Angkor Temples, a cultural treasure

Angkor Temples, a cultural treasure

Angkor Temples – more than just Angkor Wat!

Visiting Angkor temples, or the multiple temples around the main Angkor Wat site, takes some preparation and willingness to spend a few days traipsing about the countryside around Siem Reap, Cambodia.

We traveled to Angkor Wat in November 2001. Since then we’ve been to every country in SE Asia in addition to other predominantly Buddhist leaning countries. As I write this post from my office in my home in Seattle, listening to the wind blowing outside my window, I remember the heat, nearly oppressive at times, and the bright sunshine. All the people, the children, the monks and nuns, practitioners, worshippers and tourists like us, from all over the globe, coming together in witness to the awe of the remaining temples dotting the countryside.

 

Angkor Temples – getting around

Angkor Wat - erhu player

Erhu player at Angkor Wat with prostheses due to stepping on a mine

Before we went in 2001, we read a few books about Angkor Wat, as we always like to know as much as we can going into a new place. We chose to follow Dawn Rooney’s Angkor which at the time was the 4th edition published in 1999.

Dawn Rooney’s Guidebook

In her introduction to the 4th edition, Dr. Rooney says this about the area, “What is Angkor? Many people who have not been to Angkor think it is only one monument – Angkor Wat. This erroneous idea probably arose because it is the most frequently visited and written about. Angkor, though, covers an area of 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) in north-western Cambodia. Many of the sites within this area have collapsed and only traces of some remain, and the grounds around others have not yet been cleared of mines. This guide includes descriptions of 40 accessible sites.” (Angkor, Dawn Rooney, 1999, p. 14).

The reference to mines was removed in the 2006 edition. If you have the time, Angkor temples are mostly easily accessible and safe. We were pretty much assured that they were all cleared by the time we got there in 2001. We witnessed the devastation from the mines in the guise of many people without limbs, however.

Thanks to Dawn Rooney’s wonderful guidebook, we visited 23-24 Angkor temples in 6 days. We started out early in the morning after a hearty breakfast at our hotel. The beds were very hard which helped us get out of them so early. I think I remember we slept quite well due to all the hiking in the oppressive heat during the day. We always stopped at about noon or so and went back out with our driver at 2PM after a lunch and swim. It was an excellent way to visit all those temples.

To see photos and descriptions of everywhere we went, please visit my travel site that I initially built in 2001 with my Angkor Wat photos. The site has evolved over the years to its present form today. 

 

 

The Kleangs at Angkor, Cambodia

Preah Pithu, Angkor, Cambodia

Ta Som, Angkor, Cambodia

Preah Rup, Angkor, Cambodia

Ta Som, Angkor, Cambodia

Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia

Bayon, Angkor, Cambodia

Preah Rup, Angkor, Cambodia - guard lion

Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia - Naga

Banteay Srei, Angkor, Cambodia

Thommanon, Angkor, Cambodia - devata

Ta Prohm, Angkor, Cambodia

East Mebon, Angkor, Cambodia

Terrace Of The Elephants, Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Wat Devata, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat nave, Angkor, Cambodia

Ta Keo, Angkor, Cambodia

Phnom Bakheng, Angkor, Cambodia

Phnom Krom, Angkor, Cambodia

Preah Pithu, Angkor, Cambodia

Lolei, Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Wat Library, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase Pagodas

Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase Pagodas

Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase – Introduction

The Mrauk U Kingdom late phase began in about 1600 at the end of Min Phaloung’s reign (1571-1593) and the beginning of King Kamoung’s. King Thiri Thudhamma reigned next and then his son, King Okkalapa. This period’s temple and monument construction includes Laung-Pan-Prauk, Ratana Pon, and Mingala-Manaung and Sakya Manaung and others. I was there in 2011; this historical phase went from about 1600 to Mrauk U Kingdom’s defeat in 1784. For the Mrauk U Kingdom and Arakan, this was considered the last unified Arakanese kingdom.

The architecture of this was more influenced by Burmese architecture from Burma proper, especially Mon architecture of Pegu and Dagon (Yangon). Stylistically, this meant low relief carving using either stone or stucco, depending on what was available. These carvings are mostly seen at the entrances to shrines and crowned by pediments ornately crowned and with guardians protecting the shrines. Some are similar to Pitaka-taik library with entire walls covered with complex geometric carvings into the stone.

Laung Pan Prauk

Laung-Pan-Prauk, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar (Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase)

Laung Pan Prauk Ceti or pagoda (or Laung Bwann Brauk Ceti as shown above), was built in 1525 by King Min Khaung Raza, according to this headstone in front of the pagoda. One hundred years later, in 1625, Thirithudhama is thought to have restored this temple to its current style, which puts it into the Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase architecture.

It’s referred also to as the “Colored Tile” pagoda because of the deep blue, red, yellow and green opaque glazed tiles covering the stone wall around the structure.

The pagoda monument was built of large sandstones and stands 75 feet tall. The first tier has eight faces where an image of the Buddha lived inside a niche there. Uppermost on the pediment may look like a naga, but it is the peacock’s chest, said to be the crowning element of the royal throne. [Gutman, Pamela – 2001, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, Orchid Press, Bangkok]

Laung-Pan-Prauk, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Laung-Pan-Prauk, blue tile, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Laung-Pan-Prauk, stone entry detail, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Laung-Pan-Prauk, Buddha image, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Ratana Pon Ceti (Pagoda)

Ratana-Pon, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar (Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase)

King Kamoung and his queen, in 1612, is credited with this monument. A hoard of gold, jewels and image is said to be buried within its very structure, but no one and no physical disaster such as earthquakes have managed to set it loose. What is here now is this solid sandstone block stupa. Ratana pon stupa is orthogonal on the ground. From there it rises in concentric tiers with an inverted bell on the third tier.  These manaungs, or pagodas, are still in active use today evidenced by all of the practitioners we came across and people living in the area.

 

Ratana-Pon, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Ratana Pon Ceti, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Ratana Pon Ceti, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Ratana Pon Ceti, Buddha image, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mingala Manaung

Mingala Manaung, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar (Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase)

King Okkalapa, the son of King Thadhamma (or Thiridhamma) build Mingala Manaung (or Mongala Mar-aung) in 1685, situated north of the Mingala Gate. This is another conical pagoda typical of Mrauk U Kingdom late phase architecture. The structure is built out of sandstone blocks and fenced with stone walls. An ordination hall was built at what is considered the old site where there was originally a large ordination hall. Broken pieces of sculpture are still found scattered around. [Famous Monuments of Mrauk U, Myar Aung, 2007, only available locally]

Mingala Manaung, Buddha image, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mingala Manaung, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mingala Manaung, peacock's chest detail, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mingala Manaung, peacock's chest above entry, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Sakya Manaung

Sakya Manaung, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar (Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase)

Sakya Manaung (Sakya Mar-aung) Pagoda was built in 1629 by King Thiri Thudhamma Raza. It was named to commemorate the successful reigns of the royal Sakya clan. Two stone figures of ogres stand guard on both sides of the western gate. In the photo I took, these two young boys were having a marvelous time getting their pictures taken by me.

The plinth was designed to look like the pagoda was flowering from a beautiful lotus base, which is the base of the structure itself. Twelve satellite pagodas surround the main pagoda each with an ordination hall at its corner.

Entrance to Sakya Manaung, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Sakya Manaung, bikkhus at well, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Sakya Manaung Buddha image, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Sakya Manaung, praying, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Later Monuments of Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

Later Monuments of Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

Andaw-Thein

Andaw-thein, Mrauk-U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Andaw-thein was built during King Sajaka’s reign, 1515-1521. Min Palaung restored it twice, once in 1534 and again in 1542. After that, Min Raza Gri needed a place to put the precious gift of the Buddha’s tooth from Sri Lanka. This happened in 1596. The original form was an octagonal central shrine with two circular ambulatory passages, one closer to the outside the other closer to the inside of the stupa. It is similar in construction to Mahabodhi Shwe Gu built during Mrauk U Kingdom’s First Phase.

A bell shaped stupa crowns the main shrine. A ringed conical spire extends into the sky topped with a delicate lotus shaped finial. Mughal construction is evident in the stupas surrounding the main stupa, similar to multi-domed architecture of pre-Mughal Bengal. Where the passages are vaulted, they are supported by a western architectural standard, half-capitals.

 

Andaw-thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Andaw-thein inner passage, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Andaw-thein, nuns in monastery, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Andaw-thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Andaw-thein Buddha image, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Andaw-thein Buddha image, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Htu-kan-thein

Htu-kan-thein, Mrauk-U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Htu-kan-thein (Cross-beam ordination hall) looks more like a fortress than a temple. Like most temples here, the interior is dark and mysterious, however, this one seems to be more so. 180 Buddhas, a very auspicious number, include the central seated Buddha and 179 buddha images side by side along the passages. King Min Phalaung built this in 1571, believed by tradition that he built it, on the advice of his astrologers, to dodge a fledgling revolt against him by his officials. The Buddha images are flanked on each side by members of the nobility who donated to the construction of Htu-kan-thein. In fact, they were demanded to donate. This made them “suitably subservient to the king who as a dhammaraja was responsible for the promulgation of the Buddha’s law throughout the land.” [p. 119]

The floor plan is simple, reminding me of a wide bullet shape (actually called apsidal), with one entrance to the east. The middle interior brick structure, running along the entire bullet shape, is open to both sides, creating two passages to circumambulate. Buddha images sit back to back where one passage is visible to the other. One stairway leads up to the central core where another set of stairs leads to the meditation hall and the central Buddha image, lit by clerestory windows.

 

Inner passageway, Htu-kan-thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Htu-kan-thein, nobility flanking each Buddha, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Htu-kan-thein, back to back Buddhas facing 2 passages

Htu-kan-thein central meditation hall, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Praying nobility, Htu-kan-thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Into Htu-kan-thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Phara-Oux

Phara-oux, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar (Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase)

The 29 live sized Buddha images in this circular plinth, are all identical, all calling the earth to witness. Going around the circular stupa, the buddha images all face outwards in all directions. Phara-oux (or Phara Ouk). The upper structure was destroyed and it is suggested by Dr. Gutman that the architect unsuccessfully tried to build a new kind of superstructure that didn’t quite work out. That reminds me of the collapse of Hartford Coloseum’s space frame in the winter of 1978, when I was living there and studying architecture.

Phara-oux was built again by King Phalaung in the same year that Htu-kan-thein was built, 1571. These are both right in the beginning of his reign which lasted until 1593. The photos here show the restored structure above the original circular plinth that was all that was left behind.

Children posing in entrance to Phara-oux, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Identical buddha image, Phara-oux, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Phara-oux restoration, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Phara-oux, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Girl praying to Buddha, Phara-oux, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Phara-oux architectural details, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Pitaka-Taik

Pitaka-taik, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar (Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase)

Pitaka-taik, or Pitaka Library, was the last stop on our temple visiting journey on our second day. By the time we got there my camera was full of dust and the lens filter was cracked and stuck on. It probably saved my lens, I finally got it off later that night. We were carted around in the back of a jeep which is alot more comfortable than some ways to get around. Our young, hard rock loving driver didn’t do any talking until we got here. He wanted to show us everything about it. In 2011, when we were there, it was surrounded by scaffolding and covered with a corrugated roof.

This library was built in 1591 by King Phaloung, to properly store Buddhist scriptures received by the king from Sri Lanka. It is built entirely of stone and is the only one of 48 pitaka libraries in Mrauk U.  As you’ll see in the photos, the outer walls are beautifully carved floral and geometric patterns and shapes carved deep (about 15 centimeters) into the stone.

Pitaka-taik, corner stones, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Pitaka-taik, carvings around window, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Pitaka-taik, wall base, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Pitaka-taik, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Archway into Pitaka-taik, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Pitaka-taik crown details, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Resources for this article incluce Gutman, Pamela – 2001, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, Orchid Press, Bangkok and Famous Monuments of Mrauk-U, November 2007 by Myar Aung.