Cambodia - Temples, Books, Films and ruminations...by Andy Brouwer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Churning scene at Preah Vihear
I will post photos from my recent visit to Preah Vihear temple soon enough. In the meantime, this picture of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk at the temple, reminded me of a note that author and Angkor expert Dawn Rooney sent me a while ago when we were discussing this particular narrative scene.
Rooney recalls: The myth of The Churning of the Ocean of Milkcentres on two teams who are churning the ocean of milk in an effort to produce an elixir of immortality. The pivot, MountMandara, is in the centre of the scene with eighty-eight gods standing in a row on one side and ninety-two demons on the other side. They hold the huge, scaly body of a mighty serpent twisted like a rope. After 1,000 years of churning the mountain begins to sink creating many obstacles. Vishnu, reincarnated as a tortoise, comes to the rescue and supports the mountain on the back of his shell. Reinforced, the churning starts again, and, finally, after another 1,000 years the elixir bursts forth along with other treasures such as a three-headed elephant (Airavata), a goddess (Laksmi) , the moon god (Chanda), a milky-white horse, the cow of plenty, the conch of victory, and the beautiful apsaras or celestial nymphs. When the late William Willetts saw the churning scene he described them as ‘a bevy of capering apsaras [that] burst like champagne bubbles’.
The scene represented on the 4th Gopura at Preah Vihear is one of the temple's masterpieces. Mount Mandara is shown as a rather slender pole, around which Vishnu has entwined himself. A homely touch is the pot at the base, which represents the cosmic sea itself. Vishnu is also present as a turtle to prevent the pivot from boring into the ground as the gods and demons on either side (almost indistinquishable from each other) pull alternately on the body of the naga. Other gods and characters are present: Brahma above the pole with the sun and the moon on either side, Indra on his elephant at the far right, Lakshmi appearing behind the pot on its right side, Shiva's emaciated disciple Bringin on the far left, and next to him the garuda who tries to steal the elixir produced by the churning.