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Culture and Education

Invitation to the Mystery of the Angkor Temple Complex - Local Facilities Opened in Bayon

Takeshi Nakagawa
Professor, Department of Architecture, School of Creative Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Bayon at Night with a Full Moon after Rainfall

The ceremony to celebrate the completion of restoration work on the northern library at Bayon was to be held on September 29, 1999. This work was the result of the first phase of the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA)’s commitment. Although September in Angkor is the height of the rainy season, the circumstances left us no choice. Heavy rains had continued day after day as the day of celebration neared. The Japanese Embassy in Cambodia seriously considered holding the ceremony inside. Although I was afraid that Her Majesty Queen Monineath might be obliged to stand in the rain, if at all possible, I really wanted to have the ceremony held on the actual site. This type of ceremony is significant for many reasons, but above all, it was important to share the joy of the occasion with our field staff who had worked so hard to complete the project in the hot sun. Since the seepage of rainwater into the foundation of the temple during dismantling was to be avoided at all costs, the plan in the initial stage was to avoid doing this type of work during the rainy season. As the reconstruction work progressed into the last phase, however, we continued working even during the rainy season in order to meet the schedule, by covering the site with a sheet as soon as it started raining, using a crane to make a roof over it. After we worked so hard, right through the rainy season, I really wanted to celebrate the occasion at the actual site.

Outside of Bayon Information Center

Scenes of the restoration

On the morning of the celebration, we waited for Her Majesty the Queen, all standing in a line with our heads bowed. The car arrived, and when I saw Her Majesty the Queen step out of it without a sound, I remember, I felt deeply relieved that Her Majesty the Queen had arrived before the rain. The fresh spirit of dedication and international cooperation in saving the Angkor temple complex was everywhere, and the ceremony proceeded with an exhilarating and happy atmosphere. Her Majesty the Queen shook my hand before she left the site and said, “I would like to extend my gratitude to you for your respect for Cambodian tradition and dedication to this very difficult restoration work on behalf of all the people of Cambodia” with a graceful tone. When friends of mine quipped later that I had been in no hurry to let go of her hand, I strongly insisted that it would have been rude of me to let go before she did. But when I recall the occasion, I must admit that I might have been walking on air for a while afterward. In the afternoon immediately after we finished our private celebration, we had heavy rains. Again, I felt so relieved. The rains cleared up in the evening and I saw a full moon that night. At that time, rules on sight-seeing tours and times at this temple complex were not as strict as they are now, so we went out to Bayon, all excited and exhilarated. The heavy rains turned into white mists that covered our feet and reached up to ten meters from the ground. I saw dozens of huge, holy faces in bluish white lights as if they had been enjoying a feast. The power of the group form and the noble thoughts cherished in the rare situation in Bayon seemed to emit serene and transparent light. It was a blessed, unforgettable moment brought by the words of Her Majesty the Queen for our humble efforts.

Panoramic View of the Angkor Temple Complex from Bayon and Beyond

Relief on the west side of the Bayon Inner Corridor - A statue of Vishnu

Rendering of the south side of the Bayon central tower

We have dozens of memories about Bayon. Then His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk visited Bayon to pray for peace in September 1997 in the midst of the civil war. Dividing the Sacred World and the Secular World, he set up an altar on the front terrace a little to the south of its center. While looking at the king who was praying whole-heartedly, it appeared to me that I found answers for many questions on why Bayon and not Angkor Wat. It seems that even now it is a sacred place where all gods are syncretized, including Buddhism, Hinduism and local religions of Cambodian ancestors and it is clearly the source of the spiritual and traditional dynamism of Cambodia. As I mentioned above, JSA started the restoration work from the northern library of Bayon and established a foundation of the restoration methodology of the historical ruins. I think we carried out our original intention that the primary purpose of restoration is to retain the characteristics, originality, and authenticity of each site and to continue to make improvements, and to make those improvements public, in order to develop the optimal method of restoration. For that purpose, we cooperated with experts and specialists from various orientations and various fields to conduct a wide range of investigation and technical development before starting actual restoration work. These achievements are shown in photographs, illustrations, supporting documents and videos (in Japanese, English, and Khmer) from various perspectives, including the history of the Angkor temple complex, the background of a wide area of the Angkor civilization, comparisons with huge remote ruins, challenges to the mystery of Bayon through analysis of reliefs and figures, explanations of the basic methodology of restoring the Angkor temple complex, and activities of groups from various countries in Angkor. We sincerely hope people will enjoy Angkor at a leisurely pace, by visiting the Angkor temple complex, dropping in at the Bayon Information Center, and going back to their favorite temples again to fully explore the depth of the temple complex.

Takeshi Nakagawa
Professor, Department of Architecture, School of Creative Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Professor Takeshi Nakagawa was born in Toyama Prefecture in 1944. He graduated from the Department of Architecture in the School of Science and Engineering at Waseda University in 1967 and completed the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering at Waseda in 1972. He joined the faculty of Waseda University in 1984 as an Assistant Professor in the School of Science and Engineering and also served as Professor there starting from 1984. He obtained the Doctoral Degree in Engineering from the Graduate School of Science and Engineering at Waseda University in 1986. Since 2007, he has served as Professor of the Department of Architecture in the School of Creative Science and Engineering in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

He majored in Comparative Architectural History and Conservation and Restoration of Ancient Asian Architectures. He participated in the mini pyramid construction experiment in Egypt in 1997. Since then he has continued his study of ancient Asian architectures along with his study of pyramids. He has continued his study of the Imperial City of Hue in Vietnam since 1991 and has served as Team Leader of JSA since 1994. He was awarded the ORDER of SAHAMKETREI Kingdom, the Prize of AIJ and the Okuma Academic Commemorative Prize, and others. He also serves as Vice President of AIJ, Professor on the Faculty of Science and Engineering and Institute of UNESCO World Heritage, Comprehensive Research Organization, Waseda University.