Today is International Women’s Day, a commemorative day that’s celebrated in different ways throughout the world. In some countries, the focus is on women’s accomplishments, whereas in others, it is a day to merely show gratitude towards women.
The magic of Angkor Wat and magnificent Cambodian temples like Ta Prohm and Bayon is all in the details: richly-carved female devata and apsara bas-relief figures, a visiting Buddhist monk clad in a tangerine-colored robe spotted amid the grey structures, a handsome horse wearing a bejeweled bridle in Angkor Wat’s fore.
In Angkor Wat’s shadows, this pagoda is likely overshadowed by her formidable neighbor. But the pagoda’s stupas, Khmer painting, and intricate facial details are lovely – situated on a compound just outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Carrying salmon and ivory-colored lotus blossom offerings, the Buddhist worshippers entered the crowded courtyard in front of a small temple along Phnom Penh’s riverside. Once inside, they left their spiritual contributions.
The green, pink and white pile of offerings inside was apparently growing so vast that officials periodically tossed the decorated green coconuts and buds through an open window – landing into a receptacle outside the tiny temple.
I wondered where the spiritual buds in the growing pile would next journey having had such short-lived residency inside the temple?
Regarded as one of Angkor’s most atmospheric temples, Ta Prohm is perhaps best known as the location in which the movie Tomb Raider was filmed (admittedly, I have not seen it).
The circa 12th century temple’s gnarly, towering trees are at times indistinguishable from the stone walls, pillars, and foundations that they are devouring.
And the setting is mysterious.
If you have ever pondered what would happen to man’s structures if left tended only by Mother Nature for several centuries, Ta Prohm illustrates the answer well.
As you wander through Bayon Temple’s wedding cake-like levels, it’s likely you’ll feel as though you’re being watched — and indeed you are — by the 216 immense faces that adorn the 54 towers of this Angkorian jewel.
Built in the late 12th Century, Bayon was established as the temple for King Jayavarman VII. It is believed that the statues with the Mona Lisa-esque smiles were modeled after King Jayavarman himself, perhaps married with the face of the Buddha. It took over a century to construct Bayon.
During my maiden (and solo) visit to Angkor Wat, I glimpsed the majestic Cambodian structure at sunrise. Seeing the inky sky gradually awaken over the site and then illuminate it with a shrimp-colored hue was a magical experience. But in the years since, I’d read that the sunrise experience had lost some of its luster, due to massive crowds.
The 1,796 female figures rendered in sandstone on Angkor Wat’s pillars and walls have weathered war, and a harsh tropical environment for more than 800 years. I was first struck by the beauty and individuality of these devatas in 2009, during my first visit to Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious building in the world. During a subsequent visit to Cambodia last month, I was just as intrigued.
How many artisans did it take to carve these bas-relief figures? Are they modeled after real women of centuries past? If they could speak, what stories would they tell?