Trees Trounce Temple

Table of contents for Cambodia Chronicles

  1. FLOATING VILLAGES OF CAMBODIA
  2. Trees Trounce Temple

This is the tale of voracious trees that have devoured a temple says JAYANTHI SANKARAN.

To anyone interested in seeing and understanding the extent of influence that Hinduism and Buddhism exercised across the seas from India, there is perhaps no better way than to make a visit to the UNESCO-notified World Heritage site in Cambodia: the Angkor Group of Temples.

Ta Prohm, part of the Angkor Complex, in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia, is awesome in its majesty and grandeur. Khmer King Jayavarman VII, so the story goes, built this monolithic laterite structure in 1181 AD in honour of his family. Although, its original name was ‘Rajavihara’ (royal temple), it was subsequently called ‘Ta Prohm’ – ‘Ta’ means ancestors and ‘Prohm’ means ‘Brahma’. So, ‘Ta Prohm’ means’ ancestors of Brahma’ – the Hindu God of creation. The Buddhist King commemorated this temple in 1186 AD.

The main image of the temple symbolizing ‘Pragnya Paramita’, the embodiment of wisdom, was dedicated to his mother. Complementary to the Ta Prohm, is the ‘Preah Khan’ whose central image represents the Bodhisattva of compassion – Lokesvara and is dedicated to his father. This was built in 1191 AD.

Sanskrit records indicate that the temple complex housed more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers). Additionally, around 80,000 villagers were said to have worked in and around to provide supplies and services. What is most interesting is that the Temple was very rich and was laden with vast amounts of gold, pearls and silks.

Welcome to Ta Prohm

Welcome to Ta Prohm

The Ta Prohm Temple with Silk-cotton trees

The Ta Prohm Temple with Silk-cotton trees

Ta Prohm Temple and Silk-cotton trees vying for space

Ta Prohm Temple and Silk-cotton trees vying for space

Many bas-reliefs of the Apsaras and Bodhisatvas in the ’Ta Prohm’, originally built as a Buddhist monastery, were subsequently destroyed by King Jayavarman VIII – a Hindu ruler. Further, the shifting of capital from Siem Reap to Angkor caused wars and dissensions leading to an abject neglect of the Angkor complex.

A bas-relief over an entrance at Ta Prohm includes this intense meditating or praying figure - Courtesy Wikipedia

A bas-relief over an entrance at Ta Prohm includes this intense meditating or praying figure – Courtesy Wikipedia

Bas Relief

Bas relief on Ta Prohm corridor Courtesy: Wikipedia

Sections of the Inner enclosure

Sections of the Inner enclosure

Interior Corridors of Ta Prohm

Interior Corridors of Ta Prohm

What distinguishes this temple from other Angkor temples is the saddening spectacle of gigantic silk-cotton, banyan and strangler fig trees, some of them more than 40 metres high, swallowing up large sections of the temple. This is the only structure that has been left as it is by the French, – the École française d’Extrême-Orient – who were doing renovation work, to bear testimony to the wrath of nature against man-made objects.

Very tall and gigantic Silk-cotton and Strangler fig trees

Very tall and gigantic Silk-cotton and Strangler fig trees

These gigantic trees, piercing into the heavens, have thick roots that bear octopus like configurations. These roots, perched above the earth, have grown, and are still growing, above, and into, the temple walls and have spread, tentacle-like, through the crevices and spaces between the laterite stones. The pressure that builds up in this constant battle between the roots and rocks forces the latter to rupture and come apart.

Silk-cotton trees with octopus like tentacles

Silk-cotton trees with octopus like tentacles

Silk-cotton tree compressing a wall

Silk-cotton tree compressing a wall

Roots of a Silk cotton trees spreading along the gallery of the second enclosure

Roots of a Silk cotton trees spreading along the gallery of the second enclosure

My dad and me surrounded by roots

My dad and me surrounded by roots

Roots growing at a breathtaking pace

Roots growing at a breathtaking pace

In fact, in many places, including tops of doorways, the broken laterite stones are sitting precariously and are on the brink of tumbling down. Littered all over are stones that have been pulled down to prevent further damage to the temple and to humans.

Roots spreading around a door – stones crumbling

Roots spreading around a door – stones crumbling

Savage destruction

Savage destruction

Talking about danger to humans, brings to mind a scene from ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’ starring Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie, which was shot in Ta Prohm. In that particular shot, she is led by a mysterious small girl who laughingly beckons her to follow, as she plays hide and seek with her. Finally, when she comes face-to-face with the girl, she is instructed to pluck some beautiful white flowers from a plant growing near a monstrous tree. When she plucks it to smell the fragrance and looks back to make eye-contact with the girl – she is gone, and Jolie is sucked into the earth right to the base of the tree. Pretty scary, is’nt it? For those interested, you can watch that particular scene in YouTube.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Although, sections of the Ta Prohm are currently being restored by a joint collaboration between the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap), the sheer scale of destruction makes the restitution of the structure to its original glory, virtually impossible!

Partnership restoration project between ASI and APSARA

Partnership restoration project between ASI and APSARA

ASI/Ta Prohm Temple Complex Conservation Strategy

ASI/Ta Prohm Temple Complex Conservation Strategy

Further, the UNESCO 1992 guidelines which state that no trees can be cut makes this task daunting and formidable. The main aim of the guideline is to showcase the trees and the temple structure living ‘au natural’.

Although, we did see some restoration work in progress, we could surmise that the ASI and APSARA, had a very challenging task ahead.

As we left Ta Prohm, I could not but marvel as to how nature ultimately establishes its superiority over mere mortals.

Photographs: G. Sankaran

GETTING THERE: Ta Prohm is 15 km from Siem Reap International Airport. There are many convenient flights from Singapore and other SE Asian cities.

WHERE TO STAY: Somadevi Angkor Hotel (four star). There are a number of other hotels suiting all budgets:  www.siemreapcambodia.org/angkor-temples/ta-prohm/ or www.agoda.co.in.

WHERE TO EAT: For Indians who are worried as to where to eat, – the local Cambodians are primarily carnivorous, and will eat anything that walks, creeps or crawls, except for humans! – a great place providing authentic Indian food is ‘The Indian’ located in the old market area, opposite the provincial hospital, close to Pub street in Siem Reap. The proprietor M. Sajeesh who migrated four years back from Kerala, and set up shop, worked initially as an accountant. He can be reached at 017928471 (local number).

HOW TO TRAVEL: For two people a tuk-tuk is very convenient and cheap. If a personalized tour guide is needed, it is better to hire a van with a driver.

BEST SEASON TO VISIT: The best time to visit Siem Reap is in the winter months between November and January.

BEST SEASON TO AVOID: The summer months between March to May are very hot and humid (33 degree Celsius).

A useful weblink is www.tourismcambodia.org which is the Department of Tourism, Cambodia website.

A Cambodian waitress and me at 'The Indian' restaurant in Siem Reap

A Cambodian waitress and me at ‘The Indian’ restaurant in Siem Reap

Pub street in Siem Reap

Pub street in Siem Reap

Our tourist guide and me at the Central Market in Siem Reap

Our tourist guide and me at the Central Market in Siem Reap

41 Comments

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Saroja Aunty,

    Thank you so much for travelling with me. Somehow, it never occurred to me to look above – I was so mesmerized by what was happening below – it reminded me of an English noble woman spreading her pleated gown all around.

    Thanks also for your encouraging comments and for bringing to the table, facts that I had previously overlooked.

    Warm regards
    Jayanthi

  • Saroja Aunty says:

    Dear Jayanthi,
    IT was a lovely read through your travelogues accompanied by your father’s photographs of those awesome silk cotton trees. It sounded like an authentic historian/archaeologist taking us through a wonderland never to forget. Come spring and I used to enjoy those lovely red flowers of the tree while going to school in Delhi and back. Come summer and the white cotton pods while exploding, resulting in allergies would make us dread the very sight of those trees. But believe me, I have no memories of those serpentine roots of those trees which look so awesome. Maybe we never looked down – but always looked at the upper part of the tree – those shining red flowers – co captivating .
    Thanks for the lead Jayanthi. You should travel to more exotic places and write more travelogues.
    All the best.
    Saroja Aunty

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Chris,

    Sorry, once again for my late reply. Thank you so much for offering to serve as a Travel guide to other places in Siem Reap, if in case I decide to make another trip.

    My Dad is doing much better, thank you for asking – Kind regards – Jayanthi

  • Christophe says:

    Dear Jayanthi,

    What a nice article about the most amazing temple in my opinion of the archeological site of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm. Really interesting for me, as a French guy, to read something about the city I’m living, written in the point of view of an Asian lady, and with so much details.

    Thank you so much. Good luck for your new trip and post.

    Chris.

    • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

      Dear Chris,

      Sorry – I did not respond to your email, earlier. I had to attend to my father who was briefly hospitalized. Nothing very serious – he is discharged now!

      Thanks for your encouraging comments on my Travelogue ‘Trees Trounce Temple’. I feel overwhelmed that you as a resident of Siem Reap thought highly of it. It gives me a lot of impetus in moving forward to my next trip and Travelogue.

      I will keep you posted.

      Cheers
      Jayanthi

      • Christophe says:

        Sorry to hear for your father dear.

        Feel free to contact me if you decide to come back to Siem Reap, it will be a pleasure to guide you to some different places and other sightseeing.

        Kind regards. Chris

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Nandan,

    Thanks a lot for your compliments and comments – especially, the one on trees swallowing concrete. Yes, I was very happy with the reader’s comments! It motivated me to continue making Travelogues as my niche – looking forward to the Goa trip, although it has not been finalized as yet.

    Cheers
    Jayanthi

  • Nandan Jha says:

    This is a FOG (First on Ghumakkar).

    I missed reading few stories as I was away during this time so catching up. Trees devouring concrete is also seen in old houses if you travel countryside, also tremendously liked various comments and discussions.

    Good luck for your Goa trip.

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Antoinette,

    Please thank Jane on my behalf for her good wishes and continuing encouragement!

    Kind regards
    Jayanthi

  • Antoinette Winckworth says:

    Dear Jayanthi

    Well done on another good article with some great photos, Jayanthi. I remember you writing about this destination for one of your assignments. It looks great on the website, with lots of positive comments from appreciative readers.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best wishes

    Jane

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Mr Deependraji,

    Thank you so much for your kind comments – the experience was one of a kind!

    Warm regards
    Jayanthi

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Leela,

    Thank you so much for your feedback – especially, for sharing about the Sequoia and tallest Redwood trees in California. I have seen the latter too, when I visited California. Yes, the roots of the silk-cotton and strangler fig trees are unique and simply awesome. I am so glad that I have made the ‘Temple and Trees’ alive for you.

    Love
    Jayanthi

  • Never knew a post could be written on trees. It has been composed beautifully assisted by equally beautiful pictures. Interesting read.

  • Leela says:

    Dear Jayanthi,

    I’m back from my vacation and was finally able to read your second travelogue on Cambodia. I was captivated by your article and the pictures! You have given a good account of the history of the temples. I guess the giant trees would be as much of a tourist attraction as the ancient temples! They are amazing! I have seen the world’s largest Sequoia trees and the tallest Redwood trees in California, but none of them have roots anything similar to the massive, strangling roots of these giant Silk Cotton and other trees! By the way, do these trees produce silk cotton still? I don’t plan on visiting Cambodia, so thank you for making these places come alive for me in your Cambodia Chronicles. All the best with your future articles, Jayanthi! God bless. Leela

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Naveena,

    Thanks, Jayanthi!

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Mr. Ganapathy,

    Glad to know that you are currently teaching/training and spending time with youngsters – doing things you really like doing!

    Best regards
    Jayanthi

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Auro,

    Thanks a lot for your engaging comments! Glad to hear that the prose synchronizes with the pictures. Also, great to know that the tet-e-tet between the trees and the temple does not last for too long – the former takes over the latter.

    Best regards
    Jayanthi

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Jayanthi,

    Once again an engrossing write-up. The precise prose is in perfect harmony with the engaging pics.

    And it is thought provoking. Those gigantic trees and roots swallowing up the temple – it does convey something to us vain Humans.

    Thanks for such a wonderful story….

    Auro.

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Mr Amitava,

    Thank you so much for your encouraging comments and support. It really means a lot to me that you were the first one to have read my post – I appreciate it!

    Also, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to comment on it.

    Best regards
    Jayanthi

  • Wonderful post and awesome pictures of the Silk-cotton tree…I have never seen such trees in my life…and yes, “this is the tale of voracious trees that have devoured a temple” – rightly said;

    I probably the first one to read this post once published, apart from the Editorial team and, of course you – but had to hurry and was not there for the last couple of days…

    Take care and keep sharing,

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Naveena,

    Incidentally, there is one more post titled ‘Floating villages of Cambodia’. Both these posts have been serialized as ‘Cambodia chronicles’. Any comments on thid travelogue would also be welcome!

    Take care
    Jayanthi

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Naveena,

    Thanks a lot! Your encouraging comments and support really mean a lot to me! Where are you these days – in India or abroad?

    Let’s keep in touch.

    Take care
    Jayanthi

    • Naveena Israni says:

      Dear Jayanthi,

      I am currently in Mumbai, but keep travelling on & off. Will keep you posted on my next trip :)

      Regards,
      Naveena

  • Naveena Israni says:

    Brilliant write-up with breathtaking pics! Keep it up Jayanthi :)

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Vishal,

    Thank you very much for your comments and compliments! As far as the next one goes, it is going to be a while – I don’t anticipate anything in the immediate future. However, if I attend my friend’s wedding in Goa, the first week of November, I may convert it into a travelogue assuming I get the time there. Another friend of mine who currently lives in Bangalore has invited my dad and me to the Phillipines. So let’s see what happens!

    Best regards
    Jayanthi

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Jaishree,

    Thank you so much for taking time to translate Kabir’s couplets in English. You are pretty good at it – don’t underestimate your own potential.

    Warm regards
    Jayanthi

  • Jayanthi ,

    The post is overwhelming . True combination of spirituality and nature going hand in hand. The pictures are awesome so is the description.

    Waiting for next one of yours . Where are you taking us next.

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Jaishree,

    Thanks for your comments and compliments. Can you please translate Kabir’s couplets in English?

    Regards
    Jayanthi

    • Jaishree says:

      Jayanthi,

      I am too bad at English poetry. Read at your own risk!

      ” Seven notes wafting in the air, festivities at every nook
      All those temples are now empty, crows only to roost.

      Rich and famous temples, studded with jewels
      It is a short life, killed by time; so Kabir tells.

  • Jaishree says:

    Jayanthi,

    Your article had everything- reading pleasure, infotainment and visual delight.

    It reminded me of Kabir

    “????? ???? ?? ?????,?? ?? ???? ???
    ?? ????? ???? ????, ???? ???? ???

    ????? ????? ??? ??, ?????? ???? ???
    ???? ??? ?? ??? ??, ???? ????? ???”

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Anne,

    Glad that you liked my travelogue. Your support and encouragement means a lot to me! Hope you can make it to Ta Prohm, all over again!

    As far as my next travelogue goes, I don’t see anything for a while. Will keep you informed.

    Take care
    Jayanthi

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Mala,

    Thanks for the encouraging feedback and compliments. Your support means a lot to me. As far as my next travelogue goes, I don’t know where exactly I am headed. I will be attending a friend’s wedding in Goa, the first week of November. There is a possibility of heading to the Phillipines, sometime in the distant future – a friend of mine from Bangalore has invited my dad and me to visit her.

    So, let’s see what gives! How are things with you? And how is the writing coming along? Hope all is well.

    Take care
    Jayanthi

  • Anne says:

    Dear Jayanthi,

    It was a pleasure to read your article. I remember the site very well and your writing gave me the idea to repeat the visit sometimes.
    I am impatiently waiting to read your next story.

    Take care.
    Anne

  • Mala Ashok says:

    The alliterative title is the beginning of a great story. I have heard of plants devouring animals but to witness a tree devouring an entire temple, in such a massive scale is unbelievable. The pictures add a wonderful dimension to the well-written travelogue.

    Your fans will be eagerly waiting for your next trip:-)

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Mr. Ganapathy,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my travelogue and comment on it. Glad that you enjoyed it, and looking forward to keeping all my readers busy!

    Kind regards
    Jayanthi

    • Lalgudi Saptarishi Ganapathy says:

      Madam,

      Though I have travelled all around the Globe including Vietnam, always only in the technical work.

      Saturdays mostly maintanance days and more interesting technically to know things.Sundays were only for relaxing!!!

      Entire life for me was like that and I really envy(!!!!!!!) people who really travel,gather information and share with others.

      Now am very happy in teaching/training and spending time with the youngsters are really wonderful and enjoyable.

      with regds,
      lsg

  • Lalgudi Saptarishi Ganapathy says:

    Another good one! enjoy travelling and keep us busy!!!
    thanks,
    lsg

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Hi Susheela,

    Very sweet of you to take time out of your busy schedule to read my travelogue and comment on it. Glad that you liked the narrative as also the photo’s.

    Take care
    Jayanthi

  • Susheela V says:

    Jayanthi, this is so very interesting.
    Not a place I had heard of before you told me about it.
    I like the way you bring out the similarities amongst cultures.
    The photos are great and make the story come alive.
    Regards
    Susheela

  • Jayanthi Sankaran says:

    Dear Mr. Narayan,

    Thank you very much for your encouraging comments and compliments! Yes, as you rightly point out since trees have outlived dinosaurs, there is a good chance that they will outlive humans too. I remember our tourist guide telling us that many of these trees were more than 300 years old.

    This is my last post from Cambodia. I will most definitely, ask the editors to link both these posts to form a series.

    Kind regards
    Jayanthi

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Awesome post about an awesome place, Ms.Sankaran.

    The alliterative title caught my attention and when I saw that it was penned by you and it was about the Angkor, it was a must read. Never thought that trees could be voracious but who can deny that fact after the visual evidence presented by you. Trees were the first colonisers of the earth and they have outlasted the dinosaurs and might one day, in the very distant future (hopefully), outlast humans too.

    Is this the last post from Cambodia or are there more in the offing? I wish that you linked your previous post on Cambodia to this one to form a series. You can request the editors to do that for you.

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