Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vishvakarma tops the league table

Vishvakarma above kala at Sen Thmol, at the foot of Phnom Chisor
I mentioned a few days ago that the plethora of beautifully-carved lintels on the Angkorean temples of Phnom Chisor had an overwhelming favourite decoration and counting them up, it's even more stark than I initially thought. I used to think that Indra was a big favourite but if Phnom Chisor is anything to go by, then Vishvakarma is the new leader of the lintel league table. I found the small figure who often appears seated above a grinning kala or other animal at the centre of a lintel, holding a danda, or something similar, on no less than 23 lintels...yes, 23! My first encounter with Vishvakarma on my visit to Phnom Chisor was at the two gopura structures at the foot of the hill, leading to the pond of Tonle Om. At Sen Ravang, the furthest from the hill, I located four lintels, all pretty much identical, whilst at the more-ruined Sen Thmol, there were another two in situ. After climbing the hill and a suitable rest, I was guided around the main temple site by Anoy and we counted a further seventeen (17) lintels with a similar small figure, most likely Vishvakarma, in place, though at least three of the lintels had the figure obliterated through time and weather.
So who is this mystery personage, you ask? Well, Vittorio Roveda in his book, Images of the Gods, describes him as the architect of the gods and of the universe. He's the master workman who sharpens the axe of Agni and forges the thunderbolts for Indra; he is a lord of the arts, executor of a thousand handicrafts, carpenter of the gods and fashioner of all ornaments. So, he's pretty important by the sounds of it. His attribute is a stick of command, the danda, or in some cases the measuring ruler. In the Ramayana epic, he's the supreme architect who builds the city of Lanka, as well as being the father of Nala who constructed the bridge between Lanka and the continent, allowing Rama to cross the sea and attack Ravana's city. Okay, that's the low-down on this league table usurper and the photos here are just some of the examples of Vishvakarma that can be found at Phnom Chisor, an 11th century hilltop temple, some 50kms south of Phnom Penh.

Another lintel with Vishvakarma on the floor of the main sanctuary of Phnom Chisor

A perfect example of Vishvakarma and his danda, above a grinning kala eating garlands of foliage

Facing east, this lintel with the league table leader Vishvakarma, catches the sun at Phnom Chisor

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