In a brilliant critical metaphor, Ron Phelps, of Seminole, Oklahoma (USA) has redefined Second (my Homeric imitation that also takes up Vergil) not as “the cultural cornerstone of the Sentence” (a dull phrase that I had been using) but rather as “a swinging saloon door made of two, two-sided panels.” This captures the double movement of the Sentence (its progressive and its retrograde orders) and suggests Second opening upon Each in one direction (and vice versa), then opening upon Every in the other. One pushes the two doors of Second aside to enter the subliminally Homeric Each, then other bivalve doors aside to enter the bipartite mini-epic Every.
The metaphor that I have used to describe Her is “the cosmological center” of the Sentence. Please let me know if this metaphor too requires revision. My book of 69 sonnets is finished. We have posted a note on the Her index page, called “Hesiod: Ritual Enactment,” along with a note on Indochina. The book combines Hesiod and Angkor Wat, The Theogony and Works and Days of the former, the cosmological image of the latter (as experienced by someone perambulating its passageways), I have recently been reviewing Angkorean culture. I had reported on my reading of Marilia Albanese’s guide; now I have purchased two more summaries.
(1) Lawrence Palmer Briggs, The Ancient Khmer Empire (first published in 1951; reprinted in 1974 as Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series — Volume 41, Part I; recently reissued, 1999, by APS and by White Lotus of Bangkok). David Snellgrove refers to Briggs’ book as still the most comprehensive account and catalogue of the monuments of Angkor — of those which occur within 77 square miles (within 20 square miles about Siem Reap there are more temples than there are in Egypt). I am about to finish Her; you and I of course will be visiting Angkor, June 2011, along with Alessio Rosoldi, should he join us in Jomtien for the trip.
There is nothing whimsical in my choice of Angkor Wat as a model for my own cosmology, nor in this day and age of comparative study anything arbitrary in relating Angkor cosmologically to Hesiod’s Greek Theogony. Angkor Wat is essentially Khmer, but its conception is also fundamentally Indic, just as the Aeneid was essentially Roman yet fundamentally Greek in conception, the Romanesque both mediaeval and fundamentally Roman. Among things medieval, the Khmer culture is superior to the European and likewise superior to that of the medieval Sung dynasty. It has assimilated and surpassed the medieval cultures of India and other Indianized states.
(2) David Snellgrove, Angkor Before and After: A Cultural History of the Khmers. This past season I had reported on my reading of Snellgrove's Asian Commitment: Travels and Studies in the Indian Sub-Continent and South-East Asia (Orchid Press: Bangkok, 2004). You might know him as the author of Buddhist Himalaya (Oxford: Cassirer, 1957), of The Hevajra Tantra (London: Oxford U.P., 1959), of Himalayan Pilgrimage (Oxford: Cassirer, 1961) or of Khmer Civilization and Angkor (Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2000). For the last ten years the much traveled Snellgrove has lived in Cambodia, learning the ancient Khmer and unraveling its inscriptions.
I will not review his latest book but instead summarize and comment on one feature of his discussion of Vasodharapura (Angkor) and a temple there that predates Angkor Wat, the Bakheng. First, though, I will cite his quotation of an inscription from one of half a dozen temples that surround the nearby Eastern Baray, a ritual “tank” seven by two kilometers in size:
All honor to Siva, the Lord who originally was alone whom it pleased to become threefold as the Four-Faced [Brahma], as Four-Armed [Vishnu] and as Sambhu, and who became one again at the beginning creation. I honor with devotion the one born from a lotus flower with eyes like lotuses, locks, adorned with the moon, perfumed with the mandara-flower’s juice and entwined with hair of the gods and the demons submissive to him.
The last four lines of course describe the Buddha. According to Snellgrove this inscription is followed by “28 stanzas of fervent and exaggerated praise of the king, followed by praise of the royal heir, of ministers and of the chief of the army and of those valiant in battle.” The inscription concludes:
May those who with supreme faith cause all this to prosper come together with their family members in the presence of the Lord of Gods [ = Siva], that excellent untroubled pure place, for as long as sun and moon shall shine down on the earth.
This will give you an idea of what cosmology amounts to in the Khmer texts. The Devaraja, Jayavarman III, a predecessor of Suryavarman II, chose the hill, known as the Bakheng, for his pyramid-temple. “The Bakheng rises steeply on the southern approach to Angkor Thom, ‘the new city’ that Jayavarman VII was to create in the 12th century. Thus it has been marginalized and nowadays is treated mainly as a fine viewpoint, where tourists gather at sunset to view Angkor Vat. The layout is conceived as a mandala. A fivefold terrace supports the central terrace, on which stood five smaller shrines dedicated to the four intermediate quarters.
“Flights of steps lead up from the four main directions; these were flanked by two rows of five miniature shines, for a total of 40. Similar single rows of shrines led up from four intermediate directions, making a total of 20 more, all these structures being built of local sandstone. Around each of the four angles of the complex stood seven tower-like shrines, making a total of 28, with a double pair of similar shrines at each of the four quarters, a further 16. The number of these constructions was calculated to arrive at a configuration of one main central shrine surrounded by the sacred number of 108 subsidiary ones. Only Candi Sewu in Java is of similarly grandiose plan.”
This will give you an idea of what cosmological architecture at Angkor was like. I have also looked up Bakheng in Dawn Rooney's Angkor. She writes:
Bakheng was a replica of Mount Meru and the number of towers suggests a cosmic symbolism. The seven levels (ground, five tiers, upper terrace) of the monument represent the seven heavens of Indra in Hindu mythology. The temple must have been a spectacular site in its entirety, for originally 108 towers were evenly spaced around the tiers with yet another one, the central sanctuary, at the apex. As of today, however, most of these towers have collapsed. Besides the central sanctuary, there were four towers on the upper terrace, 12 on each of the five levels of the platform, and another 44 towers round the base. The brick towers on different levels represent the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac. It is also possible that the numerology of 108 towers symbolizes the four lunar phases, with 27 days in each phase. The arrangement allows for only 33 of the towers to be seen from each side, a figure that corresponds with the total number of the Hindu deities.
Snellgrove, in Angkor Before and After, is doing for Cambodia what he had done in his earlier peripatetic account, Asian Commitment: Travels and Studies in the Indian Sub-Continent. He has visited a dozen Khmer sites not often visited by western scholars, at least not since the great early French explorers. He and a Thai photographer have taken dispassionate, accurate but attractive, anecdotal photos of significant details in their structures and iconographies. Many sites are in ruins, the jungle having re-enveloped them.
One temple that has been newly documented is Preah Stung, in the vicinity of Preah Khan (near Kampong Svay). It is dateable to the reign of Jayavarman VII (whose enormous face appears 64 times on the Bayon in Siem Reap), and who reigned from his predecessor Suryavarman II’s Angkor Wat). Preah Stung, says Snellgrove, “is an impressive ruin” (I have not yet had a chance to see it) “now submerged in undergrowth except for the remaining higher walls and tower.” The site’s former glory, still visible only 100 years ago, must today be merely imagined. Snellgrove includes several inscriptions to Suryavarman I.
In Ancient Khmer, one such inscription, from the walls of the temple, reads:
The dance of the God who has the moon for his diadem [Siva], the play of the tips of whose glorious feet causes earth to shake and tremble in the eight directions, a dance that causes Indra, god of the winds, to whirl and moan because of the vigorous arms which make the palaces of the gods sway, a dance that renders space insignificant with garlands of shooting rays from the splendor of his nine modes of dance, may his dance which brings joy and honor to Brahma and the other gods [also] be propitious [for us].
The nine modes of dance, Snellgrove tells us, are erotic, furious, heroic, odious, comic, pathetic, marvelous, terrible and peaceful. They suggest to me various themes in the nine books of APHRODITE, the sequence in Sentence of the Gods.
As in most Khmer temples, there is an intermixture of Brahmanic and Buddhistic iconography. Thus a second inscription reads:
All honor to Buddha to whom alone the title omniscient fully applies, and whose word is true. I honor the feet of my guru, the twin boats of the Perfection of Wisdom and of the Tantras, for attaining the innate knowledge of the three letters [AUM]. There is Sri Suryavarman, endowed with royal splendor, a manifestation of Vishnu of the dynasty of the sun, whose reign began in [AD 1002]. The god of love is bodiless and the moon with the rabbit is defective, but the act of his making is free of defect.
The inscription continues:
It is conceived of as manifest beauty. With the learned texts as his feet, poetic writing for his hands, the six philosophical systems as his organs of sense, and with the treatise of law as his head, his thought is a living person. As for his valor, it may be measured from the fact that an eminent sage, seized the kingdom in battle from a king surrounded by other kings. People overcome by the fire of the evils of former times, became suddenly altogether happy when his libations extinguished it.
The inscription concludes:
Good governance [dharma] which has lost its footing throughout the ages, thanks to [Suryavarman I’s] elixir regains its feet and becomes youthfully effective again.
Now we are ready for Angkor Wat, Suryavarman’s masterpiece, which we will be devoting the lion’s share of our attention to in Siem Reap.
Lawrence Palmer Briggs, in his Ancient Khmer Empire, has some interesting remarks about the panel of reliefs (one eighth of the half mile of reliefs surrounding the third enclosure at Angkor Wat that are customarily referred to as “Heaven and Hell.” But first a few remarks of my own about Asian conceptions of Heaven and Hell.
In preparation for my third trip to Japan I contacted a man whom I had met in 1983 at a comparative literature conference in Taiwan. Sanehide Kodama, a professor at Kyoto Women’s College, had in the meantime become Dean (he subsequently became President). Calling him in Kyoto from Tokyo as soon as I arrived, I was told that his neighbor’s father had died, and so he would not be able to receive me in Kyoto, but that two days later he would be attending a comparative literature conference in Fukuoka. I should join him.
I bought a plane ticket, negotiated my way from airport to university to conference hall and took a seat, an hour early, in the middle of an auditorium, about a third of the way back. Gradually 200 scholars all Japanese, entered and took their seats. We were treated to papers by three scholars, two from Tokyo University, one on Dante and the Japanese conception of Hell (by a professor who read Italian), one on the Chinese and Japanese conceptions (by a professor who read Chinese), one on visual illustrations of the Japanese version of Hell.
When they had finished, three hours later, the chair of the department summarized their papers and then turned to me, asking in Japanese if “Morri-san” would comment. “Hai!” I said, “Hai! Hai!,” bowing ever more deeply, thereby acknowledging and declining his request, for the Chinese, Japanese and Italian conceptions of Hell had been so bewilderingly different from one another that only a fool would have commented. At the reception afterwards I met a professor from a “distance learning” institution near Tokyo who invited me to lecture. On my next visit to Japan, the first stop on a round-the-world trip, I gave a reading at Ben’s Café in Tokyo. Several months before I left Taipei, I reestablished contact with the professor of distance learning, a famous actor who had adapted Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear to the format of the Noh drama by writing the scripts, directing the performances, and playing the role of the hero in each of the plays. He said that his students were studying T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare, so I proposed to give a lecture on The Waste Land and Hamlet.
All was going well as the time approached for my departure from Taipei and arrival in Tokyo, except that I sensed discomfort on the part of the professor that he would not be in the leading role during my lecture, which had compared each section of Eliot’s poem to each of the five acts of Hamlet. A week before I was to leave, as he was giving instructions for reaching his college, the professor said in an email, “Your lecture of course will be in Japanese.” Since I do not speak Japanese, the professor had effectively canceled the lecture.
Now for Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat and the “Heaven and Hell.” In passing, Lawrence Briggs recounts the view of H.D.K Bosch on the relation of this panel “with the others” and on the “destination” [purpose] “of the monument” [the temple itself]. “In other registers where he appears, Suryavarman II is shown in his divinized form as Vishnu. In the west panel of the south side he is represented in his posthumous form, marching with nineteen dignitaries toward the ‘Empire of the Dead.’ Bosch illuminates the natural end of this procession
“in the empire of the dead, from which [Suryavarman] is resuscitated and divinized as Vishnu and adored in Vishnuloka, the central tower of Angkor Wat.” Briggs: “Bosch advances the hypothesis that the nineteen dignitaries may have shared in Suryavarman II’s apotheosis as, later, the four Sanjaks did in that of the Crown Prince Sri Indrakumara at Banteay Chhmar. This supposition,” says Bosch, “would imply that Angkor Wat was a mausoleum, and that its towers and pavilions celebrated the happiness of the king’s celestial life.”
Which brings us to the vexed question, with which I will conclude, of the function of Angkor Wat. Temple or mausoleum? A residence or only a space that the king ritually inhabited? In my humble view it was all these. Suryavarman lived and died here, actually and symbolically, and was buried in Angkor Wat.
On site you will have an opportunity to test these conclusions yourself
As with Egypt, to be a serious scholar of Angkor, one would have to devote one’s life to the subject. I have read 28 books about Angkor but not engaged in the serious archaeologist’s activity: sorting through the 1,200 inscriptions in Ancient Khmer and Sanskrit; examining the myriad monuments in situ; or even studying the early scholarship of Aymonier, Coedès, Coral, Dupont, Finot, Grolier, Lajonquière, Marchal, Mus, Parmentier, Pelliot, Przyuski, Stern, or of many more recent scholars. As with Egypt, the standard model of Angkor stands in need of revision.
The fundamental conception of the Khmer king is being modified; the function of many temples is being reevaluated; the chronology is being revised; the relation of Indic to Austro-Asiatic influence reconsidered; likewise, the undue influence of western accounts is being questioned. As with Egypt, everyone has his or her opinion about everything, often weighing too gullibly into the mix a transcendent exoticism, sometimes weighing inadequately the doctrinally Buddhist and Hindu elements. In the absence of texts apart from inscriptions, much will never be known.
This week I have bought two more books to complete my inadequate review, before I undertake revision of the Khmer element in my Her: (1) B.-P. Grolier, Angkor and Cambodia in the Sixteenth Century According to Portuguese and Spanish Sources (1958, English edition, 2006) and (2) Etienne Aymonier's Khmer Heritage in Thailand (1901, translated into English and reissued, 1999). The first is from Orchid Press, the second from White Lotus, which has published many early accounts. The first is by the son (1926-1986) of Angkor scholar, Georges Grolier.
Bernard-Philippe was born in Cambodia, “studied at the Sorbonne and the Louvre and returned to Indochina, where he had a long and productive career with the French National Center of Scientific Research and the École d'Extrême Orient.” I will not bother you with his scholarly account of the Portuguese and Spanish in post-Angkor Cambodia but rather copy things (may you find them as interesting as I!), on the correspondence between Heaven and Earth, between the rains from the former that fecundate the latter, making a unique contribution to Khmer civilization.
The Khmer ruler is a god on earth, an intermediary between men and divine powers. The owner of the land through his ancestors, he intercedes with the spirits to ensure its fertility and thus the normal seasonal cycle and the reappearance of life-giving rain. This role is doubly fulfilled, since he also commands the public works which have the same aim. In short, he copies at the religious level what he administers in the temporal sphere. His dual role is to ensure the existence of beings both as god and king.
The Khmer city . . . is also a magical universe. . . . [I]f one takes the trouble to confront this religious schema, with our description of Angkor Thom, for example, one has to admit that the similarity, and the logic, are most remarkable, The city is the image of the Universe, space and time are built and arranged around the axis of the world, the Meru-temple. The town, and the moats of the temple within it, constitute a system of canals and waterworks allowing the exploitation of the earth in all seasons and vital production.
A symbol is not arbitrary, an esoteric code derived from abstraction, but a selected image imposed by a given order. Many works about Khmer civilization give the impression that Angkor was the creation of megalomaniac kings, concerned with their survival, and the speculations of a tiny elite, that the temples were built by enslaved people providing their labor for an abstract creation. We believe instead that Angkor was constructed by the faith of a nation which found in it the material and spiritual source of its existence.
We do not pretend to subordinate one to the other, and propose that Khmer religion was the consequence of a specialized society. How does one establish a hierarchy and a chronology? They are phenomena which are too closely linked. Probably in the Khmer mind the two orders were fused. A study of their structures demonstrates this. To irrigate the fields they built their structures rationally, in the meaning we give this term: natural lie of the land, the best lines possible for their canals, etc.: these were their criteria.
In apparent contradiction to this logic, they planned their cities as microcosms which summarize their cosmology: the center is often marked by a natural mound, sometimes by a constructed mountain, in every case by a temple-Meru, with its major axes going towards the cardinal points. To do this, they had to undertake colossal tasks, providing expensive solutions to ensure irrigation at the same time — works which overcame the irregularities of the land, complex distribution systems following the slope of the land, etc.
So what is a baray and the network of canals it feeds? The inscriptions tell us: “It is a great reservoir delighting like the Sea of Milk.” What does the king accomplish in building such works? “By his arm the Sea of Milk itself, its water removed, it becomes a lake of ambrosia.” And in a general fashion, it is a very hackneyed image of the king “churning” the Universe to extract ambrosia; that is, happiness for his subjects. But now it can be seen to what extent the image is concrete and why it was selected by innumerable sculptors.
The king controlled the waters to extract subsistence (thus the prosperity for his people and the myth of the Churning of the Sea of Milk) and because it made use of the naga, a water god and tutelary protector of Kampuchea, it was admirably adapted by the stone cutter. Angkor Thom “procreated” very effectively the “well-being of the Universe” both as a spiritual capital and system of public works. Symbolism there is a choice of expressive, felicitous images of Khmer reality, at the same time historical, social and religious.
(from pp. 88-90, modified by MM)
This will be the last in a series of emails about novelties that have turned up in my review of the Angkorean civilization and culture, as I have been preparing to revise and complete the book Her. I hope that I have not been imposing upon you. Siem Reap, at the northern end of a huge lake, called the Tonlé Sap, whose outlet, the Tonlé Sap River, passes by Phnom Penh, Cambodia's modern capital, is perhaps East Asia’s most important and engaging tourist destination. It ranks in this regard with Kyoto, Gyeongju, Hué, Borobudur and Pagan. Only the temples of South India, farther to the west, are equal in interest. The renowned destinations, of China (Beijing), Thailand (Bangkok), Malaysia and the Philippines, are not as interesting. I limit myself to a quincunx of five emails.
Four represents, among many other values, the cardinal directions. The quinta essentia is transcendent and at Angkor Wat represents the Vishnuloka, the embodiment of Vishnu, the second god of the Trimurti, out of whose navel is created Brahma himself. Here I will compare with Angkor Wat the Bayon, which I have been absorbing by reading Lawrence Palmer Briggs’s The Ancient Khmer Empire and David Snellgrove’s Angkor Before and After: A Cultural History of the Khmers. First, though, a few basics (according to Briggs): “In the center of the present walled city of Angkor Thom is the Bayon, after Angkor Wat the greatest temple of the Angkor group. . . . Unlike all the other great city-temples of the Khmers, it has no surrounding wall or moat but uses Angkor Thom’s instead.”
“Mme de Coral Rémusat, following Stern, places its completion later than that of these walls, near the end of the reign of Jayavarman VII.” “The Buddhist temples did not to the Khmers demand the successive terraces and an elevated central tower in imitation of Mount Meru which were so characteristic of the Shaivaite temples.” (I continue to draw upon Briggs for what I trust is useful information.) “The central mass was built upon a platform, and the Bayon became a pyramidal temple.” “Its central mass rose to a height of 45 meters.” “According to Chou Ta-kuan, who came to Cambodia with an embassy in 1296, when Angkor was still a flourishing capital, the temple was crowned with a tower of gold.” “Four-faced towers, like those of the Bayon, though not unknown elsewhere, are a striking feature of Khmer art.”
Commaille, the greatest authority on Khmer architectural decoration: “The visitor will notice at once that the Bayon, though of dimensions less vast than its immense neighbor, Angkor Vat, is of a superior conception and that it is here that we must study the genius of the masters of Angkor. In a relatively restrained space, the constructors of the Bayon were able to enclose more marvels than in all the other Cambodian temples combined, and this, we believe, is because they had worked here, not to please the faithful, but with the sole idea of giving to the dwelling of the gods the greatest magnificence possible.” Marchal, Commaille’s successor, says of this temple: “One sees the face-towers surge from all sides”; “their strange smile animates the whole monument — more an art of statuary than of architecture.”
Marchal again: “At whatever hour of the day one visits the Bayon, or if it chances to be during the full moon, one has the feeling of visiting a temple belonging to another world, built by individuals absolutely alien to us and whose conceptions are the opposite of ours. One can even believe himself taken back to the legendary days when the god Indra erected, for his son married to the daughter of the naga King, a palace on the model of that which he himself inhabited in the celestial abode.” Here shift our subject of inquiry to the more precise nature of this exotic belief, Shaivaite or Vaishnavaite, Brahmanic or Buddhistic. (We are concerned not with the people of Angkor, nor even the elite class, but with a refined priestly class and their employers, the kings, in this case the most extraordinary of all, Jayavarman VII.)
We turn for help to David Snellgrove, with his Himalayan research and knowledge of Indonesian Buddhism, a man well-equipped to detect strains other than Hinayanist and Mahayanist in this final faith. “Just as other Khmer monarchs were envisaged as being absorbed into Siva or Vishnu in accordance with their posthumous names, so we must envisage Jayavarman as absorbed into Buddhahood at his death,” he writes, quickly reminding us that there is no liturgical literature to resolve these questions, whose answers are speculative. Having listed the Mahayanist divinities with whom Jayavarman might have identified, Snellgrove leaps to Vajrapani, a Tantric yogin (as the absolute or adamantine essence) and speculates that “perhaps the cult of Hevajra was introduced exceptionally.” He closely argues the case.
Having dismissed this supposition on the lack of evidence, Snellgrove then says: “What Jayavarman VII really envisaged was probably the identification of the Devaraja (god-king, i.e., himself) as transformed, from the Bodhisattva at the time of his death into The Victorious Buddha, though Brahmanical opposition to any such idea prevented such explicit definition.” The extremity of Jayavarman's theology helps to explain the extremity of the iconoclastic furor that followed him. Snellgrove cites a variety of parallels contained in inscriptions by and about his small circle of priestly advisers (who, according to Coedès, were expert on the Vedas), “especially Hrsikesa, a scholar who had arrived from Burma, and whom Jayavarman VII made his chief priest.” How does this all, then, enable us to interpret the Bayon’s symbolism?
We return to Briggs: “Although Buddhism seems to have absorbed the royal favor, Shivaism did not entirely disappear during the reign of Jayavarman VII.” Briggs offers many examples. “Jayavarman VII’s period, beginning with the reign of his father, had been preceded by a period of Vishnuism.” Jayavarman VII often built on Vaishnaivite sites. Drawing again upon Coedès, Snellgrove reminds us that “the royal cities of Indianized Southeast Asia, with their royal temple in the center, were, according to Indian cosmological beliefs, microcosms of the greater macrocosm, which is the Universe.” Climbing a sacred, symbolic mountain at their center, the kings, as gods, communicated daily with the gods of the celestial kingdom. “Buddhist cosmology was not fundamentally different from Hindu” (as we can see in the Bayon).
“Mus, who has written a scholarly article on the symbolism of the Borobudur, thinks that he has found the symbolism of the four faces [of the Bayon] in the Great Buddhic Miracle, where the Buddha, who is seated in open air, projects himself into all points of space.” Briggs: “These faces represent all directions; the many towers are thought [by Mus] to represent each a province or a religious or political center in a province. [However,] the faces do not correspond to any known representations of Lokesvara [the Bodhisattva] on walls. They are the faces of Jayavarman VII, represented as Lokesvara extending his benevolent protection to all parts of the empire [Coedès identifies the actual places represented].” “Replicas of the so-called Jayabuddhas seem to have been kept in little cells in the Bayon.” Coedès opines:
I am not far from thinking that these little statues of Buddha . . . were statue-portraits of King Jayavarman VII, represented as at the Bayon under traits of the Buddha. Based at the center of this microcosm, which was the royal city, the Bayon was itself the sum of the local sanctuaries and polarized in some way the double power, secular and divine, which each of the sanctuaries of Jayabuddhamahanatha materialized in the distant provinces. If it is true, as I suppose, that the construction of the central massif of the Bayon, not foreseen at its origin, was a consequence of the installation at its center of the Buddharaja, Buddhic substitute of the old devaraja and materialized in the great statue of the Buddha discovered in 1939, one can then doubtless represent this as being in its turn the sum of the local Jayabuddhas whose images were represented in the lower galleries.
In other words, Jayavarman VII transformed himself into the Buddha.
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