As I mentioned in Siem Reap II, the visit to the National Museum spurred me to return to Angkor Wat. My intention was to view more of the murals that I missed the first time around.
The murals are visible on the exterior of the inside walls of the complex, stretching easily for 200 meters on each side, not counting transitional hallways, etc. That’s nearly 1000 yds of mural carved in sandstone with a scope and precision that is simply breathtaking. The guide books offer much more information about this aspect of Angkor, but I do not own one and will not even attempt that degree of detail.
The basic story is that three sides of this mural recount the Mahabharata, one of the oldest of all human mythologies, the sanskrit epic of ancient India dating back to 800 BC. The fourth side tells of the reign of Suryavarman II himself.
Tales of war are a central part of the mural of course, but there are also portions depicting significant threads of the Mahabharata, such as the eleven heavens (where presumably there is an endless supply of beautiful females) and hells.
One of the most significant portions of the mural is the tale of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Using the Serpent King, and at the behest of Vishnu to work together, Devas and Asuras (god and demons) churn the ocean of milk to extract the elixir of immortality.
And of course this is happening while a thousand celestial dancers (Apsara) entertain overhead.
Of course they are successful. And all conflict ever since has been about deciding who controls the elixir. A modern analog of this tale is the illusion of petroleum as the elixir of never-ending economic growth. But as in the original story, as the gods and demons churned the sea, a terrible poison issued out of its depths which enveloped the universe. Angkor Wat stands as both a 900 yr old piece of antiquity as well as a monument to an age-old human story playing itself out to this very day.
I wonder how it all turns out.