Sculpting Angkor – 1

Sculpture is the Art of the Intelligence – Pablo Picasso.

First Principles

The Sculptures at Angkor were apparently created when styles such as Gothic or renaissance were yet to be realised. Principles of detailing the size & parts of human forms, oval faces, almond-shaped eyes, folds of garments and such other aspects were postulated in writing a few hundred years later. Intricate works of art & architecture at Angkor are in consonance with what was laid down long time ago, and passed down in strictly oral traditions through an unbroken chain of the Seers. A tradition of finely carving stone into figures full of life in a manner that eac h work exudes Divinity; Godliness.

Masterpieces of unparalleled finesse & beauty were created by men of virtue utilising such standards of measurement as fathom – distance between tips of middle fingers of a man standing with spread arms and angulas – thickness of a human finger. Gods were to be largest in size followed by rest. Even with such rudimentary methods with least count of one angula, accuracy to the last millimetre was achieved, everywhere.

The Sense of Touch

Carved images may even though be standing straight or seated, their volume is always well disposed in a dynamic balance. The chest, for example, of a standing figure slightly curved forwards having its counter weight in the roundness of its back towards the wall, seem to swing to & fro from feet upwards in ever varying curves as if rebounding from the wall at its back and its energy that it receives. The figures seem charged with the energy from any surface they touch, be it that of walls or any of its own limb(s), piece of its attire or ornaments. Proximity and touch invigorate senses.

The figures are imparted life by these tactile subtleties thereby contributing their share of effect to the sculptures. That substantiates the fact that owing to creation of these figures all around & inside a Temple, so much of energy charges the air & environment around. This palpable energy, we call God.

Sense of touch is central to Indian Temple Culture. Armed with this knowledge of Power of touch, a Devotee energises his own body from Head to Toe by repetitively touching with his own hands while chanting Mantras. It has lasting effect on the Devotee who can then create these figures radiating such compelling energy.

 In-Situ Sculpting

Kings always engaged in expanding their kingdoms and sought Blessings of their respective Deities such as Lord Shiva, Vishnu or Buddha. It required to create Abodes of The Lords in Temples consecrated unto Them. They created these Temples wherever they wanted Capital for their kingdom; especially after victories in battles eulogising their deeds and impressing their people. Most Temples were structural buildings such as Angkor; made of millions of pieces of stones. Then there were Rock-cut Temples, those which were sculpted out of a single massive rock as one at Ellora, India. Temples were created even in the caves; aim being to harness natural energy of the environment around.

Legends pronouncing praises of The Lord were sculpted on the walls, ceilings, doors & windows and everywhere else within Temple Complexes.  Besides, the Temples were also adorned with sculptures depicting scenes from battles and life of peoples in that kingdom at that time. All the sculpting in these Structural Temples was carried out in-situ after structural completion of the Temple Buildings.

Nothing is Lost

Art of creating sculptures involves long period of time such as it took to complete Angkor Temples. One question, nevertheless, has always remained central – who those sculptors were and how were they able to transfer on stone, each of their thought, each human emotion in such a precise manner?

While gathering requisite knowledge on this subject, it has come to fore that those were no ordinary sculptors. One must confess that there was an entire tradition that existed in that era which produced countless sculptors of highest standards who were extremely knowledgeable on religious matters & those related to human virtues and societal relations.

Fact is they were Yogi-Sculptors who exactly knew how to translate their all-encompassing knowledge learnt under the tutelage of great Seers of an unbroken chain, into work of incomparable class. They had mastered the art of touch thence nothing was lost in so translating that knowledge onto Temple walls & ceilings. Result is for all of us to behold – irreplicable masterpieces of unparalleled dexterity.

The Vaastu

Temples were created as per laid down regimens under the guidance of Priest-Architect planned in consonance with Vaastu-Purusha-Mandala. Earth is the Vaastu, the Power which offers herself for creation of buildings; the Temples. Layout was to be almost always square. If not, then rectangular. Circular, fish and conch shaped and a few more. Angkor has a Rectangular shape, facing West, befitting Lord Vishnu.

Blessings of The Vaastu is first obtained through Vedic rites so that the effort is in the right direction. Millions of pieces of stone have been joined without use of mortar, needing them to fit well.  This was accomplished by grinding them against each other till all surfaces became absolutely flat; a truly gigantic task; evidence of which is available in a few sculptures. It is astonishing that at the joints are so perfect even to this day that one has to make effort to locate them. Carving has been extremely delicately carried through from one stone onto the other, almost seamlessly without any blemish. That is the spirit of everything Angkor.

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