The Greatest of Kings: Jayavarman VII

   Continued from The Temple, Tomb and Observatory of Angkor Wat

A series of back projections of Angkor Wat, illustrate the following.

MAHA EYSEI: In 1181 the boy we met earlier ascended the throne as the greatest of all Angkor's Emperors, Jayavarman VII.  The Reamker was seen as an illustration of his life.
BRAHMIN: Like Rama, Jayavarman had been unjustly exiled and had had to fight evil forces, the Chams of present day Vietnam, who were regarded as asuras or demons.  Jayavarman had to be victorious in battle before he could return to Angkor.  Sita in the Reamker, the Cambodian version of the Ramayana is the symbol of Cambodia and the King must set her free.  Jayavarman set not only Cambodia free from the Chams but it is said he set free his Queen and also Fishing Cat, his no. 1 concubine, who had been his friend from childhood.

The above passage will be adapted in the light of the Reamker dance.
We shall also need to leave time for the actor playing the Brahmin priest to make a quick change into the Buddhist monk.


Enter QUEEN JAYAVARMAN (played by the actress who plays Mera) and the Buddhist Monk.  They burn incense.

MAHA EYSEI: It is said that Jayavarman's Queen was both a great beauty and a devout Buddhist and that she converted him to Buddhism.  So Jayavarman was both a great builder and a devout Buddhist.  He built the huge square shaped capital, Angkor Thom, three kilometres on each side.
JAYARVARMAN VII: I will be known as Jayavarman, the great builder.  I am lord of the temple that is like no other; the temple that is history in stone.  My face will greet those who come to the city for a thousand years.  My face is the four noble truths.

Back projection, mixing from one to another of the four faces on the southern gate of Angkor Thom.

MAHA EYSEI: In Buddhism there are four stages on our journey from attachment to this world to our escape from suffering.  These are known as the four noble truths.

Some say that the four huge faces over the South Gate to the City of Angkor Thom are the faces of Buddha, representing these four noble truths.  Others that they are the four faces of Siva.  And yet others that they are the faces of Yashovarman: frightening his enemies to the South, outside the city walls; meditating on birth and death to East and West; and finally loving and protecting his people to the North within the city walls.  You can see how different his expressions are.

It is said that he had many wives and concubines. This was not unusual, even for devout Buddhist emperors.

His first Concubine, FISHING CAT (played by the actress who plays the Naga Princess) enters with several other ladies who might be other Queens and concubines.

MAHA EYSEI: Legend has it that his chief concubine was Fishing Cat, the slave girl he had rescued as a boy.

Fishing Cat takes Jayavarman on one side and whispers in his ear.

MAHA EYSEI: She was cunning and fiercely loyal always watched her master's back, as he won many battles both in war and in diplomacy to become Angkor's greatest emperor.

The Queen and Fishing Cat then smile at each other.

MAHA EYSEI:Most remarkable of all, it is said that the Empress and Fishing Cat loved each other.

Jayavarman steps forward and addresses the audience

JAYAVARMAN VII: I am Jayavarman the bringer of the new way.  I build walls to protect the city and I build love in the hearts of the people.  Angkor Thom will become a city of compassion, a shining star to the rest of the world.

Jayavarman and the women leave as Zhou Daguan enters.

MAHA EYSEI: Angkor Thom was described a century later by Zhou Daguan, the Chinese Ambassador.  He assumed that the four great faces above the southern gate were those of the Buddha.
ZHOU DAGUAN: It has five gates.  Outside the wall stretches a great moat across which access is given to the city by massive causeways.  Flanking the causeways on either side are fifty four divinities resembling war lords in stone, huge and terrifying.  They grasp nine headed serpents, seemingly to prevent their escape.  Above each gate are grouped five gigantic heads of Buddha, four of them facing the cardinal points of the compass, the fifth head brilliant with gold holds a central position. On each side of the gates are elephants carved in stone.

We see back projections of how these temples are today and illustrations as to how they might have been at the time of Jayavarman VII

MAHA EYSEI: Jayavarman also built the huge monastery temple of Ta Prohm, where Hindu holy men were given cells next to Buddhist monks.  It received the revenue of over 3000 villages.

He built the university temple of Preah Khan with over a thousand teachers and at the centre of Angkor Thom, he built the magnificent temple of Bayon.

It is said that the Bayon is the manifestation in stone of Buddha's greatest miracle, when to convince unbelievers he created infinite images of himself, rising tier upon tier to the eighth heaven.
Music 12.  Music for Apsara Gestures

Mera appears with four other apsaras.  They give a very brief dance and then Mera speaks to make a point. There will be back projections of carvings of dancing Apsaras from the Bayon and other temples.

MERA:Every stone of the Bayon is alive with dancing apsaras offering flowers to the passer by. When the apsaras dance they connect heaven and earth.

The Dancers demonstrate the following: Picture 16 Apsara hand gestures


Angkor Wat
Picture 16:
Apsara hand gestures
Intricate hand gestures express belief.  When you put your hand flat and your four fingers together and tuck your thumb to the front, that is belief.

If you put your finger into a point, that represents a tree, and when the tree grows up, it has leaves.  And if you put your thumb and your index finger together and spread the other three fingers apart, that is the flower.  So the tree has the flower.  And then, fruit: when you put your thumb and the middle finger and form a circle and then you put the three other fingers backward, the tree has fruit.

And when the fruit get ripe it drops, and when it drops the seed just falls into the ground and grows up as a tree again.  These are just the four basic hand gestures that embody the meaning of the circle of nature, the circle of life.

Mera and the apsaras leave and we then see many stone reliefs from the Bayon to illustrate the following.

MAHA EYSEI: Also on the Bayon, we can see a series of historical battles on land and sea.  The clothes and arms of the Khmer and their enemies, the Cham, are shown in great detail. The most important people are mounted on elephants.  The marchers are given timing by means of a gong. The boats are long and low with high ornamented prows and battle is engaged by bumping one another.  These engagements are directed by the King living in the palace. He is waited on exclusively by women.  To amuse himself he plays chess or watches the performances of dancers and wrestlers and gladiators.  Dancers and wrestlers in Cambodia today behave in the same way.

We return to images of the Buddha and Jayavarman and the Buddhist monk enters.

BUDDHIST MONK: Jayavarman had been about 50 when he ascended the throne.  He had lived in exile in Vijaya, the Cham capital and had then conquered the Chams and regained Angkor in a great naval battle on the Tonle Sap.  Perhaps, influenced by his devout wife, he wished to atone for his past sins.  He showed compassion to his subjects and built many roads, rest houses, and the northern baray or artificial lake on which he swore an oath.
JAYARVARMAN VII: By virtue of this good work may I help all beings who are plunged in the ocean of existence.  And may the kings of Cambodia who come after me, attached to goodness, attain with their wives, dignitaries and friends the place of deliverance where there is no more illness.

He walks off stage

The play continues with: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and the Decline of Angkor

© 2013 Shaun MacLoughlin

If you are interested in this project, please contact Shaun MacLoughlin 

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