The temple of Ta Phrom might have been just another remnant of the herculean Angkor complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia, if the trees did not lend the much-added drama and eeriness to the air here. While the rest of the Angkor temples were going through the process of restoration, Ta Phrom lay forgotten in its natural state and the forest took no time in devouring it. It still looks very much the way as explorers first stumbled upon it.
The 1000-year-old temple was constructed by one of the most powerful kings of the Khmer empire, Javarman vii. He dedicated the temple to his mother and named it Rajvihara.
My driver cum guide suggested that I begin my tour from the west entrance and finish it on the east, avoiding to walk back through the jumble of closed spaces and impassable passageways . As I entered through the first gopura, the temple started whispering a story written over the centuries on it, to the writer in me. The trees were both the protagonist and an antagonist of this story. The warrior trees were hostile and brutal, fighting a thousand-year-old battle with stones.
They split, strangled and clasped every block with their muscular roots, reclaiming from mankind what rightfully belonged to them, for long enough to not let go off now. Simultaneously, they also appeared as the protectors. They were soothing and covering wounds and cracks of stones with cool ovate leaves and soft moss. The tendrils held the stone blocks together, mindful that without this support the stones might fall and the structure would crumble.
The accidental harmony between the partly overgrown nature and gently declining human artifice made Ta- Phrom the most atmospheric ruin of all the Angkor region with an impossibly picturesque result. The temple richly fulfilled the cliché of an adventurist set for films such as Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.
I was so awestruck with nature’s design over man’s that it took some effort to look at anything else beyond trees. Peering through the branches were the framed doorways full of interesting tall bas-reliefs from the life of Gautam Buddha. Scattered hither and thither were the half remains of carved lions, serpent balustrades and mythical creatures. The walls that somehow managed to be bereft of trees were packed with the depiction of Dwarpalakas, Devtas, and deities tracing back their origin from Hindu mythology. A row of dancing apsaras was carved on the lintels of a huge room, possibly the hall of dancers. One has to understand that the religion of Cambodia is an amalgam of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shamanism. Since Buddhism was still in its infancy during the era the temple was constructed, so the art and architecture held Hindu influences.
A Sanskrit inscription on a stone stated the erstwhile grandeur of Ta- Phrom. The temple premise once comprised of 3,140 villages, 79,365 staff workers, 18 priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants, and 615 dancers. Some Of the valuable possessions of the temple mentioned in the scripture were 500 kilograms of gold, 35 diamonds, 40,620 pearls, 4,540 precious stones, 876 veils from China, 512 silk beds and 523 parasols.