Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Fotos – Beng Mealea, Cambodia

A pair of Naga protecting the entrance to Beng Mealea
I spent almost the full month of February (2011) travelling around Cambodia, and it was one of the highlights of my extended eight month round the world trip. I had plenty of time to check out all the major temples and sites, including Beng Mealea, the subject of this post.

Beng Mealea (meaning "lotus pond" in Khmer), is a temple in the Angkor Wat style located 40 km east of the main group of temples at Angkor, Cambodia. Although the temple was built as a Hinduist temple to honour Vishnu, the supreme god in Hindu belief, there are also carvings depicting Buddhist motifs.

Primary built of sandstone, Beng Mealea is largely unrestored. Massive trees and thick brush thriving amidst its towers and courtyards and many of its stones lay in great heaps. For years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the site, which is 77 km from Siem Reap.

An elaborately carved lintel from one of the collapsed buildings
While the history of the temple is pretty much unknown, it has been dated by its architectural style to the reign of king Suryavarman II who ruled during the early 12th century. Smaller in size than the king's main monument, Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea nonetheless ranks among the Khmer empire's larger temples.

Beng Mealea is oriented toward the east, but has entranceways from the other three cardinal directions. The basic layout is three enclosing galleries around a central sanctuary, which has long been collapsed. Structures known as libraries lie to the right and left of the avenue that leads in from the east.
There is extensive carving of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being borne by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.

Danger – Mines!
 Recognise the warning signs. Your life depends on it.
Tens of thousands of tons of unexploded bombs of all sizes, and an unknown number of mines (many thousands more), lie buried or scattered over the Cambodian countryside. During my stay in Cambodia I read several reports about villagers – children as well as adults – who had been injured or killed as a result of inadvertently stepping on or ploughing over mines lying in their fields.

Even in the vicinity of the major temples, mines lay buried just below the surface waiting to complete their deadly missions. The above sign at Beng Mealea has been placed there by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), and serves as a warning that mines still exist near the temple. While the immediate area around Beng Mealea and other temples has been cleared of mines, visitors should resist the temptation to head off into the surrounding country to explore on their own.

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