Monday, November 29, 2010

The Hindu Temples of Angkor Wat part.v

              The most of the vivid account of Khmer society comes not from the bas reliefs but from the writings of the Chinese diplomat. In 1296, Zhou Daguan was sent to Angkor by Kublai Khan’s grandson and successor, Timur Khan. His impressions survive in his notes on The Custom of Cambodia.

                As a diplomat, Zhou Daguan observed the Khmer king at close quarters during royal audiences, and described the pomp and circumstances of the court: ‘The king either wears a gold diadem on his head or simply warps his hair in a garland of flowers that reminds me of jasmine… large pearls hang from his neck, and on his wrists, ankles, and arms he wears gold bracelets and rings set with tiger’s eyes. He goes about barefoot, and the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands are stained red with sandalwood.

                ‘When the king goes out, his escort is led by soldiers. Then come the standards, the flags, and music, followed by his wives, and concubines in palanquins, carts, and on horseback. Finally, the king arrives, standing on an elephant with a precious gold sword in his hand. Everyone who sees him has to prostrate himself and touch the ground with his forehead.

                In contrast to his splendor, Zhou Daguan paints a sorry picture of the prisoners of war or captured savages who were forced into slavery they were a separate class with no privileges, ’bending the head while they are beaten, without daring to make a small movement…

Despite the blaze of royal splendor described by Zhou Daguan, Angkor’s days were numbered. The reign of Jayavarman VII had turned out to be the city’s final burst of temple and empire building. During the 300 years of construction, many changes in architectural style had occurred. Towards the end, the buildings displaced a gradual move away from the Hindu cult of the god Siva

The Khmers had come increasingly under the influence of the Buddhist sect which stressed austerity and self denial. The old state religion headed by the supreme god king may have faded out, the kings authority fading with it, bringing the close cooperation between sovereign and subjects to an end.

In the 15th century, when the armies of the neighboring Thai kingdoms sacked the city, the Khmers moved to a new site near Phnom Penh. Angkor could not survive for long. The irrigation network on which the remaining peasants depended fell into disrepair, and gradually the jungle reclaimed its land. All that was left were creeper infested ruins, and the memory of  a unique culture living under the protection of a living god.

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