterpart, Imhotep).   
It is also a curious coincidence that about the same time when Angkor was built, an authentic surge of monumental construction took place in very distant parts of the World including the Gothic cathedrals of Europe and the great Maya pyramids (the latter bearing an uncanny and as of yet unexplained similarity to Cambodian pyramids, more than half a world away).   

[1] Graham Hancock, Santha Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the lost Civilization, Three Rivers Press, 1999
[2] Giorgio De Santillana, Herta Von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill, Gambit, Boston, 1969
[3] Eleanor Mannikka, Angkor Wat, time, space and kingship, University of Hawai’i, 1998
[4] Shubash Kak, Time, space and astronomy in Angkor Wat, Louisiana State University, August 2001
[5] Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Robert Bywater, Khmer sacred Geography,
[6] Jim Alison, The prehistoric alignment of World wonders,

- Angkor Thom, the Bayon - Constructed as the state temple of King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon is one of the most iconic structures of Angkor. As a symbolic representation of Mount Meru and the ecliptic North Pole in the heart of the constellation Draco, it contains the sacred center of the whole Khmer empire. One can still feel a very deep spirituality amidst the candles and the gilded Buddha statues in the central room of the Bayon, which may have once hosted a giant linga in the form of a navel. 

- Phnom Krom - The small mountain-top temple of Phnom Krom  was used as one of the three main geodetic markers in the general layout of the ground plan of Angkor (the other two being Phnom Bakheng and Phnom Bok). The temple is now much ruined but still retains an aura of mysticism with its almost perfect East-West orientation and the large broken altars inside each of the three central towers. In ancient times, each altar would have contained a linga as a representation of the god Shiva and creative power.

- The great pyramid of Baphuon, in central Angkor Thom, rises almost as a perfect pyramid  with its several tiers and covered hallways. Once called the "Tower of Bronze", it rose even higher than the "Tower of Gold", that was the Bayon.  As a symbolic depiction of Mount Meru, it was believed that its underground portions extended as much underground as its tiers above ground, which is reminescent of similar traditions related to the Egyptian pyramids. 
- Neak Pean, meaning "The entwined serpents" - A small temple built on an Island inside the Jayatataka Baray. The temple, consisting of a small sandstone tower on a circular platform is sorrounded by giant sculptures of entwined serpents, which qualify also this temple as a symbolic depiction of Mount Meru, or the primordial mound, emerging from the waters of creation.  
- Preah Palilay - A small, 3-tiered pyramid off the beaten track in central Angkor Thom.  The pyramid, which was likely part of a group of three together with the Baphuon and the nearby Phimeanakas, is preceded by a monumental entrance gateway or Gopura and by a large seated Buddha statue. 
- The Northern Gate of Angkor Thom - The Northern Gate was one of 5 monumental gateways into  the great city of Angkor Thom (one in each cardinal direction, but two to the East). A giant face of King Jayavarman VII as Bodishattva Lokesvara was carved in each of the four directions above the massive corbel vault of the central archway. Each gateway was as much as 25 meters high, with walls 9 meters high and a moat 100 meters wide.

- Preah Khan - The great temple complex of Preah Khan is a large, sprawling complex comprising a monastery, several libraries and administrative buildings. A two-storey building supported by columns was either a library or a storage. The sculptured decoration and ornamentation is among the finest of any Angkor temples, with hundreds of Apsaras and sculptured doorways. Its modern name "Sacred Sword"is likely a reminescence of some ancient relic once kept inside this temple.
- Ta Prohm, "The ancestor of Brahma" - This vast temple is notable for the giant trees growing amidst the ruins . The temple was built by Jayavarman VII in the Bayon style, and shares with the Bayon much of the same "spirit of confusion" which is typical of the works and architectures of Jayavarman VII. 
- Chau Say Tevoda was one of two twin temples (the other being Thommanon) built immediately outside of the Gate of Victory to the East of Angkor Thom, on the royal road connecting the city to the great pyramid of Ta Keo. It was built as a Hindu temple in the Angkor Wat style and also dates to the reign of Suryavarman II. The temple contains 4 monumental gateways (Gopura) and is approached by a stone causeway flanked by libraries. 

- Banteay Kdei - Known as the "Citadel of Chambers", Banteay Kdei was a Buddhist monastic complex  built in the mid 12th to early 13th Century under the reign of Jayavarman VII. The temple was built in the Bayon style, similar to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but is considerably smaller. 

- Beng Mealea - The great jungle temple of Beng Mealea is still largely unrestored, providing a good picture of the effects of centuries of tropical weather on human construction. This vast temple, similar in size to Angkor Wat, was built some 60 Km from Angkor along the ancient road to Koh Ker. The temple is also encircled by a moat with Naga balustrades. Because of the temple's relative proximity to the sandstone quarries of Phnom Kulen, the stones used for its construction are considerably larger than those found at Angkor Wat or at many of the other Angkor temples. 

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