Angkor Wat Photos from 2001 Trip

Recently I re-scanned all of the 35mm photos I took during our trip to Angkor Wat to pretty good image quality tifs. From these, I was able to do good-enough post processing on them to make them look better than they’ve ever looked.

Here they are. I orignally posted many of these photos and more on my travel site – Angkor Wat page. I added commentary and information about the temples visited there, but I’ll be adding content here on separate posts. We followed Angkor (Odyssey Guides) during our 6 days there.

Angkor Wat Painting – Monks

My partner and I visited Angkor Wat in November of 2001. We followed Dawn Rooney’s book for six days, visiting numerous wats. We’d go out with a driver early in the morning and come back for lunch, relax for a couple of hours and then head back out later in the afternoon and stay out until just before it got dark.

At the time I had a small 35mm film camera that I bought in the Singapore airport of all places, on the way in. I didn’t want to have to carry around my “large” Pentax K1000. In retrospect, I wish I had brought that lovely little camera along with me. It’s just a beautiful, tiny camera compared to today’s DSLRs. A couple of years ago I bought my first micro 4/3 camera, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and it’s about the same size as my Pentax and I absolutely love it. Of course, now the EM-1 is out and I have to decide when it’s time to upgrade. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet.

But I digress! This is the first post I’ve added here since 2009. I can’t believe that it’s been 5 years. To begin this and future posts, I am beginning an Angkor Wat series of digital paintings from select photos taken on that trip in 2001. The painting I just completed is of a couple of young monks sitting together on the 2nd floor of the main Angkor Wat complex. I took the picture when we came back a second time in the early morning before the crowds came. I understand that’s hardly possible anymore. It felt so magical to be there and witness the early morning activities of the monks and nuns who seemed to be living there.

Angkor Wat - Monks

Angkor Wat is the mausoleum and temple for King Suryavarmin II built in the early 10th century. It is considered to be the largest religious complex in the world and was originally built as a temple to Vishnu.

Swoyambunath Stupa, Nepal

In October, 2008, my partner and I spent a week in the Kathmandu Valley. We stayed at the Hyatt overlooking the Boudnath Temple, more correctly spelled Boudhanath stupa, although you’ll find it both ways. I’ll do another post on Boudhanath, this post is to write about our visit to Swayambunath stupa.

Swoyambunath Stupa

Swoyambunath Stupa, Nepal

Both Boudhnath and Swayambunath have similarities. Devotees circumambulating (big word for walking around) the temples. Both of these temples attract a large Tibetan following. While I was sweating in my short sleeves and light pants, many of these folks were wearing heavy parkas. Ok, not all, but it’s always interesting to see what the weather does to people. Interesting, too, because it was fairly warm in Nepal, where I understand it’s pretty damn cold in Tibet.

I bought a little book after I returned because I wanted to learn more about Swayambunath and I’d taken so many pictures as usual. The book was written by an Englishman named Richard Josephson who lived there for three years and learned about “Swoyambu” from the locals and the pilgrims who continually come to visit in great numbers.

“The origin of the Swoyambhu Valley and its human habitation, with its first town, Manjupattan, is based on the prehistoric legends of the Swoyambhu Maha-chaitya.

Among all the established chaityas and stupas in the Asian continent, the Swoyambhu Maha-chaitya is one of the most ancietn ones, and it is distinguished by its uniquely significant and artistic structures. It is a central symbol of the Buddhist heritage of Nepal.”

-page 1, Swoyambu “The Origin of the ‘Swoyambhu Mahachaitya’

So, I think it’s in order to start off with a definition of stupa, which is (usually) a dome shaped architectural monument protecting some aspect of the Buddha’s personhood, such as ashes, hair or tooth. In Nepal, where Tibetan Buddhism is widely practiced, the stupas are worshipped by circumambulation, as mentioned above.

When we arrived there a monk was chanting while flipping the pages of a small Buddhist canon. I appreciated his graciousness to allow me to take a video of him. I watch this over and over and never get tired of it.

Mani Wheels (Prayer Wheels)

As Tibetan Buddhists walk around the stupa, they twirl each mani wheel while reciting mantras, such as ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ stimulating compassion.

Mani Prayer Wheels at Swoyambunath Stupa

Shakyamuni Buddha

Shakyamuni Buddha, Swoyambunath, Nepal

Adshobhya Buddha statue

Adshobhya Buddha statue, Swoyambunath Stupa, Nepal

Deva Avatar Bodhisattva

Deva Avatar Bodhisattva, Swoyambunath

Shukavati Lokesvara

Shukavati Lokesvara, Swoyambunath, Nepal

Prayer Flags (Everywhere, they’re so wonderfully colorful and alive)

Prayer Flags, Swoyambunath, Nepal

Naga and the Buddha

Nagas are everywhere in Buddhist art and architecture.

In order to visit Angkor Thom in Cambodia, you need to walk across a bridge adorned on either side with the Naga balistrade. Here the Naga provides protection from the moat and linkage between heaven and earth. King Jayavarman VII, who reigned in Cambodia during the building of Bayon and Angkor Thom, among other major temples of the period late 12th to early 13th century. (See for a full set of Angkor Wat photos taken during my travels there in 2001.)

During my visit to the Prasart Museum in Bangkok (for more information on Prasart see earlier post), I took this picture of a sandstone carving which was originally the corner piece of a pediment at a temple in northeastern Thailand. It depicts a Naga emerging from the mouth of a Makara. According to a website, The Naga and Makara, the Makara is a creature combining the crocodile, the elephant and the serpent. This turns out to be a common theme among Naga carvings and sculptures throughout SE and Central Asia.

Cornerstone decorated with Naga, sandstone, Khmer, 11th century.

Another recurring story is that of Mucalinda, the serpent who protected Gautama or Sakyamuni Buddha while he was meditating in Bodh Gaya. It rained for a week, causing the waters to rise, but Mucalinda wrapped its coils beneath the Buddha to create a seat and covered his body with its seven heads to keep him dry.

Buddha meditating under Naga, Dambulla Cave Temples, Sri Lanka.

In Laos, the naga has a special place in Mekong River lore and daily life. At the end of Buddhist Lent, locals claim to witness a naga fireball rising from the river. As well, people sacrifice to the naga for protection from danger while traveling on the river.

Naga guarding temple entrance, Luang Prabang, Laos.

Naga stairway at Doi Suthep at Chiang Mai

Sukhothai, 15th century Buddha Image

In late 2005, during a trip to Bangkok, we visited the Prasart Museum on the outskirts of the city. This continually expanding museum is the realization of Prasart Vongsakul. His lifelong love of Thai antiquities matched with his years of being a successful businessman allowed him to fulfill his dream. As he puts it so eloquently,

The Prasart Museum is the realization of my dream to house in one place prehistoric artefacts, Buddha images, statues of Brahman gods, pottery, Thai furniture, Thai paintings, and Thai and Chinese porcelains, as well as objects from other parts of Asia and elsewhere.

I took a number of photographs with my little Nikon Coolpix 4500. Photographs were not allowed inside some of the buildings. This photo of a Buddhist image was taken in the interior of the chapel. Every building on the property is a replication of some form of traditional Thai architecture. This chapel was built to replicate a Rattanakosin style viharn, or sermon hall. The viharn is the most popular building at a Buddhist Wat, open to everyone.

BUDDHA IMAGE gilded bronze, Sukhothai, 15th century Photograph
by Cheryl Marland

William Warren in The Prasart Museum – Treasures of Thailand, 1990 offers a description of this image as follows,

“This image, in the attitude of Subduing Mara, was probably made in the satellite city of Kamphaeng Phet at a time when the political power of Sukhothai had already succumbed to the rising force of Ayutthaya. This is a post-classic image and although the proportions of the body are still those of the golden period of Sukhothai art, the face is somehow less spiritual than those of the classic period. Other stylistic differences are the more elongated proportions of the flame and the equal length of the fingers.”

Temple of the Sacred Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Sri Dalada Maligawa

Buddha Image, Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka

Sacred Tooth Drummers, Sri Lanka

Temple of the Sacred Tooth is the holiest Buddhist site in Sri Lanka. The temple is located within the old Palace complex. When we visited, we needed to go through a rigorous security checkpoint due to the bombing by the Tamil Tigers on January 25, 1998. Once again we were also treated to a guide who took us through the complex, explaining the rooms, history, customs and best place to stand to get a picture of the tooth casket as the door was opened briefly to allow devotees to see the casket.

Hemamala, Sri Lanka

The belief since ancient times that the protector of the tooth also holds the right to govern the country has made for some colorful history involving kings, wars, and a exciting tale of how the last king of India, Guhasiva, employed his daughter, Hemamala, to secretly transport the tooth to Sri Lanka in her hair. She was accompanied by her husband, Danta, both dressed as pilgrims on a long adventurous voyage filled with miraculous events attributed to the tooth, bringing them safely to Sri Lankan capital Anuradhapura. The tooth eventually made it to its present location in the mid 16th century after being transported between kings and protected by monks. If you are interested in reading the story in more detail, visit this link on Wikipedia.

Temple of the Tooth drummers, Sri Lanka

When we arrived, our driver introduced us to our guide at the far end of the sidewalk leading to the palace complex. We passed several statues, one of them being a large statue of Hemamala and Danta as we walked to the building. After being searched, and leaving our shoes and shopping bags, we entered the complex. Our guide took us through the main hall where drummers were playing under overhanging tusks, then upstairs into the sanctuary where the tooth is kept.

Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka

When we got there we wanted only to experience being there with no talking. We stood in line with dozens of Sri Lankans waiting to walk past the door when the monk opened it revealing the outermost gem encrusted gold casket containing the tooth. We waited about a half hour, all the while watching people make offerings of fragrant flowers, including tuberose and frangipani along a long table directly opposite the door and gated area.

Women with babies were let into the gated area, about 8 foot square, enclosed by elegantly carved timber railings. It’s important for mothers to bring their babies to the temple of the tooth before they are a year and a half old to be presented to the Buddha.

Temple of the Tooth library manuscript, Sri Lanka

After this we toured the library housing a very old Buddhist manuscript, and finally a large main worship hall which was recently constructed. The walls were lined with numbered paintings telling the story of the movement of the tooth leading up to its current home.

All in all a very memorable visit.

Watch my slideshow for more pictures!

Sigiriya Lion Rock, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Lion Rock rises 360 meters above sea level. While it is not a Buddhist pilgrimage site, it is very important historically and archaeologically and is one of the UNESCO Cultural Triangle sites. As described later in this post, it was also home during separate periods of hundreds of years to Buddhist monastic orders.

Sigiriya Lion Rock

The Winter Palace at the very top rises another 200 meters from the water gardens at the base of the rock. As usual, when we arrived, Aslam introduced us to another excellent guide, who’s name was Ruwa.

Our guide, Ruwa, explained in picturesque language how the first king of Sigiriya came to built his kingdom here in 477 AD. His name was Kasyapa I. Being the illegitimate son of King Dhatusena I (459-477 AD) by a non-royal consort, Dhatusena had no plans to make him heir to the throne or any kingdom, for that matter. According to Ruwa, one day his father brought Prince Kasyapa to a pool on the palace grounds to tell him what was coming to him. He took a handful of water and threw it up into the air and said, “This is what is yours.” Kasyapa killed him on the spot and fled to Sigiriya to build his kingdom.

In truth, Dhatusena was a despicable character and had many enemies, so Kasyapa had help in dispatching him. His brother, Mugalan, however, who had a legitimate claim to the throne fled to India at the time but eventually came and battled Kasyapa, who committed suicide when it was clear he had lost an important battle. He was the only king who ever ruled Sigiriya.

Sigiriya-View from Winter PalaceSigiriya is one of Asia’s major archaeological sites, with a history extending from prehistoric times to the 18th century. We walked through urban ruins, including architecture, gardens, art, and hydraulic technology dating back to the 5th century AD when Kasyapa arrived.

Historically, Sigiriya goes back much farther in time, to the 3rd century BC when a Buddhist monastic settlement was established in the area, evidenced by 30 rock shelters dated by inscriptions on the rock face, recording the granting of these caves by the crown to the Buddhist monastic order to be used as residences. Then again, for hundreds of years after the Kasyapan empire ended, Buddhist monastics again settled into the area until about the 13th or 14th century.

The ClimbThe climb to the top is 1202 steps. Because the steps are broken up into short terraces, it didn’t feel nearly as difficult as either one of us had feared. Halfway up are another set of stairs leading to the Aspara paintings. Originally there were 500 paintings but in 1967 a vandal destroyed all but about 50 of them. Since then security has been very tight.

Aspara Paintings

Sigiriya Aspara PaintingH.C.P. Bell, the British archaeologist who studied the paintings from 1894 onwards, describes them as portrayals of the ladies of Kasyapa’s court. Senerath Paranavitana suggested that they represent Lightning Princesses and Cloud Damsels in an attempt to identify Sigiriya as a representation of divine kingship, an interesting theory considering Kasyapa’s history. The third hypothesis belongs to Ananda Coomaraswamy, who identifies the women as asparas or celestial nymphs.

Mirror Wall

Just below these is the Mirror Wall, full of very ancient graffiti. Some of it is so old that the language is no longer decipherable and has no relationship to modern day Sinhalese. The aspara paintings brought pilgrims from all over the world, many of whom left messages and poems to the ladies on this wall. One example cited in The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, published in 1993, is this touching ditty,

Sigiriya Mirror Wall

“I am Lord Sangapala
I wrote this song
We spoke
But they did not answer
Those ladies of the Mountain
They did not give us
The twitch of an eye-lid”

Lion’s Paw & Winter Palace

The climb from the Lion’s Paw to the Winter Palace at the top was a difficult, although energizing, climb along very narrow metal stairs with railings attached to the side of the rock. Guessing, I’d say it was about 200-300 steps with no breaks.Sigiriya Lion's Paw

The top was spectacular for the views it afforded, where you can see Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura off in the distances. The palace was terraced with the very top housing the main hall going down to the pool, then the kitchens and finally the dance hall at the very bottom.

I’ve posted a slideshow of a pictures I took during our tour of Sigiriya.

A Tour of Sri Lanka Buddhist Sites

We visited Sri Lanka in November, 2007. Sri Lanka has been a Buddhist country for the past 2000 years, 2nd only to India. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Indian Buddhist Emporer Asoka’s pen-pal, King Tissa of Anuradhapura. 236 years after the death of the Buddha.

Sri Lanka, a stunningly picturesque island nation, boasts having the oldest written history in the world and this is derived from a Buddhist canon and historical epic Mahavamsa begun during the reign of King Tissa. It was continuously updated up until about 1959, a feat of cooperation through the ages that feels amazing to even contemplate.

We hired a driver for the entire ten days we were there through a company called Boutique Sri Lanka. Our driver’s name was Aslam and we would recommend him in a heartbeat. He was not only a wonderful driver, always hooking us up with the best tour guides at each site we visited, but he was also just a dear, honest young man making a living as best he can in a country currently torn apart by war and a non-supportive conservative government. It seems they often go hand in hand.

We chose to do a tour of The Cultural Triangle, a 6 site project created by UNESCO in 1978 to preserve the ancient ruins and cultural history in Sri Lanka. The Cultural Triangle is bounded by Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. The other three sites are Dambulla, Jetavana and Sigiriya. We visited all except Anuradhapura, due to the ongoing conflict in the north, and Jetavana. One day we plan to return.

I have written (and am currently in the process of completing) four posts on the Buddhist sites we visited. I have provided links to each post here.

Dambulla Cave Temples or Temple of the Golden Mountain

Polonnaruwa, the 2nd ancient capital of Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Lion Rock

Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

In 1978, UNESCO approved a project to safeguard the centuries of cultural achievements of six exceptional sites in Sri Lanka. They called the sites, bounded by Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Kandy, the Cultural Triangle.

When South Indian invaders sacked the early capital of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa became the second medieval capital of Sri Lanka, from the 11th century to the end of the early part of the 13th century. The early history of Polonnaruwa, before it became the capital, is a story of reservoirs.

Being located in the dry zone, water was a much needed commodity and no city could ever be built without it. Once the reservoirs were built in the 4th century AD, agriculture took hold and Polonnaruwa became a flourishing city. From around the 7th century the royalty from the then capital Anuradhapura built their residences here on this thriving ancient highway.

On our second day in Sri Lanka, we visited the ruins of Polonnaruwa. When we arrived, our driver, Aslam, introduced us to our hand-picked guide, Nihal, a young man extremely knowledgeable about the ancient cities.

He took us through the museum first, especially explaining about the different buildings that existed and why shown by models. The wood structure has completely burned up, lost in the 13th century after the South Indians invaded during a time of weak kingship. In a period of 50 or so years prior to this there were 20 kings.

Once we were finished getting an education in the museum, we spent about 2 hours walking through the ruins, in astonishingly good shape considering their age. Visit Wikepedia for a more complete chronology and history of Polonnaruwa..

According to the UNESCO publication, The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, published in 1993,

The Buddhist monasteries of Polonnaruva provide the best surviving examples of image shrines, stupas, chapter houses, hospitals and ponds. Three colossal brick-build shrinds: the Thuparama, Lankatilaka and Tivamkapatimaghara, throw much light on teh vaulted viharas (gedige) type described in commentaries from the thirteenth century.

Tooth Relic Shrine of Nissankammala, 12th century
This is a picture of the at least 10 foot standing Buddha off in the distance on the first floor. The Tooth Relic was enshrined on the second floor.

Tooth Relic at Nissankamalla

Vatadage or Circular Stupa House, 12th century
The conical timber roof was lost to fire in the 13th century, but the stone and brick remain giving testament to the lives of the people who lived and worshipped in this ancient city.

Vatadage Buddha image Vatadage Circular Shrine

Lankatilaka Image House, 12th century
LankatilakaOriginally brick vaulted with stucco exterior. Pilgrims walked up one side of the shrine’s wall (on a narrow staircase (shown on the left), and down the other wall on an even narrower stairway (shown on the right) so they never had their back to the Buddha.

Lankatilaka Stairway Up Lankatilaka Stairway Down

Krivehera or Milk Stupa, 12th century
While the paintings have long since vanished on this stupa, much of the plaster they were painted on remains, which is a feat unto itself.

Krivehera, Sri Lanka

Gal Vihara
This is the “Northern Monastery” founded by one of the great kings, Pakramabahu I and is the most celebrated site at Polonnaruwa. Scanning this colossal trio from left to right we have the sitting Buddha, the standing Buddha and the reclining Buddha. The hands crossed on the chest of the standing Buddha are mired in a bit of controversy, but my UNESCO book says that this “probably” represents the second week after Enlightenment.

Gal Vihara Sitting Buddha Gal Vihara Standing Buddha
Gal Vihara Reclining Buddha

Please feel free to enjoy this slideshow (with descriptions when you click on the picture) of photos I took during my 2 hour tour of these ancient ruins.

Dambulla Cave Temples, Sri Lanka

The Golden Mountain Temple

Dambulla Cave Temples Exterior

We arrived at the Dambulla Cave Temples in the late afternoon. Our driver, Aslam, introduced us to our guide, a middle aged wiry Sri Lankan, who we quickly learned possessed a passionate wealth of knowledge about Buddhism and the Cave Temples.

Meditating Buddha in Cave 1I had my camera and tripod because I wanted to get good pictures of the amazing Buddhist artwork in the caves. I had no idea we were also going to learn so much from our guide. He was insistent, as most great teachers are, that I pay full attention to him before shooting photographs. I was happy to oblige.

Dambulla Cave Temples is one of the largest cave temple complexes in SE Asia. It is also well visited as a pilgrimage site. In one cave our guide asked, “why do you think there are so many Buddhas side by side lining the walls of this cave?” Being the clueless, non-Buddhist Westerner that I am, I wondered the same thing! It’s very simple. This is so that there are plenty of Buddhas for the pilgrims to pray to. While it was nice to be there when it wasn’t very crowded, being witness to hundreds of pilgrims would have been an amazing experience.

Seated Buddhas Meditation under Naga

Our guide spoke emphatically of Buddhism being a philosophy rather than a religion with the most important message being the teaching of meditation or “no mind.” Everywhere in the caves are Buddha images in meditation. I felt at peace just being in the presence of such quiet meditative wisdom (or non-wisdom). Not only that, but the artistry on the walls and ceilings of the caves was captivating. All of my senses were alive with the wonder of it all.

Background and History

The cave temples, otherwise known as the Golden Mountain Temple, are located in central Sri Lanka. According to UNESCO, around the 3rd century BC, this area became the location for the largest Buddhist monastic settlements on the island of Sri Lanka.

There are 5 caves with the Maharaja Vihara being the oldest and most architecturally significant. A vihara was an early Sanskrit word for Buddhist dwelling, which took on greater meaning as time went on. Caves 1, 2 and 4 where built in the 1st century BC. The 3rd cave was built during the reign of Kirti Srirajasimha, the King of Kandy, in the 18th century and the 5th is the newest, repainted in 1915.

Cave 5In this picture in cave 5, you can see that the paint is peeling. This is due to the use of chemical rather than natural paint pigments, which have proven to be less resilient. Also the later cave statues were created using plaster vs. stone in the older caves.

Nirvana and parinirvana were major elements in each cave temple, as I’ll demonstrate in pictures that follow. The following attributes of parinirvana were explained by our guide. The picture on the left illustrates the feet of the Buddha in parinirvana. The feet are are exactly one above the other in the nirvana pose. The picture on the right shows the flame above the Buddha’s head in nirvana. This is missing in parinirvana.

Parinirvana Feet Nirvana Flame

Characteristics of Parinirvana
1. Eyes are half closed vs. open
2. No flame above the head
3. Open palm
4. Empty (flat) stomach
5. Feet slightly apart

Painted Buddha
Cave 4: Photography was banned for a time in recent history because a tourist sat on a Buddha statue to have her picture taken. You can see in this picture that this Buddha is more brightly painted than any other in this room. If you visit these sites, you must be respectful.The rule in the cave temples is that while you can take photos of the Buddhas, you cannot take photos of people. This prevents people from taking disrespectful photos of themselves or others with the Buddhas.

What follows is a slide show of some of the photos I took while climbing the stairs to the caves and inside all five caves. If you click on any picture, you will get a description of it. The Dambulla Cave temples are a magnificent artistic tribute to the Kandyan artists of the late 18th century, who brought the walls to vibrant life, especially in Maharaja Vihara or Cave 2, the largest of the cave temples. However, some of the surviving art goes back much earlier and has survived amazingly well.