This time last year I was on spiritual pilgrimage in the Seam Reap area of Cambodia walking among the ruins of extraordinary ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples. One of the earliest surviving temple-mountains is Bakong at Rolous, built in the late 9th century as the state temple of Indravarman I and Indarvarman II. This is a temple dedicated to Shiva consisting of a five-story step pyramid surrounded by three concentric enclosures and two moats presenting a stylized representation of Mount Meru. It is oriented towards the cardinal directions so it is particularly appealing in the early morning and late afternoon light this time of year. The four entrances to the central tower each has Nandi, Shiva’s bull, patiently awaiting his master, and the stairways are protected by Chinese style lion guardians. Though the buildings are much eroded, and statuary broken or missing, it still is awe inspiring.
For our next temple-mountain we decided to rise early (4 am), to climb the Phnom Bakheng Mountain in the dark, in order to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. By the time we gathered, and drove to the base of the mountain, it is about an hour before sunrise. The ascent in the dark was surprisingly steep. We ascended a footpath path rather than the elephant path to save time. We reached the ramparts of the temple just as the first cock crows. The waning nearly full moon beamed down upon us.
Our local guide tells us this early 10th century temple-mountain was the state temple overlooking Yasovarnman I’s new capital city, a four-kilometer square palace surrounded by an earthen bank. Bakheng looks much like Bakong, but is dedicated to Yasodharesvara, the one who brings glory. Slowly the sky begins to lighten in the east. The details of geography began to take form as the world emerged into the light of day. The first birds began to sing in the predawn light. My heart soared!
Like Bakong this temple-mountain is oriented to the cardinal directions. To the northeast and southwest are holy mountains, to the west a great reservoir making this land fertile, to the north the dark forests, and to the southeast the massive structures of Angkor Wat. Today it is nearly the winter solstice, so the rising sun lines up directly through the sacred portals. The Buddha sitting in the central tower is bathed in morning light. I sit in a sacred portal bathed in morning light, aligned with the universe, and all that is. All is one and I am glad.