Samye Monastery Tibet


Samye Monastery Tibet

Built in the 8th century, Samye Monastery was the first Buddhist monastery to be founded in Tibet. It is also notable as the site of the “Great Debate” (792-794) between the Indian Mahayanists and Chinese Chán (Zen) Buddhists.

Samye is famous for its sacred mandala design: the central temple symbolizes the legendary Mount Meru, center of the universe. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists, some of whom travel on foot for weeks to reach it.

History

Samye Monastery was founded in the 8th century during the reign of King Trisong Detsen with the help of the Indian Buddhist masters Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, whom the king had invited to Tibet to help spread Buddhism. Padamasambhava is credited with subduing the local spirits and winning them over to Buddhism.

The first Tibetan monks were ordained here after examination, and are referred to as the Seven Examined Men. Over the centuries Samye has been associated with various schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Padmasambhava’s involvement makes Samye important in the Nyingma school, but it was later taken over by the Sakya and Gelugpa schools. Today, Tibetans of all traditions come to worship here.

What to See

A unique monastery and village rolled into one, Samye is a highlight of a visit to Tibet. Situated amidst breathtaking scenery, the journey to Samye is splendid no matter how you arrive.

The layout of the huge monastery complex forms a giant mandala, a representation of the Buddhist universe, and is modeled after the Indian temple of Odantapuri in Bihar.

The complex is surrounded by a strong wall topped by 1008 (108 is a sacred number) tiny chortens and pierced by gates at the four cardinal points.

The main temple in the center represents Mt. Meru, the mythical mountain at the center of the Buddhist universe. The four continents in the ocean around Mt. Meru are represented by the four lingshi temples at the cardinal points, each flanked by two smaller temples (lingtren) to symbolize islands in the ocean.

There are four large chortens at the corners of the main temple in four different colors, and there is a nyima (Sun) temple in the north and a dawa (Moon) temple to the south.

The main temple, or utse, at Samye is a grand six-story building that takes a couple of hours to thoroughly explore. Bring a flashlight to see the murals hidden in the shadows. The first floor is the most impressive of the six, and is dominated by the main assembly hall, with old mandalas on the high ceiling.

Flanking the entrance to the main chapel are statues of historical figures associated with Samye’s founding: Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava, Trisong Detsen and Songtsen Gampo are among those on the left.

The chapel, Jowo Khang, is accessed through three tall doorways and enshrines a statue of Buddha at the age of 38.

Left of the assembly hall is a small temple, Chenresi Lhakhang, which houses a beautiful statue of Chenresi with a eye carefully painted on the palm of each of his thousand hands. This is perhaps the artistic highlight of Samye.

To the right of the assembly hall is the Gonkhang, a protector chapel, with eerie statues of former Bon demons that were turned into fierce Buddhist protector deities.

The second floor is an open roof area, where monks and locals carry out the craft work for the temple. The third floor contains the Quarters of the Dalai Lama, with a small anteroom, throne room and bedroom.

In the bedroom is a barred, glass-fronted case full of wonderful relics: Padmasambhava’s hair and walking stick, a Tara statue that is reputed to speak, and the skull of Shantarakshita.

Naturally, this room is of utmost importance to Tibetan pilgrims so there is often a crush of bodies that makes it difficult to linger very long. The top floors have little to see in themselves, but provide excellent views from their balconies.

The four brightly-colored chortens (black, white, red and green) at the main temple’s corners are modern and each one is slightly different. Inside them are stairs and tiny chapels. Most visitors either love them or hate them.

The rest of the buildings are in varying stages of renovation, with some being used as stables and others still showing the effects of the Cultural Revolution. The finest murals are in Mani Lhakhang in the northwest of the complex.

East of the complex, you can climb the sacred Hepo Ri for splendid views. It was here that Padmasambhava is said to have subdue the local spirits and won them over to Buddhism.

Getting There

From Lhasa, buses for Samye Crossing, or dùko in Chinese; depart beginning at 7:30am for the 3 1/2-hour trip (¥25/$3), just south of the New Mandala restaurant.

After a chilly crossing of the Brahmaputra in an open, flat-bottomed boat (1 hr.; ¥10), tractors (40 min.; ¥3) connect with the monastery. Buses leave the monastery for Lhasa (6 hr.; ¥40) via Tsetang at 8:30am.

Basic and comfortable accommodation is available at the Samye Monastery Guesthouse (tel. 0891/736-2086) for ¥20 to ¥35 ($2.40-$4.20).

Adequate food is offered in the monastery restaurant, which has an English menu. A better option is the newer restaurant just opposite the east reception office. Several small shops in the complex are well-stocked with the basics of food and drink.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Samye Monastery
Location: Tibet
Faith: Buddhism
Denomination: Tibetan
Categories: Monasteries; Buddhist Temples
Size: Over 1,000 feet in diameter
Features: Oldest
Status: active
Visitor Information
Coordinates: 29.327327° N, 91.502466° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Opening hours: Samye Utse (main temple) is open daily 8am-5:30pm
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 06/18/2009.

Location Map

Below is a location map and aerial view of Samye Monastery. Using the buttons on the left, zoom in for a closer look or zoom out to get your bearings. Click and drag the map to move around. For a larger view, see our Tibet Map.

Map
Satellite
Hybrid

Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. SamyeRough Guide to China (accessed June 2009)
  2. Samye Monastery – Travel China Guide
  3. Samye Monastery – Asia on the Matrix – short description plus slide show
  4. Samye Monastery – Tibet Travel


Last updated on June 18, 2009.

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Angkor Wat, Angkor


Angkor Wat, Angkor

Angkor Wat (“City Temple”) is a vast temple complex near Siem Reap, about 200 miles from the capital of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Built in the 12th century by the king of the prosperous Khmer empire, Angkor Wat was built as a royal temple dedicated to a Hindu deity.

After the city of Angkor fell to invaders, Angkor Wat receded into the jungle but continued as a Buddhist temple and a pilgrimage site over the centuries.

Angkor Wat is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture in Cambodia and is so grand in design that some rank it among the seven wonders of the world. It appears on the Cambodian national flag, a very rare instance of a flag incorporating an image of a building.

The “lost city” of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s after Cambodia was colonized by the French. Today, Angkor Wat continues to draw thousands of visitors anxious to see this remarkable ancient temple in the jungle.

In addition to many tourists, Buddhist monks are daily visitors to Angkor Wat, their bright orange robes making a vivid contrast with the grey stone of the temple.

History

The city of Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries. The Khmer empire was one of the most prosperous and sophisticated kingdoms in the history of Southeast Asia, and its prosperity was expressed through a wide range of architecture.

The city of Angkor was founded on political and religious ideas adapted from India, and the temples of Angkor were intended as a place of worship for the king and a way for him to ensure his immortality through identification with the Hindu gods.

Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as a vast funerary temple that would hold his remains, symbolically confirming his permanent identity with Vishnu.

Many of the bas-reliefs in the temple depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Hindu sacred texts that recount the adventures of two major incarnations of Vishnu.

During its six centuries as imperial capital, Angkor went through many changes in architectural styles and in religion. The city of Angkor transferred its from the Hindu god Shiva to the Hindu god Vishnu, and finally to the Mahayana Buddhist deity Avalokitesvara.

By the late 13th century, the once frenzied pace of Angkor’s architectural pursuits had begun to die down, and a more restrained type of religion was on the rise under the growing influence of Theravada Buddhism.

At the same time, Angkor and the Khmer Empire were increasingly threatened and attacked by invading armies. By the 16th century, the golden age of Angkor was over and many of the great temples began to recede into the jungle.

From the 15th to 19th centuries, Theravada Buddhist monks cared for Angkor Wat, and it is thanks to them that the temple remains mostly intact. Angkor Wat became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Southeast Asia.

European visitors to Cambodia towards the later end of this period were intrigued by the “lost city” of Angkor. After the French established a colonial regime in Cambodia in 1863, the entire site became a focus of scholarly interest.

What to See

Angkor’s temple architecture was heavily influenced by Indian ideas. From the earliest days of the city, Angkor had been conceived as a symbolic universe structured according to Hindu cosmology. The city was accordingly built around a central temple on a hill, which symbolized Mount Meru, the home of the gods.

The central tower of each temple also represented Mount Meru. The outer walls of the temple represented the mountains that were believed to encircle the cosmos.

The many waterways, canals and moats of Angkor served a dual purpose: they symbolized the waters of the cosmos and improved water control and rice irrigation.

Angkor Wat consists of five central shrines, encircled by a moat and three galleries. On the west side of the complex a paved causeway, leading over the moat and under a magnificent portico, extends for a distance of a quarter of a mile to the chief entrance of the main building.

The first gallery has square pillars on the outer side and a closed wall on the inner side. The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the closed wall is decorated with dancing figures. The outside of the inner wall is decorated with pillared windows, apsaras (heavenly nymphs), and dancing male figures on prancing animals. Apsaras are found on the walls of all galleries.

From the first gallery a long avenue leads to the second gallery. This is reached via a raised platform with lions on both sides of a staircase. The inner walls of the second gallery contain continuous narrative relief. The western wall shows scenes from the Mahabharata epos.

The third gallery encloses the five shrines which are built on a raised terrace and are interconnected by galleries. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Sculptured lintels and frontons decorate the entrances to the galleries and the entrances to the shrines.

The five central shrines have three levels, connected by numerous exterior staircases and decreasing in dimensions as they go up. The temple culminates in the sanctuary, a great central tower pyramidal in form. Towers also surmount the angles of the terraces of the two upper stages.

Three galleries with vaulting supported on columns lead from the three western portals to the second stage. They are connected by a transverse gallery, thus forming four square basins.

The western exterior forecourt of the main temple contains two “libraries,” or smaller temple structures. As of 2004, the library on the left was under renovation by a Japanese archeological team.The area surrounding the exterior moat is a lawned park, incongruous in Cambodia.

Khmer decoration, profuse but harmonious, consists chiefly in the representation of gods, men and animals, which are displayed on every flat surface. Combats and legendary episodes are often depicted; floral decoration is reserved chiefly for borders, mouldings and capitals.

Sandstone of various colours was the chief material employed by the Khmers; limonite was also used. The stone was cut into huge blocks which are fitted together with great accuracy without the use of cement.

Visitors to Angkor Wat take away varied impressions of these amazing temples. Some gain insight into Buddhism or archaeology, and some relate their experience as connecting with the spiritual energy of the temples. The one common thread, though, is the visitors’ impressions of sunrise and sunset.

The skies over Angkor always put on a show; if you time it right, you can see the dawn or the day’s afterglow framed in temple spires or glowing off the main wat. Here are a few hints for catching the magic hours at the temples:

  • The sunrise and sunset views from the upper terraces of Angkor Wat itself are some of the best, though it’s a tough climb for some. Ignore half-hearted entreaties by staff to leave after the first clears of the horizon at sunset; stay for the afterglow.
  • It’s a bit crowded, but the views from Phnom Bakeng (Bakeng Hill), just a short drive past the entrance to Angkor Wat, is stunning at both sunrise and sunset. It’s a good little climb up the hill, and those so inclined can go by elephant.
  • The open area on the eastern side of Banteay Kdei looks over one of Angkor’s many reservoirs, this one full and a great reflective pool for the rising glow at sunrise.
  • For the best view of the temples, hands down, contact Helicopters Cambodia Ltd., at tel. 023/213-706. For a hefty fee, you can see the sites from any angle you choose.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Angkor Wat
Location: Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Faiths: Original/Primary: Hinduism
Current/Secondary: Buddhism
Denomination: Khmer
Dedication: Vishnu
Category: Hindu Temples; World Heritage Sites
Architecture: Khmer
Size: Area: 60 sq mi (97 sq km)
Features: Largest
Status: ruins
Photo gallery: Angkor Wat Photo Gallery
Visitor Information
Address: Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Coordinates: 13.412539° N, 103.866763° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Public transport: Moto-taxi and tuk-tuk services available from Siem Reap
Opening hours: Daily dawn to dusk
Cost: US$20 for one day, US$40 for three days, US$60 for one week
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 01/19/2010.

Travel Resources

  • Angkor Map – our detailed interactive map of Angkor, plus hand-picked links to more
  • Angkor Hotels – check availability, maps, photos and reviews, and book at the guaranteed lowest price
  • Angkor Guided Tours – sightseeing tours and activities in Angkor

Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. Angkor – UNESCO World Heritage List
  2. Angkor (Angkor Temple Complex) – Columbus World Guides
  3. Amazing Angkor – travel blog by Adam Cathro, October 2007
  4. Perfect ruin – Washington Post, January 24, 1999
  5. Siem Reap threatened by overdevelopment – MSNBC, September 13, 2004
  6. Cambodia: The Next Hot Spot – Travel + Leisure, September 2001
  7. Angkor Wat, Cambodia – The Cultured Traveler, July 2003
  8. Reviews of Angkor Wat – TripAdvisor attraction review


Last updated on January 19, 2010.

 

 

Egypt discovers 3,500-year-old oasis trading post


Egypt discovers 3,500-year-old oasis trading post

Top of Form

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AP – This undated photo released by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010, …

52 mins ago

CAIRO – Egypt’s antiquities authority announced on Wednesday the discovery of an ancient trading settlement in one of its desert oases dating back more than 3,500 years, a millennium older than previous discoveries in the area.

The Yale University mission discovered the settlement while excavating in Kharga Oasis, more than 300 miles (500 kilometers) south of Cairo in the Western Desert.

The site is on what was once a bustling trade route between the ancient Egyptian civilization in the Nile valley and the rest of Africa, said the statement from the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Mission head John Darnell said the site had a massive baking operation suggesting it may have been a food production center.

The site reached its peak during the latter years of the Middle Kingdom (1786-1665 B.C.).

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek Statues really looked


Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek

Statues really looked

 

Original Greek statues were brightly painted, but after thousands of years, those paints have worn away. Find out how shining a light on the statues can be all that’s required to see them as they were thousands of years ago.

Although it seems impossible to think that anything could be left to discover after thousands of years of wind, sun, sand, and art students, finding the long lost patterns on a piece of ancient Greek sculpture can be as easy as shining a lamp on it. A technique called ‘raking light’ has been used to analyze art for a long time. A lamp is positioned carefully enough that the path of the light is almost parallel to the surface of the object. When used on paintings, this makes brushstrokes, grit, and dust obvious. On statues, the effect is more subtle. Brush-strokes are impossible to see, but because different paints wear off at different rates, the stone is raised in some places – protected from erosion by its cap of paint – and lowered in others. Elaborate patterns become visible.

Ultraviolet is also used to discern patterns. UV light makes many organic compounds fluoresce. Art dealers use UV lights to check if art has been touched up, since older paints have a lot of organic compounds and modern paints have relatively little. On ancient Greek statues, tiny fragments of pigment still left on the surface glow bright, illuminating more detailed patterns.

 

Once the pattern is mapped, there is still the problem of figuring out which paint colors to use. A series of dark blues will create a very different effect than gold and pink. Even if enough pigment is left over so that the naked eye can make out a color, a few thousand years can really change a statue’s complexion. There’s no reason to think that color seen today would be anything like the hues the statues were originally painted.

There is a way around this dilemma. The colors may fade over time, but the original materials – plant and animal-derived pigments, crushed stones or shells – still look the same today as they did thousands of years ago. This can also be discovered using light.

Infrared and X-ray spectroscopy can help researchers understand what the paints are made of, and how they looked all that time ago. Spectroscopy relies on the fact that atoms are picky when it comes to what kind of incoming energy they absorb. Certain materials will only accept certain wavelengths of light. Everything else they reflect. Spectroscopes send out a variety of wavelengths, like scouts into a foreign land. Inevitably, a few of these scouts do not come back. By noting which wavelengths are absorbed, scientists can determine what materials the substance is made of. Infrared helps determine organic compounds. X-rays, because of their higher energy level, don’t stop for anything less than the heavier elements, like rocks and minerals. Together, researchers can determine approximately what color a millennia-old statue was painted.

The color? Always something tacky.

Via Harvard, Colour Lovers, Tate, The Smithsonian, Colorado University, and Carleton.

Top two images are reconstructions created by Vinzenz Brinkmann.
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