Churning the Sea of Milk at Angkor Thom, Cambodia

We were stunned by the view as we approached the southern gate to Angkor Thom (the Great City), Cambodia.

While we have seen many Buddha heads in Cambodia, we have never seen one which has an opening serving as a gateway underneath. The gateway is 3.5 by 7 m, and would originally has been closed with timber doors.CSC_0349

As with many statutes in the area, there are also Buddha heads looking in the other directions.DSC_0130

We were impressed by what we saw as we drew near. The closer we looks, we more we were impressed by the details.DSC_0131

We walked across the causeway (top picture) which spans the moat in front of the gateway. The causeway is lined with mythical statues on both sides.

The causeway have a row of 54 devas (guardian deities) on the right and 54 asuras (demon gods) on the left. Each row holding a naga (serpent) in the attitude of a tug-of-war. The devas pull the head of a mythical naga while the asuras on the other side push the tail of the serpent. The whipping motion of the serpent’s body was said to churn the ocean and recreate the cosmos anew. This is the popular myth in Angkor which is referred to as the “Churning of the Sea of Milk” in Hindu’s myth of creation. The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself, would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. The dancing female deities (known as “apsaras”) were the first beings to emerge from the sea of creation; see my other post on “Apsarus in Angkor Wat”.

The image below shows the head of the “naga” in churning of the sea of milk.DSC_0126

Also shown is the head of one of the 54 asuras.DSC_0129

Of course, the Hindus has a different myth as to how the cosmos was created and renewed.

Visiting Angkor Wat is indeed a unique experience. Maybe, for the first time you see the power of the trees trying to reclaim the land; the lost and found temple ruins; the ancient myths on display and a culture which is so different to ours.