Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Ta Prohm: jungle and ruins
After spending two weeks there, my thoughts about Cambodia are to do with the relationship between people and nature, or culture and the landscape.
The recent history of Cambodia has been tragic. After being colonized by the French for 90 years, there was an incredibly brutal civil war that ended in 1975 leaving millions dead and more traumatized.
The Angkorian period, from about year 802 to 1431, was a time when Cambodia was a great and powerful empire. Its capital was at Angkor, and a succession of kings built many grand and beautiful temples there. After 1431 the capital was moved, and the temples started to be overtaken by the surrounding jungle. The ruins were discovered by French missionaries in the 1850s, and since then much effort has gone into restoration.
Except for Ta Prohm. This temple was built in the middle of the 12th century by a Cambodian king called Jayavarman VIIth who dedicated it to his mother. It was decided not to restore Ta Prohm but to leave the gigantic fig and silk-cotton tree roots that grow through, around and over the stones.
Nowhere else have I seen such a dramatic example of the powerfully assertive force of nature. The roots look like weird giant insects in a deadly intertwine.
This is the way Lonely Planet describes the temple of Ta Prohm:
There is a poetic cycle to this venerable ruin, with humanity first conquering nature to rapidly create, and nature once again conquering humanity to slowly destroy.
The same idea was expressed in a poem by published by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1818.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
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