Walking In the Shadow of Time
These images depict a small portion of what remains of the architecture of the Khmer Empire in the Siem Reap and the nearby Provinces of Central Cambodia in South East Asia.
Between 800 AD and 1500 AD, the Khmer Empire controlled most of what is current day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Through conquest, alliances and trade, the Khmer Empire spread their Hindu religious vision of the world, later merging this vision with a Buddhist ideology.
Combining their interpretation of the Hindu religion from India with the concept of the God-King with their own distinctive culture, they built large religious centers surrounded by moats that contained temples, administrative buildings, residential compounds, workshops, markets. terraces and pools. Today, the surviving structures are in various states of decay, from scattered ruble covered with tree roots and vegetation to restored masterpieces of inspirational architecture.
Based on a mandala plan, mandala being a Sanskrit word for circle or disk, the architectural design of these sites reflects a cosmic map of the universe. The Khmer builders sought to create a space where personal completeness could be achieved. Symbolically, the center tower represents both the real Mount Meru of the Himalayas and the mythical Mount Meru, the Hindu Center of the Universe with the encircling moats representing the cosmic oceans. With these buildings, the ruling class honored and gave thanks to their gods and ancestors.
The Khmer builders used a combination of brick, stucco, laterite and sandstone to create these massive complexes, which combined a central sanctuary, towers, altars, passageways, entryway buildings and pools surrounded by moats and reservoirs. The sandstone walls were carved with unique sculptures of dancers and gods along with detailed bas-reliefs showing vegetation, daily life, history and mythology.
With their remarkable understanding of water management, they built a vast system of dams, reservoirs, moats and irrigation canals to manage their communities water needs to become prosperous growers of rice year around. Along with fishing, this efficient rice production was a key source to their wealth and success. At its height, it is believed that the Angkor community supported almost one million people. Eventually the Khmer’s aggressive military campaigns and their labor-intensive projects depleted the ruling class of their resources. The irrigation system could not be maintained as canals and waterways silted up. Attacks by neighboring Kingdoms and a long running regional drought contributed to a gradual decline and the eventual failure of this unique civilization.
The Khmer builders were architects, engineers, craftsmen and artists who created beautiful structures that were in harmony with their vision of life and landscape. Through their architecture, the Khmer Empire presented their beliefs, history and cosmology leaving us with a singular interpretation of the world we live in. What remains are the beautiful ruins depicted here that have been weathered by time and nature yet still reveal a sophisticated and complicated civilization consumed with finding their place in the universe.