Source : Painting of the apsara dancers in Cambodia
Synopsis : There is so much to write about Cambodia that can’t be contained in a blog but I have tried to enrich this blog with four power points, a story called Rising from the ashes by Sivath and a video by Karolina Goswami to make this blog as complete as possible so that you will have a good idea what Cambodia has to offer.
I made a number of power points on Cambodia when I visited the country a few years ago with my wife. We were very impressed after visiting the World famous Angkor Wat temple and many other temples in Siem Reap .I took a lot of photos that I turned into four power points that I will present here.
I also include here a video of Karolina Goswami who explains the ancient ties between India and Cambodia but today I want to write something about Cambodia that has suffered immense damage due to its long war waged by the Khmer Rouge in the seventies when they systematically killed perhaps a million and a half people in that small country with its small population. Cambodia is still reeling from that shock and are grateful for the Vietnamese army that came to their help and rescued the starving population from its home grown nightmare.
India has been helping that country with the restoration work at the Angkor Wat as well as Ta Phrom temple with money and expertise. It has also helped fund the de- mining operations there that are still going on today.
While in Phnom Penh , one day I went to see the Toul Sleng torture center where hundreds of thousands of poor Cambodians , men , women and even children were tortured for imaginary crimes they had never committed and killed. It used to be a high school that was turned into a prison by the Khmer Rouge where I saw the torture instruments, cells where the prisoners were chained to their cots and where the walls still carry blood stains of its victims. The victims photos are still displayed there.
Now it is a sad reminder of their horrific past where a few lonely tourists wander through the dilapidated buildings and look at the prison records the Khmer Rouge jailer kept so meticulously. He was a school teacher turned executioner who became the killing machine. He was later captured and jailed for life. The place is so horrible that I did not take any photos and thought that such a place should be totally demolished but it still stands as a monument to their shame.
Just across the street from Toul Sleng is a small place where I went in for a cold beer and started talking to the proprietor who was a lady of middle ages who spoke some English. She told me how she had suffered as a teenager in the hands of the murderous Khmer Rouge until the Vietnamese army liberated the country. She showed me her worn out teeth because she found only uncooked rice to chew on and somehow survived to tell me her tale. I was shocked and sometime later I convinced her to tell me her story.
She at first was very hesitant because she could not speak, read or write English well so I promised to help her put together her story in proper English and publish it in my blogs if only she could start writing. So she started sending me short e mails and slowly her story came to light. I had to do a lot of editing but essentially her story remains intact.
You can read it here at the following link
But in Siem Reap we were very pleasantly surprised at the size and the grandeur of the Angkor Wat where you have to buy a one day or three day ticket to visit all the 22 or so sites in the area. A 3 day pass costs USD 40 but the area is so vast that you can never visit all the sites in one day so we took a 3 day pass and hired a tuk tuk that brought us to all the sites and waited for us the whole day. We rented the tuk tuk for USD 15 per day but it was worth it. Some tourists do it by renting bicycles but we found the tuk tuk very convenient. The driver was also a good guide and understood some English.
Long ago the Indian traders who were Hindus came with their trade goods by the sea route and returned to India with silk, precious stones and spices from Cambodia. They also brought with them the Ramayana and Maha Bharata that they presented to the Hindu king of Angkor who was very keen on learning about the religious history of India. Angkor was a Hindu kingdom before it became Buddhists later so the king built the Angkor Wat temple complex to worship Hindu God Vishnu.
He also ordered his craftsmen to record the complete story of Maha Bharata who then made the bas relief on the walls of the gallery that runs for hundreds of meters on all sides of the main temple complex. It is nothing short of a monumental work and a masterpiece that will dazzle you with its beauty and enormity. You have to remember that these artists had never been to India and turned the written text that was most likely in Sanskrit into the massive bas relief art work that you will see as you enter the main temple.
The rendition is very accurate and conforms to the original texts of Maha Bharata making it all the more amazing because no where in the world including India there exists such a monument and the bas relief that tells the story of Maha Bharata in so great a detail. The art work alone makes it into the Guinness book of records and the UN has designated Angkor Wat as a world heritage site.
But as you walk slowly toward the temple, you will see on both sides of the road, groups of people with missing limbs or who are blind . They sing the glory of Angkor so people give them a few coins. They are the victims of the long war who are trying to earn a living this way. The surveys using helicopters by the Australians and others carrying ground penetrating radar equipment have discovered vast temple complexes, cities and vast network of roads and irrigation canals, water reservoirs and numerous temples that are still buried in thick jungle of the area. Only a small area of Angkor is cleared.
You will be discouraged to go there on your own because the Khmer Rouge army planted thousands of mines there so it is very dangerous for anyone to go there. Now slowly some areas are being cleared of mines but it may take a very long time to find all the mines and deactivate them safely. Many people have died doing so.
So hopefully someday the government will uncover these lost cities and temples by clearing the dense vegetation that covers it completely but they will need international help and money and expertise to do so. They try to maintain the Angkor Wat and numerous other sites like Ta Phrom , Bayon etc. by using the money they earn through the tourism. During the war, the vandals and the Khmer Rouge people stole numerous stone carvings from the temples and carted them away by truck loads to be sold in the illegal markets of Bangkok and other places. You can see the damaged Apsaras and many other religious statues where the looters tried to hack the figurines out using hammer.
In India we see a lot of temples, forts and various ancient buildings built during the past 2000 years but no where you will see the likes of Angkor. The MahaBharata period was long before Christ but there exists no trace of that period except the written texts of the story in fragile palm leaves or other materials that were kept in temples and were discovered later. That is how Vedas , Puranas and Rigvedas were discovered, translated and published. The original texts are in Sanskrit which only a few scholars can read and understand.
But the Angkor Kings understood Sanskrit because they had Sanskrit teachers from India. You can still see some scripts in sanskrit in the national museum in Phnom Penh.
So watch the video of Karolina Goswami who so beautifully explains the India Cambodia relationship and their ancient historical ties. It is known that when Krishna asked for help in the battle of Kurukshetra from many kings , the king of Angkor sent an army to fight on the side of the Pandavas.
Source : U tube video of Karolina Goswami
Here are the power points I made to show you the Angkor Wat, many other temples and the Apsara dance that we saw in Siem Reap.
1 . The power point Angkor Wat
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2. The power point Bas relief of Angkor Wat
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3. The power point Cambodia today
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4. The power point A journey through Cambodia
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These four power points will give you a very good idea of what Cambodia is all about so share them with your friends freely and read the story called Rising from the ashes by Sivath at the link given above.
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