Being a Woman
I expected temples, ruins and beautiful landscapes in Cambodia and I was not disappointed. However what captured my heart, mind and soul was the enthralling Temple of Bayon. Situated in the centre of the Angkor Thom complex amidst thick forests without an enclosing wall, the most striking feature of this temple is the large number of massive stone faces carved on the numerous towers. Dedicated to the Buddha, there are reportedly 216 faces of which many have eroded over time. Due to the resemblance to King Jayavarman VII, there are scholars who argue that the faces are the king’s. One look at the serenity portrayed and I have no doubt that I’m looking at the Buddha.
I truly wasn’t expecting something on this scale ; I must admit that I was slightly supercilious at the start of our Angkor trip. After all I’m from India, the land of temples and I’ve been seeing them in all sizes and shapes dedicated to every deity under the sun. Bayon humbled me. The faces of Lokesvara reached out to me and I was lost.
There were lots of tourists wandering all around but Bayon somehow seemed untouched by it. The faces were like sentinels from the past waiting to divulge their stories to an audience yet to arrive. I wandered around in a daze trying to assimilate all that I was seeing. There were galleries with bas reliefs depicting marching armies, kings , princesses, apsaras and even scenes from domestic life during those times, but I kept returning to the faces. Since we had not taken the children along, I could gaze uninterrupted without worrying about them. I found myself a little corner and sat down to drink in the scene.
I wondered what this complex would have looked like in those days, surrounded by huge green trees, splendid in it’s solitude . I thought about the kings and commoners who might have come here seeking comfort in their times of trouble or to give thanks for their good fortune. Isn’t that what we still do in places of worship ? These faces of Buddha would have brought solace to countless generations with I’m sure remarkably similar problems. These composed countenances would surely have soothed many a troubled mind as they do now.
I couldn’t sit there indefinitely, we had to proceed to Angkor Wat. When I got up, my mind felt cleansed but it was a wrench leaving Bayon. I felt I was bidding farewell to a loved one whom I would never see again. I still had so many questions to ask Lokesvara, the compassionate Buddha. Turning back, I consoled myself that I would come here with my children when they were old enough to look beyond the bricks and stones and see the soul of Bayon.