Thursday October 19, 2017

Preah Vihear: Here is Why this UNESCO World Heritage site in Cambodia is popular among Tourists!

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire.

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Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia, Wikimedia

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), April 29, 2017: Phnom Penh in Cambodia is a place that is synonymous with serenity and conflict. The beautiful Royal Palace, the fluttering robes of monks fill peace in the air of this place. But there is more to the place that meets the eye.

Once the ‘Pearl of Asia’, Phnom Penh’s shine was tarnished by the impact of war and revolution. But the city has since risen from the ashes to take its place among the hip capitals of the region, with an alluring cafe culture and bustling bars.

Apart from all the beauty it holds, Cambodia’s capital can be an assault on the senses at times. Motorbikes whiz through laneways without a thought for pedestrians; markets exude pungent scents; and all the while the sounds of life – of commerce, of survival – reverberate through the streets. With time, it has all become a part of the attraction.

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What’s more surprising is that there is an ancient Hindu temple built in this exotic city. Preah Vihear Temple has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire.

As a key edifice of the empire’s spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of its surroundings. predating Angkor Wat by 100 years, the history of the temple/fortress is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50). Unlike most Khmer temples, the temple is constructed on a long north-south axis, instead of the usual rectangular plan facing east.

The temple gives its name to Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located.

Journey inside the temple:

  • The fun starts with162 stone steps, a fairly steep climb that will get you warmed up nicely. Your reward is a short set of stairs decorated with nagas and Gopura I, a solitary pavilion with a fluttering Cambodian flag.
  • A 500-metre gently climbing avenue leads up to Gopura II, another smallish pavilion, and a large boray (water cistern, #4) to the left.
  • Yet another avenue (somewhat shorter this time) leads to Gopura III, but also the first courtyard of the temple and the first point where visitors to Angkor Wat will start feeling a sense of deja vu. Make a detour to the left side of the gopura to see relics of a more modern era, in the form of a rusting artillery gun and a few bunkers.
  • A short causeway decorated with nagas leads to the inevitableGopura IV  and behind it the second courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard is Gopura V (Galleries) and beyond it the main Sanctuary, the centrepiece of the site which now houses a miniature Buddhist temple.
  • But what makes the effort worthwhile lies just outside, so sneak out the left side to find yourself at Pei Ta Da Cliff, with a sheer 500-metre drop and a jaw-dropping vista of the Cambodian jungles below.

Although there are constant conflicts between Cambodia and Thailand but the temple transcends over these “small” issues to retain its glory.

– by Nikita Tayal of NewsGram, Twitter: @NikitaTayal6 

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The Pura Besakih Temple in Bali is Home to 23 Hindu Gods and More ; Exploring The Temple Like a Local

Comprising of 23 temples, the Pura Besakih is located 1,000 meters above the southern slopes of Mount Agung

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Pura Besakih temple
The 'Mother Temple', Pura Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia has been previously declared as a World Heritage Site. Wikimedia

Bali, September 19, 2017 : From the outside, any ordinary visitor might simply pass by a concrete temple constructed on the slopes of Mount Agung, completely unaware of the holy secrets and the architectural marvels that the structure holds. But if you are a believer of Indian mythology, then you must plan a visit to Pura Besakih temple in East Bali, Indonesia.

The ‘Mother Temple’ in Bali, the largest and the holiest temple on the Island-Pura Besakih is recognized as the primary Hindu temple in Bali and stands tall at a height of 30,000 feet on Mount Agung.

The complex combines at least 86 different shrines together and is delightfully surrounded by mountains, brooks, rice plantations, and the Bali beach at a distance among other extraordinary views.

Pura Besakih
Pura Besakih Temple complex comprise the largest and holiest Hindu shrines in Indonesia. Wikimedia

Ascending up on a stairway, the temple premises resting at the slope echoes a mystical vibe and should be a must stop at every visitor’s list! You can depend on us for the details!

History of Pura Besakih

The exact details of the temple complex’s construction cannot be verified as some locals debate its engineering in the 14th century while others believe they have been around since the 10th century!

The area of the Pura Besakih had since early times revered as a holy place because of the presence of a central stone that now sits in the Pura Batu Madeg.

ALSO READ 5 Most famous Hindu Temples in South East Asia

The Story Behind The Name

Legends believe an 8th century monk had attempted to build homes and settle people in the area. On the completion of his mission, he named the complex ‘Basuki’, referring to the dragon deity ‘Naga Besukian’ who was believed to inhabit Mount Agung.

Over the years, the name evolved to ‘Besakih’ and other shrines were built around the area.

During the conquest of Bali by the Majapahit Empire in 1343, the complex was recognized as the main temple and has been restored several times in the consecutive years due to damage by earthquake.

In 1963, a volcano erupted and the lava flowed past the temples by just a few metres. This was interpreted as a sign of the gods signifying their powers by destroying everything but the temples that their devotees had constructed for them.

Architectural Marvel

Comprising of 23 temples, the Pura Besakih is located 1,000 meters above the southern slopes of Mount Agung.

Carefully carved stepped flight of stairs and terraces ascend to multiple courtyards and brick gateways leading to the chief Meru structure dedicated to Shiva, known as the Pura Penataran Agung.

Designed along a primary axis, the different levels are interpreted as leading the spiritual person ‘upwards and closer to the sacred mountain, where Gods reside’.

Pura Besakih
The central staircase leading up and into the heart of Pura Besakih, Penataran Agung. Wikimedia

At the heart of the temple complex, the Pura Penataran Agung, stands a stunning lotus throne, called the Padmasana dating back to the seventeenth century and comprises the ritualistic focus of the temple.

Pura Besakih’s Temples

An architectural marvel built on seven ascending levels, the Pura Besakih temple is primarily dedicated to the holy Hindu trinity.

  • With white banners, the Pura Penataran Agung forms the heart of the temple complex, dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, the destroyer god of Hinduism. Dotted with aesthetically carved figures from the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, a giant stairway allows the pilgrims to ascend to the top of the complex.
  • Decorated with black banners, Pura Batu Madeg, devoted to the preserver Lord Vishnu sits in the northwestern part of the temple
  • Dotted with red banners, Pura Kiduling Kreteg, devoted to the creator of the universe, Lord Brahma is situated across a channel to the southeast of the temple

These shrines, along with 19 other temples stretch across the complex, together make the holiest place of pilgrimage for the devout Balinese.

Pura Besakih
Shrine of a deer-God at Pura Besakih temple. Wikmedia

Closest to Mount Agung’s peak on the higher ground is Pura Batu Tirtha where you can find the foundation of the holy water, known to hold significance for religious ceremonies.

Pura Besakih is the primal centre for all ceremonial activities in Bali. The fact that the temple is the only temple open to every devotee from any caste group touches the heart of all who visit.

Ceremonies And Festivals At the Pura Besakih Temple

The temple complex is almost always bustling with activity and the influx of devotees. There are at least seventy festivals organized annually as almost every shrine commemorates its yearly anniversary known as odalan. This is based on the 210-day Balinese Pawukon calendar. Hence, you are sure to witness and be a part of one odalan irrespective of when you visit the temple

Some of the biggest festivals at Pura Besakih,

  • Batara Tarun Kabeh : The climax of the month’s activities fall on the eve of the tenth lunar month.

Translating to ‘the gods descend together’, the Balinese believe it is on this day that the Gods of all the temple shrines descend together simultaneously. Thus, the days marks an event not to be missed!

  • Temple Festival of Pura Penataran Agung (Odalan) : After every 210 days, the temple anniversary of the biggest single shrine of Besakih is celebrated with immense zeal and fervor. A spectacle of thousands of devotes praying collectively as they climb up the levels to the altars of the trimurti; the sight is heavenly!

Additionally, major holidays and full moon celebrations are also a sight at the Pura Besakih.

During celebrations, the devout Balinese locals dressed in traditional clothing flock the temple premises with a variety of gifts and offerings to please the almighty.

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Visiting Pura Besakih

A day trip from the nearby cities of Ubud or Denpasar is sufficient to explore the Pura Besakih and its adjoining temples around Mount Agung. While the temples remain open to public throughout, they may be closed for tourists on special festivals and days. Make sure you ask the locals in Ubud before making the journey!

Tourism has provided the region with growth explosion and ultimately turned it into a tourist trap- you will come across several alleged ‘temple guards’, hawkers and guides hoping to acquire extra cash from the visitors.

You may seek assistance and hire the official temple guides who charge a nominal price for their services.

Proper dressing is a must at the complex; men and women must cover their legs when inside. Sarongs and sashes can either be procured at rent or bought from the many stalls and shops if needed. However, we recommend that you bargain while buying goods.

How To Reach Pura Besakih Temple

Located in East Bali, dotted on the southern slope of Mount Agung, Pura Besakih can be reached in an hour by car from Ubud. You can also avail the public transport from Ubud and Denpasar, which includes buses and minivans called bemos.

Pura Besakih
You can take a Bemo ride to the temple from Denpasar. Wikimedia

The last bemo ride from the complex to Denpasar leaves from the temple around 3 pm.

Pura Besakih Temple Timings

Pura Besakih is operational from sunrise to dusk. Tour buses, however, begin services around 9 am.

The best time of the day to visit the temple premises are in the early morning and the evenings as the region is much more peaceful at these times.

Pura Besakih Entry Fees

You will be required to pay an entrance fees of $1 at Pura Besakih, and some additional fees (though less than $!) for camera, parking, etc.

ALSO READ Off My Bucket List : 5 Offbeat Travel Destinations for History Lovers

Smart Tip To Make Your Travel Easy

Owing to the popularity of the complex, a number of scams and unnecessary hassles can potentially ruin your experience. Follow the given tips for a smarter travel,

  • Hindu temples necessitate a proper dress code- while sarongs can be rented outside the temple premises but it would be better to carry your own sarongs.
  • Also recommended is to get currency converted before you reach Pura Besakih as the conversion rates in the region keep fluctuating and are not very reliable.
  • Once inside the premises, you will be expected to give an additional donation. However, do not overdo the amount.
  • The temple premises can be independently explored. Do not let locals fool you into hiring a guide.

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Mahalaya: Beginning of “Devipaksha” in Bengali Celebration of ‘Durga Puja’

“Mahalaya” is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha” and heralds the celebration of Durga Puja

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Mahalaya morning in Kolkata. Flickr
  • Mahalaya 2017 Date: 19th september.
  • On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
  • Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
  • The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent

Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.

About Mahalaya:

Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.

Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!

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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.

Mahalaya
An idol-maker in progress of drawing the eye in the idol of the Goddess. Wikipedia

As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.

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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.

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Mahalaya
Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). Wikipedia

The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.

Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.

                 “Yaa Devi Sarbabhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Sanhsthita,

                     Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai Namo Namaha.”

– by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC

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Ancient Hindu Temple Changu Narayan in Nepal Possesses Historical Significance

Changu Narayan is a sacred Hindu temple in Nepal and was built in the memory of Lord Vishnu

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Changu Narayan Temple is an ancient Hindu temple in Nepal. Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Changu Narayan is considered to be the oldest temple in Nepal
  • It is based on a high hilltop know was Changu or Dolagiri
  • It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and has an interesting tale behind it

New Delhi, July 14, 2017: The ancient Hindu temple Changu Narayan is situated on the top of a high hill well known as Changu or Dolagiri. The temple had a neighboring forest of champak tree and a small village called Changu and is situated in Bhaktapur District, Nepal.

The hill is about 7 miles or 12 km east of Kathmandu and a few miles north of Bhaktapur. This holy place “changu narayan Temple” is devoted to Lord Vishnu and held in admiration by the people of Hindu religion. Changu Narayan is believed to be the oldest temple in Nepal’s history. Bhaktapur king established kingdoms in Kashmir and kept it as Hindu kingdom.

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“changu narayan Temple” has a very intriguing story behind its existence. In old times, a Gwala, a cow herder, was given a cow by a Brahmin whose name was Sudarshan. The cow was believed to produce milk in large quantities. The cow herder used to take the cow for grazing to Change, which was a Champak trees forest that time. The cow was always found under a particular tree’s shade while grazing. In the evening, when the Gwala started milking the cow at his house, he received only a negligible quantity of milk. This continued for a number of days. He was disappointed and told the Brahmin about the cow not giving enough quantity of milk. After seeing this incident with his eyes, Sudarshan agreed and they decided that they should examine the cow while her grazing activity was being undertaken.

Changu Narayan Temple, east side, with the griffin (stone sculpture) left at the entrance. Source: Wikimedia

Both of them hid behind the trees and observed the cow. They noticed that a small black boy who had come out of the tree started feeding himself with the milk. This infuriated the two men as they thought of the boy as a demon and the tree as its home.

So the champak tree was cut down by the Brahmin. While he was doing this, he saw human blood come out of the champak tree. Both Brahmin and Gwala presumed they had done a crime and started crying.

Lord Vishnu suddenly emerged and told the Gwala and Brahmin, the mistake was not theirs and began narrating the story of him committing a crime by unknowingly murdering Sudarshan’s father while forest hunting. Afterward, he was cursed and he wandered on his mouth, as ‘Garuda’ descending on the Changu hill where he survived on stolen milk. The cutting down of the tree by Brahmin beheaded Vishnu and freed him from his sins.

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Following this incident, Brahmin and Gwala started worshiping that place and built a small temple of Lord Vishnu. That place has been considered sacred ever since. Even today, Sudarshan’s descendant is one of the priest of that temple and the Gwala’s descendants as conservators.

People belonging to Newar community reside in and around the area of Changu Narayan. Due to tourism development in this area, we can locate many hotels, souvenir shops, restaurants etc.

However, this holy temple “changu narayan” faces a lot of challenges and threats. The Manohara stream has witnessed rampant mining of sand and stones. The local administration has failed to cut down the mining activities. Due to these mining activities, the temple area has become prone to landslides. Because of overgrazing in the nearby forest, the chances of soil erosion and landslide have become very high.

– prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025