All About Temples

posted by Lindsey Isaf

Although a stroll through Buddhist temples is not a foreign activity of my various journeys, each temple awes me equally if not more than the ones before it. Each temple has a history that has withstood wars, natural disasters, excavations, raids, and the pounding feet of humans and animals of the last several centuries. Each stone tells a story with its worn surfaces that have been moved and handled by the oiled hands of its makers and through intricate carvings, whether it is religious or historical.

Despite different locations or cultures, temples all share an unexplained spiritual importance and a commonality that unites them all. This commonality is the power of religion that has brought nations to their knees, destroyed or empowered civilizations, and has shaped individual journeys of soul-seekers while lasting the supremacy of time. There is no wonder why every religion erects four walled and intricately designed monuments to preserve those teachings that define the past, present, and future for innumerable amounts of nations and people. Preservation is the key.

Whether a temple, church or synagogue, these structures have withstood time to symbolize the struggles and triumphs of each country. Understandably the invaluable importance of these monuments has been the grounds of many religious wars. Empires, such as the Roman Empire, conquered lands to spread their authority in the name of their religion. To spread religion requires a change in religious the mindset and the structure already set within the other country by impressing other views. In Asia especially, this change between religion through war or evolution of a society’s beliefs is especially visible. Buddhism and Hinduism have been the reigning, all knowing religions of Asia for almost all of history. However, after visiting various Asian countries and temples, I have found Cambodia and Southeast Asia to be the only part of the world where two religions are so evidently tied together.

In Cambodia, many of the temples have switched from Hinduism to Buddhism, with Banteay Srei being one of the only well-known Hindu temples left. This religious history has left Cambodia as a nation that has the fluidity to pray to one religion’s deity while officially practicing another.  The differences that normally separate religions seem absent within society, further intensifying the contrast between the historical evidence of struggle between the two, such as the missing Buddhist figures in the Hindu temple, and the social acceptance and connection with both of the religions. Walking through Angkor Wat, Chen further baffled my confused religious notion of Cambodia when he pointed out a man “praying to the Hindu god Shiva and reciting Buddhist prayers.”

Each temple visited: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bantaey Srei, and Ta Phrom, all underwent some type of religious transformation that has left the temples with a deep history. However, I feel mystified by the acceptance, instead of rejection, of the temple’s “two-religion” history. In each temple, with its fallen pillars, etched walls, and looming towers Buddhism and Hinduism share their importance. With Angkor Wat being the world’s largest Hindu temple, one can’t deny the presence of Hinduism in Cambodia. The figures of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu haven’t been disassembled, and the stories carved into the sandstone walls still relate to the stories of the gods although Hinduism is no longer the official religion. All the temples I have visited have endured the test of time and its sacred meaning remains, but by visiting the temples in Cambodia I was fascinated by the intertwined history that is shown through the acceptance and practice of two religions that share similar and opposite characteristics which has majorly caused conflict throughout history.

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