On our second day, we spent the morning at a group of brick temples near modern-day Rolous, site of the first Khmer capital at Angkor. That capital, called Hariharalaya (literally, "the city of Harihara," a combined deity representing both Shiva and Vishnu), is home to the oldest surviving temples of Angkor. Founded along with the Khmer Empire by Jayavarman II around 800 AD, Hariharalaya was the proving ground for many of the architectural styles and engineering technologies that would become the hallmarks of Khmer construction.
Dedicated in 893, Lolei is actually the youngest of the Rolous temples. It used to be an island temple, built in the middle of a large man-made reservoir, or baray, called Indratataka (literally, "the reservoir of Indra," in this case Indravarman I).
|The water would have come all the way up to the terrace|
in the rainy season.
These reservoirs were a major source of Khmer power: by harnessing the monsoon rains, these reservoirs provided a reliable source of water for rice farming. Their related canals also provided a means of transportation and trade.
Typically, each baray had a small temple built at its center. Like many Khmer temples, these baray temples were meant to represent Hindu cosmology. The central structure represents Mt. Meru, the home of the gods, while the surrounding water represents the world ocean.
Lolei is a relatively simple temple, dedicated to Shiva and to the four grandparents of Yasovarman I. It consists of four towers, with the eastern towers representing each grandfather, and the western towers representing each grandmother.
|Those are later Buddhist stupas (burial monuments) in the foreground.|
The towers are, generally speaking, in a style common to the earlier temples of Angkor: mainly brick, originally decorated in stucco, with statues, relief carvings, ornamental door frames, and other features in carved sandstone.
One of the lintels is a brilliantly garlanded image of Garuda, the bird-man vehicle of Vishnu.
|Keep in mind that this carving is 1100 years old.|
Each tower is itself a small shrine decorated with images of Hindu deities in the likeness of the ancestors being honored there.
|If I remember correctly, this is both Sita (Shiva's wife)|
and Indravarman I's paternal grandmother.
At the center of the four towers stood a large linga. Water that flowed or was poured over the linga was considered holy; it would be collected and used to treat a variety of physical, spiritual, and karmic ailments.
|We're standing on one of the four channels that radiate from the linga.|
Today, Lolei is also the site of a Buddhist monastery, which anywhere else might have been a minor attraction in and of itself.
|Two much more recent stupas, where the cremated remains|
of Buddhists are interred.
Preah Ko, dedicated in 879, is the oldest major temple in the Angkor region. It was built by Indravarman I, the same fellow who built the Indratataka reservoir and the temple-mountain of Bakong (see below).
He dedicated the temple to his ancestors: its six towers represent his parents (in the center) and his grandparents on each side.
Scholars presume that the large outer precincts of the temple likely included a royal palace built of wood, but no trace of the structure has been found.
(By the way, it was pure dumb luck that we were visiting all these ancestor temples on Nana's dad's birthday. Luckily, we'd come prepared to wish him a happy birthday.)
The name Preah Ko ("sacred bull") comes from three well-preserved statues of Nandi, Shiva's steed, lying in wait for the god at the entrance to the temple.
|Nandi is usually depicted in this half-rising position,|
indicating his readiness to bear Shiva away.
Given its age, some parts of this temple are really well-preserved. Nana and I dug these lions - often, ornaments like this are among the first things stolen and sold off to antique dealers.
In addition, there are a number of surviving stucco fragments that show how the brick would originally have been decorated.
Keep in mind that the stucco, and probably the sandstone, would have been painted in Khmer times. Though like the classical art of Greece, Khmer art is also pretty beautiful in its unpainted form.
Finally, Preah Ko is a great place to see the effects of Cambodia's climate on the temples of Angkor. You see, during the rainy season, the winds come in from the southwest. As a result, the southwest corner of each structure erodes faster than the rest, with the southwest tower typically showing the most wear and tear. Contrast the two photos below: one of an east-facing wall, the other of a southwest-facing corner.
The southwestern corner almost looks like it's melted away. Sucks to be the maternal grandmother, whose tower (I think) this is!
Bakong, dedicated in 881 to the god Shiva, was the state temple of Indravarman I. It's the first temple-mountain built by the Khmer using techniques Nana described in an earlier post, and the first Khmer temple to be built primarily of sandstone and laterite (as opposed to brick).
Like most Khmer temple-mountains, Bakong is surrounded by a big moat.
Not only was this practical, it was symbolic: temple mountain, Mt. Meru, world oceans, yadda yadda yadda.
Bakong, however, is the oldest temple with a surviving causeway which, bordered by a naga baulstrade, represented the passage between the mundane world outside the temple and the sacred world within.
Bakong, like many of the Khmer temple mountains, is primarily designed to impress - fitting, as this was where Indravarman I established himself as god-king.
|In its efforts to impress, Bakong still succeeds.|
From that point forward, each king's state temple would serve as both a religious site and a testament to imperial power. I like to think it was also a kind of gymnasium: to make the tower sturdier and taller-looking, the builders made those stairs really, really steep!
|To add insult to injury, they get steeper |
as you get closer to the top.
A final note: the more open temple-mountain architecture does mean that the detail work is much less well preserved. Compare the Nandi below to the one from Preah Ko above.
|Rough day at the office.|
That said, there are still some neat little details, like this doorstep that doubles as a footwiper . . .
. . . this library with its false windows . . .
. . . and some decorative lintels on the east-facing walls of the outlying towers.