Today we did four temples, one of which we were able to climb for a great view of the surrounding countryside, including, small surprise, a distant line of sight temple. Since Rat was in class, a colleague of his served as our guide and was a bit chattier than we liked, especially as he repeated a lot that Rat had already shared with us. However, as we passed a venue in the process of being decorated with pink and orange, he noted that it was for a wedding. We asked a question that did not compute in his culture. After explaining that in the village, a wedding could be a week long, but in the city only two days, we asked how long the actual marriage was. Since he looked confused, I just asked what the different events were.
Quite elaborately, there are 12 changes of costume for both the bride and the groom. Each is a different color and they are highly decorated as the bride and groom are the king and queen. There are times when the costume is only worn for 20-30 minutes. The one I thought most cruel was to wake the bride at 3 am to get her ready for the dawn blessing by the monk. The groom, lacking hair and makeup issues could sleep in. Essentially, the two-day version is constant ceremony. In the villages there is a long procession of people bringing the banquet food offered by each family and if there is not enough, someone is sent to the market. Village wedding gifts are generally of the livestock variety as well. In the city, cash is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Cash gifts should be around $20. If the bride and groom see significantly more, they are unhappy because it means the relative will be asking for a loan shortly.
Two of today’s temples were built by the same king—one for his mother and one for his father. In both there are cylindrical holes at regular intervals throughout the central area where the statue of Buddha would have been. At one time these holes were filled with shiny or reflective items to keep the temple full of light. The copper, diamonds, gold and stones have all been stolen over time. It would be interesting to see a chamber restored, just to see how the light bounced in the chamber.
The Brahmin built temple at Bantae Srea was dutifully smaller than those built by the king’s and it was also of the highest quality materials. The sandstone is gold for the most part with areas of pink. This is the highest quality available because it is the rarest. What the stone imparts is a radiance not due to the tropical sun but to the stone beneath. The pediments and carvings were also among the finest and most elaborate.
We wrapped up after lunch at the “jungle” temple of Ta Prohm, made famous by Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft Tomb Raiders. The jungle has taken this temple back as its own. Were the trees removed, large portions of the temple would simply collapse. In other places, the tree had to be cut as the weight of it was collapsing the small out buildings. Each proper temple had a minimum of two guest houses and two libraries. The guest houses were for visiting monks and nuns. The library housed important documents for both commoners and nobility. The holy books were in the inner library and the common people believed more when the monks read the words rather than simply sharing them.
May 27, 2013
Cambodia is soft and light. The Cambodians we talked to about Pakistan were astonished about the culture. They could not fathom no drinking, no dancing. One young man said with certainty, “Ah they gamble.” No, not that either.
There are stories I’ve missed in the writing and will recall them now. In the cultural tug of war between Hindi and Buddhist, there have been amiable compromises. In some temples, Buddhists use the east entrance and Hindu the west. Over the centuries there has been deliberate vagueness of face so that maybe it is Buddha and maybe it is Brahma. Statues of Buddha were replaced with linga, the male member, and the pedestal became yoni, the female balance. Up in the hills there is a waterfall and a site of a thousand linga, that is “popular with gay tourists.” Cambodians seem to accommodate. They practice a mix of animist and Buddhist. Straight is fine; gay is fine. Everybody is fine.
We asked what happens to poor people in villages. The answer was that the village supported the person. If the village could not, the fallback was the temple. Temples would provide the same very basic sustenance they themselves took. You won’t live well but you will live.
Monks brought smiles to us as they shattered stereotypes. One group of monks was clearly a tourist group with their own guide, digital SLR cameras and iPads. It was funny to see the orange robed monks in the digital age. But why not?