Monday, August 16, 2010
Banteay Chhmar is slowly giving up its secrets to the renovators from the Global Heritage Fund. Never fully researched, Banteay Chhmar dates from the 12th century and whilst some sections of the temple have fallen prey to thieves, other sections, such as the eastern naga causeway, have been hidden from view for centuries. Lying under the top soil and slowly revealed by the GHF team of excavators over the past two years, the well-preserved naga and garuda balustrades look as fresh as the day they were created. The naga, a many-headed cobra with an outspread hood, is associated with water, its natural habitat. It appears principally in the form of a naga balustrade along access causeways or around the terraces besides the entrance to the monuments. It is often associated in Khmer art with its hereditary enemy, the garuda, a mythological animal that is half-man and half-raptor. During the Bayon period (1181-1219) of sculptural construction, the ends of naga balustrades underwent a major change. At the bottom, one naga, usually three-headed, is straddled by a garuda controlling a second naga, with six heads, whilst more heads decorate the backside of the hood. The balustrade ends at Banteay Chhmar are supported by blocks of sandstone carved with kalas and lions. Almost identical replicas can be found at other temples in the same time period, such as Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. The eastern causeway at Banteay Chhmar has now been reconstructed and adorned with its naga balustrades though work is continuing, as it is throughout this complex.