Monday, December 29, 2014

Laos' "Temple Mountain" (Wat Phou)

A. Nguyen, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; Pint Maws (via Pinterest Mania, Ben/flickr), Wiki edit
(VideoVoyage.TV) Wat Phu is a ruined Khmer temple complex in southern Laos located at the base of Mt. Phu Kao, which later became a Theravada Buddhist center as it remains today.
UNESCO World Heritage Site Vat Phou, Laos hidden in jungle rediscovered in 1914 (PM).

Shiva Nataraja (Kristine Krol)
Vat Phou or Wat Phu (Lao ວັດພູ, "temple-mountain") is a ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex in Buddhist southern Laos.
It is located at the base of Mount Phu Kao, 4 miles (6 km) from the Mekong river in Champasak province.

There was a temple on the site as early as the 5th century, but the surviving structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries.

(Secrets of Nature) LAOS, Southeast Asia: 85% of the country is pristine nature, widespread forests, jungle wilderness, steep mountains, and wide river valleys, with cool high plateaus and savannahs. The primeval forests support fauna like something out of a fairytale, with elephants, tigers, leopards, and some of the rarest animal species on the planet. Unknown species discovered by science at regular intervals. In recent decades, the few large mammals to be described for the first time were all found in Indochina (between India and China), and experts assume that most of them are at home in Laos: wild oxen such as the saola and kuprey or the truong son munjak. No outsider has ever seen a living specimen of the latter. Its existence is only known indirectly, through skeletons, horns, and bag that are occasionally found in remote villages. Here is the Mekong, one of the last untamed rivers on Earth. Fed by hundreds of tributaries, it is one of the richest freshwater systems on the planet, comparable to the Amazon or Congo, where the Mekong catfish lives -- 9 feet (3 m) long, 661 lbs (300 kg), possibly the largest freshwater fish (naga) on Earth.
Bangkok linga shrine (alinavitenberg/flickr)
The temple has a unique structure, in which the elements lead to a shrine where a linga (phallic structure) dedicated to Lord Shiva was bathed in water from a mountain spring. The site later became a center of Theravada Buddhist worship, which it remains today.

View from Vat Phou or Wat Phu near the sanctuary on the upper level, looking back towards the Mekong River (Mattun0211/wiki).

The mountain has a natural linga on its peak.
Wat Phou was initially associated with the city of Shrestapura, which lay on the bank of the Mekong river directly east of mount Lingaparvata, now called Phu Kao (pamphlet Projet de Recherches en Archaeologie Lao. Vat Phu: "The Ancient City, The Sanctuary, The Spring").

By the latter part of the 5th century the city was already the capital of a kingdom, which texts and inscriptions connect with both Chenla and Champa. And the first structure on the mountain was constructed around this time (Freeman, A Guide to Khmer Temples in Thailand and Laos p. 200-201).

The mountain gained spiritual importance from the linga-shaped protuberance on its summit. The mountain itself was therefore considered the home of Shiva, with the river representing the ocean or India's holiest river, the Ganges (COMOS report p. 71). 
The temple was naturally dedicated to Shiva, while the water from the spring that emerges directly behind the temple was considered sacred.

Vat Phou or Wat Phu from left to right: the south palace, the tiers leading to the central sanctuary, mountain peak shrouded in mist, and the north palace (wiki).
Famous Angkor Wat (samcambodiatours)
Wat Phou was a part of the Buddhist-Hindu Khmer empire, centered on Angkor (with the massive Buddhist-Hindu temple Angkor Wat) to the southwest, at least as early as the reign of Yashovarman I in the early 10th century.

Shrestapura was superseded by a new city in the Angkorian period, located directly south of the temple (Ibid., p. 72). In the later period, the original buildings were replaced, reusing some of the stone blocks. The temple now seen was built primarily during the Koh Ker and Baphuon periods of the 11th century.
Minor changes were made during the following two centuries before the temple, like most in the empire, was converted to Theravada Buddhist use. This continued after the area came under control of the Lao. A festival is held on the site each February. Little restoration work has been done, other than restoring boundary posts along the path. Wat Phou was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

The site
Like most Khmer temples, Wat Phou is oriented toward the east. The axis actually faces eight degrees south of due east, being determined primarily by the orientation of the mountain and river. Including the barays it stretches 1.4 km east from the source of the spring, at the base of a cliff 100 meters up the hill. Six km east of the temple, on the west bank of the Mekong river, lay the city, while a road south from the temple itself led to other temples and ultimately to the city of Angkor. More 

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