The Dragon's Mirror: The Magic of Angkor Wat V

Part 5


We arrived in Siem Reap after about a five hour drive on the Phnom Penh-Battambang-Siem Reap route, crossing much of Western Cambodia. Despite the late hour we ask our guide to lead us immediately to Angkor Wat. The temple is closed to visitors at night, but the road that runs along the entire outer perimeter allows you to see the pond and, beyond it, the treetops that surround the sacred area.

We stop in front of the stone corridor that the next morning will take us over the water barrier to the Western entrance of Angkor Wat.
The clearing of the car park is deserted even though we know that there are guards, hidden nearby, who watch each access in case any reckless tourist decides to approach out of the visiting hours. We say tourists, because no Cambodian would ever dare to enter Angkor Wat at night.
We admire the statues of the two Nagas towering on the stone slab that marks the beginning of the walkway, the silence and the night give the already magical place an ineffable aura of vitality.

The Nagas, mythical snakes of Hindu mythology who in some versions would be chthonian beings whose inherent wickedness drives them out of their underground burrows only to kidnap and kill human children; in Khmer culture the Nagas represent a fundamental element both from an architectural and a sculptural point of view. The Nagas are depicted as huge, multiple-headed snakes (seven or nine usually, and in any case always in odd numbers) positioned in the shape of a corona. Each head has a membrane on the neck similar to that of cobras.

The view of the Nagas guarding the walkway to the temple was quite an impressive moment, for all around us was silence. The sounds of the jungle and the guard lighting up his cigarette somewhere in the darkness seemed irrelevant if compared to the striking image of the stone serpents, and the silhouette of the temples looming in the background.
During our research on the origins of mankind we came across the symbol of the snake (or dragon, which in some cases is a different version of the same symbol) way too many times to ignore its importance. Here, in the heart of the Khmer Empire, we know that the Nagas were connected to the water element, and present in the myths of the origin of the Khmer people: ancient legends tells that the Nagas are the result of the union between an Indian Brahmin and a Cambodian princess-snake.