Svakom tow vott angkor khettasiemrab (Welcome to Angkor wat, Siem Reap, the world’s largest religious building)
Who does not want vacation?…Its me…rightly so as I was in the thick of my project. We submitted the study documents to the People’s committee of Yen Bai province (my study site) and were awaiting the approval to begin the study.
It so turned out that October 10, 2016 was my last permitted working day in Vietnam in first stint and I had to leave the country for the visa renewal. Sure, this time it was proposed (and disposed) by God and happily accepted by man (me). Given 11th October 2016 was an auspicious day as per my belief (Dusshera festival in India- symbolizing victory of Good over evil), I thought of making most of the invitation to Angkor wat, Cambodia.
Angkor Wat, literally means ‘city (which became a) pagoda’ is the grandest of all the Khmer temples (Khmer- Southeast Asian ethnic group native to Cambodia) and a city in its own right.. Wat is the Khmer name for temple (the French spelling is “vat “), which was probably added to “Angkor “when it became a Theravada Buddhist monument, most likely in the sixteenth century. It was built during the reign of King Suryavarman II, both as the capital and the state temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and took approximately 37 years (1113 to 1150) to complete. Just to let you know the enormity- the total area is about 208 hectares (500 acres) with circumference of the temple close to 5 km. The height of Angkor Wat from the ground to the top of the central tower is 213 meters (699 feet). The word ‘Big’ is too ‘SMALL’ to describe Angkor Wat complex. It must be seen to be understood and appreciated.
It was a mesmerizing experience and I could not appreciate more the temple decorated with carvings in bas-relief of battle scenes, of triumphant processions, of religious scenes and of thousand plus single or groups of Apsaras- celestial maiden- supernatural females.
However, once you come out of the awe of beauty and grandioseness of the monument, reality bites and bites very heavily. On one hand I could not marvel more on how the structure has been standing in grace even after thousand years, weathering so many rains and sunshine, on the other hand I was almost sobbing to see dilapidated statues and pillars.
In 1960’s and 70’s Cambodia witnessed political upheaval and civil war- the worst genocide killing a quarter of population (two million) with heavy damages to and wide- spread lootings of the temples and statues. Many sculptures were either broken or stolen. However, Silver lining to the darkest cloud is that the restoration program, which was halted during civil war, restarted in late 1990’s.
Since 1997 the work of conservation has been performed by students and lecturers of the Department of Restoration and Conservation of University of Applied Sciences, Cologne and by local Conservation d’Angkor personnel in collaboration with the APSARA Authority (Authority for the Protection of the Site and Management of the Region of Angkor- the Cambodian management authority responsible for protecting the archaeological park of Angkor).
The Government of Italy has granted substantial sum to the UNESCO/Italy Funds-in-Trust, for Safeguarding of the Angkor Wat Temple.
The conservation and restoration project is undertaken by Japan-APSARA Safeguarding Angkor (JASA).
Ta Prohm, the third most visited site after Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple in the Angkor region
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been working to restore the Ta Prohm temple for over a decade now. The temple is famous for the trees growing into the structure (and was the picturesque backdrop to one of the Tomb Raider movies), but this state of nature interacting with architecture brings with it a unique set of conservation challenges. ASI roped in IIT- Chennai, premier engineering institute from southern India for help in structural engineering.
There are a multitude of temples within the Angkor region and consequently there are many international groups working in the field of restoration and conservation, coordinated by UNESCO. The theme being -exchange of experiences, transfer of technology, consultation and collaboration with the national and international institutions.
This theme is analogous to PULSE program undertaken by GSK- Collaborate with the NGOs across globe, cooperate to capacity building in terms of resource allocation-assigning talented individuals with desired skill sets to achieve the goals and coordinate the activities through the volunteers.
This mere thought of collaborating and cooperating with NGOs to make sustainable social impact took away all the depressing thoughts developed in my mind looking at broken statues and I felt blessed by the Lord of Angkor Wat.
In the south gallery of Angkor Wat there are 37 steps symbolizing way to heavens and it is believed that good deeds during your life take you there. Guess working with Save the Children, I am on step 1…..)