A Travellerspoint blog

Prambanan


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The second of the UNESCO World Heritage sites near Yogyakarta is Prambanan. Borobudur is Buddhist, Prambanan Hindu, but they were built at similar times. That’s the story of Java, and of so many of the old religions of southeast Asia: syncretic Buddhism-Hinduism, religions coexisting and influencing each other.

We were shown around by a guide, who had published a book on Prambanan. Because I asked questions and looked interested, he accompanied me around the entire site and sold me his book, which I no longer have. From what I gathered, Prambanan was built around 850 AD during the Shaivite or Sanjaya kingdom, which was a Hindu kingdom in competition with the Buddhist Sailendra kingdom, which lasted from the seventh to the eleventh centuries. King Sayanendra’s (Sailendra’s) granddaughter – Buddhist – married his grandson – Hindu – and tensions between the two kingdoms fell. She built a Buddhist complex and he built a Hindu one nearby; his father built Borobudur.

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In 928 the kingdom moved to East Java because of a huge eruption of Mount Merapi. Prambanan was abandoned in 1006. The site was rediscovered in 1773 (cf Pompeii in 1748) and was first restored in 1885. Restoration was completed, temporarily, in 1953.

In 2006, an earthquake measuring 5.8 Richter shook the land. Quite a number of people died, and Prambanan was badly damaged. Bricks and carvings fell from almost every structure, and most of the buildings became unsafe to enter. So there is not as much to see as there would have been a few years ago. Certainly, Borobudur is much the more impressive.

There are 242 pras (small shrines) on the perimeter, in concentric rows, of which only two still stand. Half of the original stones have disappeared; as always, they were used for building.

In the central zone there are eight larger candi, or temples. The three largest were dedicated to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. The shrine in front of each is dedicated to the god’s vehicle: Nandi, the bull, vehicle of Shiva; Angsa, the goose, vehicle of Brahma; Garuda, vahana of Vishnu.

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The temples are decorated with pumpkin-shaped things. Each is a lingaratnapatma – a fertility symbol.

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As far as I can recall the only temple that you can enter is the temple of Vishnu, inside which is a statue of same, and a yoni and linga. There is a central chamber, and four chambers facing the cardinal points.

Prambanan is also known as the temple of Lara Jonggrang. If I remember the story correctly, Lara Jonggrang was an unenthusiastic bride who, as a precondition of marriage, required her prospective bridegroom to erect 1,000 temple statues in a single night. (Her bridegroom had killed her father, so her qualms are understandable.) The bridegroom got spirits to help him, but still managed only 999 before the cock crowed, and he was so enraged at her punctilious refusal on grounds of non-performance that he turned her to stone. She became the thousandth statue. She is, supposedly, the image in the Durga cell of Shiva’s temple.

It being a Hindu temple, you can find naughty reliefs if you look. Of course you look.

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Posted by Wardsan 08:17 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Five-foot ways

Penang and Melaka


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Penang and Melaka both enjoy enviable strategic positions. If you want to sail from India to China, you have to go through the Melaka Straits on the west side of the Malaysian peninsula, unless you want to go around Sumatra, adding hundreds of miles to the journey. So the strait is a good place to set up a trading post, with access to the markets of India, China, Vietnam, Siam and Java, and the jungle products of Borneo and Sumatra.

Penang was an English development. In the eighteenth century the island, at the northern entrance to the Melaka Straits, was very sparsely populated. Capt Francis Light thought it would be an ideal place to built a staging post for English ships sailing between India and China (England controlled the silk trade at the time). He obtained permission from the sultan to build a base there.

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Capt Light hired some locals to build a fort at the point where he first landed, in 1786. It was the East India Company’s first base in the region. The first version of the fort was built, in 1793, in palm. Light named the fort after Cornwallis, the Governor-General of India, best known now as the man who surrendered at Yorktown. Around it grew George Town, now the capital of Penang. It is now a city rather than a town, but a few monumental buildings of the colonial era - the town hall, city hall, the museum, and Fort Cornwallis - survive.

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This is the town hall.

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This is St George’s church, built in 1818.

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An old cannon, cast by the VOC, points over the walls of the fort. Local women now visit it to pray for fertility. It is a hefty cannon.

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Penang, like those other trading towns Melaka and Singapore, has a large Chinese population. As in those cities, Chinese immigrants formed themselves into families or clans. Each clan had a kongsi, a building where people could meet; also a temple. In Penang, for example, there is a temple, built in 1924, for the ancestral deities of the Yap clan, originally from Fujian. It is guarded by lions, of course.

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The clan has 700 members in Penang. The Yap name dates from 439 BC, when Shen Zhu Liang defeated the Qin army and helped to restore the Chu dynasty. He was awarded a title and a piece of land called Yap district, so he took Yap as his surname. Rather like the Windsors.

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The Khoo clan also has a kongsi, the largest and finest in the city.

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In the central hall are some lovely pictures.

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Next to the central hall of the Khoo temple are two halls of fame. Any Khoo with a foreign qualification gets a shiny board on the wall; there are quite a few Khoos at Middle Temple, which is my Inn, and one or two at the other Inns of Court.

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There are other Buddhist temples in town, too: a Thai one and a Burmese one. This is a columbarium at the Wat Chaiyamangkalaran.

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And here is the Buddha at the Burmese temple.

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George Town and Melaka are the two “Historic Cities of the Straits of Melaka”, which recently obtained a World Heritage Listing. The reason they are historic is that they have a lot of old shophouses. (The style is not unique to Penang and Melaka. There are a fair number in Kuala Terengganu, and some in Kota Bahru, as well as in Singapore.) But Penang has 1,700 of them.

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The style is said to mix Portuguese, Dutch, Malay and Chinese influences. I could not discern anything Portuguese. Shophouses are two-storey trading houses, the ground floor open to the street. They are built on a simple plan with a rather plain façade, introduced by the Dutch, with more elaborate motifs coming from Malay and Chinese styles. As in Vietnam, the plot is long and thin. The living quarters and the kitchens are at the back, with an air-shaft in the middle.

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The first floor typically has three louvred windows. (We were told in Melaka that there was once a tax on glass windows, but I’m not convinced.)

In George Town it is possible to group them into styles:

    • Early shophouse style, 1800-1850. Two-storey, built right on to the street edge with a recessed ground floor forming a pedestrian walkway. Usually simple and small in scale, the upper storeys sometimes no more than four feet high. The upper wall has continuous panelled or louvred shutters. The upper floor is timber and roof tiled.
    • Early Transitional, 1840-1900s. Built with a five-foot pedestrian walkway. The balcony is simply decorated, eg glazed green vents. Tuscan or Doric pilasters. A continuous range of shutters above.
    • Early Straits Eclectic, with glass in the shutters for the first time. The shutters are no longer continuous. The roof overhangs become wider after 1900, because of the availability of reinforced concrete.
    • Late Straits Eclectic, 1920s-1940s, notable for spectacular ornamentation. Three windows, with very little wall space in between. Columns or pilasters of stucco, with Chinese panel frescoes.
    • Neoclassical, influenced by Anglo-Indian architecture, high ceilings, large porches, portico, colonnade, cupola, strict classical orders.
    • And finally there is some Art Deco from the 1930s to the 1950s.

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One of the buildings in George Town was the headquarters of Sun Yat-sen’s Tung Meng Hooi party, which in 1910 plotted the Cantonese uprising. (Dr Sun duly became president of the republic in 1911.)

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In George Town the buildings are used, in general, as they always were - as shops. In this respect George Town has the advantage over Melaka. It feels real.

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But Melaka, to the south, has the history. Unlike Penang, Melaka was an extremely wealthy and thriving port before the Europeans came. In fact it has the most interesting history of any town in the peninsula. Melaka is at the meeting point of the southeast and northeast monsoons. Merchants could wait in Melaka for the monsoon to change. Between April and October, the southeast monsoon blew ships towards China and Japan; between November and April, the northeast monsoon blew them back.

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Melaka is on a river, home to huge water monitors, tiled like the Hôtel de Dieu in Beaune. We went on an enjoyable boat trip along the river and were regaled with entertaining but questionable history along the way. Dilapidated godowns still flank the river.

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The town was the base of the Melaka (Malacca) sultanate between 1400 and 1511. The founder was Parameswara, a Sriwijayan prince from Sumatra. He embraced Islam in 1414 and called himself Raja Iskander Shah. Like the conversions to Christianity in eastern Europe towards the end of the first millennium, this seems to have been a political decision: he needed allies. Islam then spread from Melaka throughout the Malay world.

The Malay sultanate imposed a 6% ad valorem tax. Melaka was at its busiest between December and March, when ships from both west and east Asia arrived. Boats came from Java and the Spice Islands during the northern hemisphere summer. Traded in Melaka were especially textiles from India, commodities from east and west Africa, and Chinese silk and porcelain. Eighty-four languages were said to be spoken in Melaka.

Zheng He stopped here several times in the early fifteenth century, and built a trading post – he may also have converted Iskander Shah - and there have been Peranakans (Chinese) here ever since Hang Li Po arrived in, perhaps, 1459 to marry Sultan Mansur Shah.

From the Malay perspective, it was downhill after the Portuguese arrived. Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in 1498, where he heard about Melaka, and it took very little time for the Portuguese to discover the rest of Asia. The Portuguese arrived in Melaka to trade in 1509 and conquered the town by force in 1511, initiating the process of European colonisation in southeast Asia. The sultanate moved elsewhere. Paradoxically, it was the Portuguese capture of Melaka that triggered the Islamisation of the entire region.

The Portuguese imposed a government monopoly system. Naturally, they tried to monopolise the trade in nutmeg and mace from Banda, pepper from Kedah and tin from Perak. Many local merchants therefore went elsewhere, to Aceh, Brunei and Johor. The Portuguese also imposed an ad valorem duty of at least 5%, with 10% on Chinese goods, and 8% on goods from Bengal. (The exposition in the Maritime Museum was highly political, hugely pro-Muslim, and quite confused on the economics. It is certainly not obvious why the sultanate’s VAT was good and the virtually identical Portuguese VAT bad; or why both a monopoly system and free trade should have been the very thing designed to destroy Melakan trade. The real reason was probably that the Dutch and British simply wanted to base their trade elsewhere, at Batavia and Singapore respectively, because by they came into possession of Melaka they had already established these latter towns as their trading bases.)

The Dutch took the town in 1641 from the Portuguese after a siege. By then they had made Batavia the political and trading centre in the east, and they imposed heavy taxes on shipping in Melaka and diverted ships towards Batavia.

In the late eighteenth century the Dutch had to retrench, because the country was occupied by the armies of France, and in 1795 the British moved in, effectively holding it on trust for the Dutch for the duration of the war. But, like the Russians in Georgia recently, the British blew up the Dutch fort, so that when the Dutch came back they would not be able to defend it. The Dutch never came back, though, and under the Treaty of London 1824 the British swapped Bercoolen (Benkulu) in Sumatra for Melaka.

The British remained in Malaya until 1957, not counting the three years of Japanese occupation. They neglected Melaka, since Singapore was their commercial base in southeast Asia; Penang to the north was also more important. Certainly trade in Melaka diminished rapidly around the time Singapore was founded. Melaka dwindled and became a small, dilapidated town. The estuary silted up. In the nineteenth century Melaka had to start focusing on agriculture, and became an exporter of green pepper and rubber, as well as livestock, rattan, timber, gold dust and fish. No-one after the Melaka sultanate made any money out of the place.

Melaka has the oldest buildings on the peninsula. In its original version, the church of St Paul’s dates from 1521, when it was called Nosa Senhora. It was enlarged and renamed after the Annunciation in 1556, and then renamed again and turned into a Protestant church by the Dutch. St Francis Xavier, who visited regularly, was buried here for nine months before his remnants were transferred to Goa. (There is a miracle associated with this if you are into that sort of thing.) A number of old Dutch gravestones remain.

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The Dutch built Christ Church opposite the Stadthuys in 1753, after which they stopped using St Paul’s, which fell into ruin. The pragmatical Brits used the church to store gunpowder.

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St Paul’s is faced, as the fort was, in laterite, which is a concentration of insoluble minerals resulting from erosion of rock by heavy rainfall and given its colour by iron oxides. The other old buildings of the town are painted dark red to mimic it.

The Dutch also built the Stadthuys in 1660, which now houses a history museum, worth visiting if it is raining.

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One interesting place to visit in Melaka is the Flora de la Mar, a 110-foot long replica of a Portuguese nau, fat and tall like a three-masted galleon, but less stable. The Flora de la Mar sank in January 1512 in the Straits of Malacca on her way to Europe. The replica was inaugurated as a maritime museum in 1994.

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What was the nationality of the first person to sail around the globe? Malay, perhaps. Ferdinand Magellan purchased Panglima Awang as a slave in Melaka in 1511, and he accompanied Magellan back to Europe. He was christened and named Enrique. Magellan then mounted an expedition to sail around the world, and Panglima Awang went along as interpreter. As I mentioned before, by the time the ships reached Cebu in 1521, Magellan was dead; but Panglima Awang had sailed around the world.

There are still quite a few trishaws, bedecked in flowers, in Melaka, but they are an expensive way to get around, catering solely for tourists. In Indonesia they remain an important medium of public transport in most places outside central Jakarta.

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The first floor overhangs the street by a few feet. In Penang and Singapore, the overhang is supported by pillars, and since the plots are contiguous this creates a sidewalk: a five-foot way. Since both commercial and family life takes place largely on this patch, it is not always possible to walk down it.

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But in Melaka, for reasons that remain occult, the front patios are often separated by walls with portholes. The patios cannot be used as a path, so you have to walk in peril in the narrow streets, which carry heavy traffic.

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In Melaka, the five-foot ways are confined to a fairly small Chinatown area. Many of the premises are now given over to touristified souvenir shops and restaurants. These masks are not Melakan.

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It’s less satisfactory than George Town or Singapore. Melaka has the most interesting history in Malaysia but perhaps the least interesting Chinatown. In any case, the place is worth visiting for the food alone.

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Posted by Wardsan 05:40 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Hadrian's Wall

It is three months since my involuntary return from Asia, and about time I finished this blog. But there are still one or two experiences that I want to record, chief among which is the trip to Papua.

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Since the last post I have walked along Hadrian’s Wall. As built, it was 80 Roman miles long. A Roman mile (mille passuum, or a thousand paces), was 1,480 Imperial yards, so each ‘step’ was 1.48 yards long. As your average Roman soldier was five foot four tall, he had a remarkably long stride. Or, as I suspect, each ‘pace’ consisted of two steps.

It is lambing season, and Northumbria and Cumbria are full of sheep. Behind this one is a stretch of the Wall.

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The trail along the Wall, only ten miles of which exists as a stone structure above ground, is 84 miles long. With tergiversations voluntary and inv my path took me about 95 miles. It took me a very long time, and I lingered at every fort and museum along the way.

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These are some remains at Corbridge Roman town, just south of the Wall. The sinuosities are caused by subsidence into older ditches.

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Niches in the changing room of the bathhouse at Chesters.

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A phallic symbol nearby. There were phallic symbols everywhere in Roman society; their function was apotropaic (they warded off evil spirits). People, especially babies, wore phallic amulets.

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Granaries at Housesteads.

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Milecastle 37.

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There are a number of Roman forts on the route. The easternmost, not even on the trail, is at the mouth of the Tyne, at South Shields. South Shields Metro station has signs in Latin.

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This is a reconstructed gatehouse.

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The fort was known as Arbeia, the place of the Arabs, as the cohort of Tigris bargemen were based here. They would have been from the south, perhaps even Basra. The Brits have recently handed back control of Basra; 1600 years ago the situation was reversed.

Without the historical interest it would not have been the most interesting walk, although there is a beautiful section in the middle, between Chollerford and Walton.

Sewingshields Crags.

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Highshield Crags.

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Crag Lough.

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Meanwhile bluebells cover the country. Kew is blue right now. Here is our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

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I actually meant to write about Penang and Melaka, but cannot be bothered right now.

Posted by Wardsan 04:01 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

City of Kings

Excess wattage 2


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Good news: more orang utans in Borneo.

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In Constantinople, in the time of Justinian, gangs used to fight in the streets. Nominally linked to chariot teams at the hippodrome, the Blues fought the Greens in a daily Old Firm derby. Aspirant politicians were connected to both mobs, and once they combined to try to bring down the Emperor.

In Thailand, the reds have been fighting the yellows, and now the mysterious blues have turned up. The PM has declared a state of emergency. It’s business as usual, then.

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Tradition has it that Ayutthaya was founded in 1351 by U Thong. In fact there was already a town called Ayodhya on the east bank of the river, where the oldest wats are to be found. But when his town, Lopburi, was hit by an outbreak of smallpox, U Thong founded the new town in a strategic location entirely surrounded by three rivers. Ayutthaya is no mere eyot: the island, which is very nearly square, must be two miles across. Canals used to run through it.

By Thai standards Ayutthaya is a fairly new town. Indeed ‘New Town’, Chiang Mai, is older, being founded in the thirteenth century. Sukhothai dates from the twelfth century, Nakhon Si Thammarat from the eleventh, Nakhon Pathom from the sixth, U Thong from the third.

King Ramathibodi (or maybe Boromoratcha II) II of Ayutthaya captured Angkor in 1432, at which point it was the dominant power in the entire region. (Alliances, as always, were cemented by marriage. Ramathibodi was the son-in-law of the Emperor of China.) Six years later Ayutthaya finally acquired Sukhothai, and thereafter concentrated its energies in the Malay peninsula, where it constantly tried but failed to take Melaka. The Portuguese got there first. Ayutthaya became the capital of Siam in the fifteenth century, and remained so until sacked by the Burmese army in 1767.

At the centre it was a strong and centralised state, where the king possessed absolute power. He was much more remote than the kings of Sukhothai, and he was, of course, a devaraja, and an incarnation of Vishnu. There was no law of succession - there still isn’t – and so civil wars were very common. There were 33 kings of Ayutthaya between 1351 and 1767, belonging to several dynasties.

Ayutthaya controlled dependencies all over Siam. From the north came hard wood, sappanwood, eaglewood, molasses, iron, hide, rhinoceros horn. From the south came spices, pepper, tin, gold, seafood, salt and jaggery. From the east coast came spices, pepper and gems, from the northeast forest products, silk, cotton and tin, and from the west tin, spices and pepper. From the delta of the Chao Praya came fish, rice and fruit.

From the sixteenth century Ayutthaya constantly came under threat from the expanding Burmese kingdom, which expanded into Chiang Mai and Laos. In 1569 Ayutthaya was taken, and Ayutthaya became a vassal state of Burma, a Pétain being installed on the throne. This state of affairs did not last very long, though, as one of the princely hostages taken back to Burma organised military resistance upon his return to Ayutthaya. This was King Naresuan the Great.

The Burmese army marched to Ayutthaya and fought the Ayutthayan army at Nong Sarai. Naresuan defeated and killed the Burmese crown prince, Maha Uparaja, in a duel on elephantback. Like jousting, or man-to-man challenges in Greek and Roman times, this was the honourable/chivalrous way of going about a fight. Elephants were used as war machines and as pack animals. A hundred and fifty elephants are still kept in the kraal in Ayutthaya.

In the late afternoons you see them, dressed up, carrying tourists around town. I had had enough of elephant rides by then.

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Ayutthaya became a great centre of international trade. Ayutthaya traded with China, Japan, Champa, Melaka, Java, Annam, Persia and Mocha in Yemen. Each nationality had its own enclave there were, at least, Chinese, Cochins, Malays, Makassarese, Japanese, Chams, Mon and Khmer. Indians came to sell textiles and to buy elephants, ivory and tin.

The Portuguese arrived in 1511, fresh from taking Melaka. They were granted permission to trade in 1516. The Dutch received permission to trade in 1592. The newly-founded VOC arrived in 1604. They found a thriving port city with goods for sale from all over Asia. They were looking for a water passage to China, but stayed on to trade. The VOC established a factory there, where they bought hides, sappanwood, tin and pepper. Jerome van Vliet, head of the VOC factory, wrote an account of the usurpation of the throne by Prasat Thong in 1629.

Other Europeans also began to arrive in the 17th century. King Narai allowed many countries to establish factories at Ayutthaya. Bizarrely, his foreign minister was a Greek, Constantine Phaulkon. After 1664 Narai decided he no longer wished to rely too much on the violent Dutch, and he turned to France. He allowed French missionaries in, to run hospitals and schools. Envoys from Louis XIV arrived at the court of King Narai in 1685; there is a picture of the event at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Narai sent an envoy back, and Kosa Pan was received by Louis XIV at Versailles in 1686. The English East India Company maintained factories here from 1612-23 and 1675-89.

All the foreigners had enclaves because they came to trade but had to wait for the monsoon. Each settlement had its own kapitan, who handled judicial matters. The foreigners were free to keep their own religious laws and customs.

Golden times. In 1765, however, Burmese armies invaded Siam. In 1767 they besieged Ayutthaya, which capitulated in 1767. It was looted and burned, and its priceless libraries, artworks and archives destroyed. That was the end of it. When Taksin got Siam back together, he built a new capital south of Ayutthaya at Thonburi.

On the east side of the river, the Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (or Mongkhon) was founded by U Thong, the first king of Ayutthaya, in 1357 and enlarged by King Naresuan in 1592. In 1766 Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese army. The wat was destroyed and abandoned, and only re-established in 1957. The wat was rebuilt on a smaller scale in 1979.

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It is surrounded by Buddhas in the defeating Mara position.

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The huge chedi was built by King Naresuan in the sixteenth century to commemorate his victory against the Burmese in 1592.

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The Wat Phanang Choen is a Chinese-Buddhist temple, and much-used. It is easy to tell the difference: there is Chinese lettering everywhere; a lot of red; lots of subsidiary shrines within the building; no space; and people stick gold-leaf sheets on to all the statues.

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These are offerings to Ganesh.

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The main image is a very large Buddha. As I arrived an enormous orange cloth was unravelled to cover the heads of the congregation. Dunno why.

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The wat is on the bank of the river, and you can walk down to a jetty and buy food to feed the catfish. They hang around in such large numbers that they make the river boil.

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Wat Na Phra Mane was built in 1499 AD - by Indra, apparently. It hosted a peace conference between Siam and Burma in 1569. In 1760 the Burmese King Alongphaya, then attacking Ayutthaya, fired a cannon from the wat at Ayutthaya. It exploded, and the king was seriously injured and died on the way back home. So it’s a place with patriotic overtones and the Buddha image within is believed to have saved Ayutthaya; it takes a negligible stimulus to produce a patriotic response in your average Thai person.

In the gable at the front is a teak carving of Narai riding on a garuda, stepping on Naga’s head. The Buddha inside is 6.60m high, in early Ayutthaya style. In Ayutthayan style, the Buddha is relatively slim with a V-shaped torso and figure-hugging Batman robes. Buddha may have renounced his wealth, but he was a prince, and Ayutthayan Buddhas are often dressed royally and crowned; the kings of Ayutthaya liked to emphasise the power of the monarch.

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Next door, in the viharn noi, is a nice Dvaravati Buddha from maybe the sixth century AD. It is held to have come from Sri Lanka. Buddhism arrived in Thailand by the second to third centuries AD at the latest. In central Thailand there was a kingdom known as Dvaravati (from Sanskrit), which flourished in the sixth and seventh centuries. The artistic style known as Dvaravati was employed throughout Thailand between the sixth and eleventh centuries. Quite a few stucco-covered stupas date from this era. In the Dvaravati era there were also a lot of images of Avalokitesvara, lord of the six syllables: om mani padme hum.

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There was a Wat Maha That in every provincial city. It always contains a stupa with a Buddha relic in it, and is the most sacred place in town. In Ayutthaya the relics appeared miraculously, just when they were needed. Royal ceremonies were held there and it was considered the centre of the city.

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In Ayutthaya the presiding stupa was a Khmer-style prang, but there are chedis and prangs all over the place; it is a large site. Most of the chedis are reduced to brick, but you can see that they used to be covered in stucco.

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The wat was founded under the third king of Ayutthaya, Borromaratchathirat I (phew), in 1374, and completed under Naresuan, who reigned 1388-95. It was originally 44 metres high, but collapsed during the reign of Songtham (1610-28). It was renovated in 1633, after which it was 50 metres high. It was badly damaged in 1767, and the wat destroyed, and the prang collapsed again during the reign of Rama V in 1911.

It feels a bit like Pompeii. Subsidiary prangs lean at angles.

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It is in the grounds of the Maha That that the iconic image of Ayutthaya is found: the Buddha head in the bodhi roots. The bodhi tree has grown around the head so that now it is incorporated into the tree.

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The Fine Arts Department excavated only in 1956. Six nested stupa-shaped reliquaries were found buried 17 metres under the prang. The actual Buddha relic is perhaps a third the size of a grain of rice.

With the reliquaries was a lot of treasure, among which was a gilded stone container in the shape of a fish, inside which were 19 beautiful gold offerings. There were also images made of gold, silver, bronze and tin. Votive tablets were found, too, made of tin, clay, and gold and silver foil, all dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

They are now in the museum in Ayutthaya, and naturally the relics are part of a shrine. While I was looking at the objects I was given a banana by the museum staff. This had been part of the offering to Buddha earlier in the day, and I was told it would bring health if I ate it. All the staff were eating bananas.

Maha That was the first place in the country that Buddha relics and treasure had been unearthed, and this sparked a wave of chedi robberies. The crypt of Wat Ratchaburana was robbed in September 1957. Inside the crypt was a gold prang, originally a metre high, which may have contained a Buddha relic. The robbers had torn it apart to make it easier to transport. The robbers were arrested but only a few pieces were recovered. It was only then that the Fine Arts Department was instructed to excavate the crypt.

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Also in the crypt were Buddha images in Pala, Dvaravati, Sriwijaya, Lopburi, Sukhothai, U Thong and early Ayutthaya styles, which is pretty much all of them. There was also a set of royal utensils (jars, trays, boxes etc) including betel nut set, and a water pot with a lid topped with the faces of Brahma; and jewellery. These are also beautiful objects. Gold objects were inscribed variously with Thai, Khmer, Chinese and Arabic scripts. Royal regalia were also found. Five items symbolised kingship: crown, sword, walking stick, fly whisk and slipper. The sword was found.

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The wat was founded in 1424. On the site itself there are two newer chedis. Boromaratcha II built the chedis to commemorate his brothers, who had managed to kill each other in a duel on elephantback.

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The site was badly damaged in 1767 but the prang is in perfect condition, decorated with garudas, nagas etc.
You can go down to see the crypt, which was decorated in a dark red mural.

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The ubiquitous mynah.

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The Wat Phra Mongkhon Baphit houses a huge Buddha, 12.45 metres tall, in bronze. It is also in early Ayutthaya style. Its head and right arm were broken during the catastrophe of 1767. The viharn was restored in 1956, and it still looks very new.

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At the centre of Ayutthaya, the Grand Palace was a gargantuan complex. Three concentric walls surrounded the king’s residence. There was an administrative and ceremonial area in the middle part, and Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the royal wat, stood in the outer layer. Almost nothing now remains. It housed the Phra Si Sanphet, the largest standing metal Buddha ever known. Now the Wat Phra Si Sanphet contains three chedis in a line. They were built to house the remains of three Ayutthayan kings.

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It was at Si Sanphet that I finally received my own usnisha.

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Posted by Wardsan 09:36 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Pics of Nha Trang


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I still have not started work (it will happen one day), so this week I went for three walks in the southeast. The Met Office predicted a deluge on Wednesday; it is now Friday and it is yet to arrive. False Noahs.

On Monday I walked from Manor Park to Epping via Chingford. The second part of the walk is more rural and more pleasant. The route goes through Epping Forest, which was used as royal hunting grounds from at least the twelfth century until the late Stuarts, who didn’t care for hunting much. Queen Victoria gave it to the nation in the last century, to provide a rural recreation area for the growing working population of East London. While walking I saw lots of crows, magpies, tits and robins, and a jay, a woodpecker and a skylark. Here is a peacock at Wanstead Flats.

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On Tuesday, down the river from Kew to Hampton Court via Ham House. Ham House was built from 1610 and retains some interesting décor and paintings from Tudor times, and some interesting old-fashioned formal gardens.

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There were snake’s head fritillaries, our only native fritillary. They grow wild at Magdalen College, Oxford, but are usually cultivated.

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The first part of the path, between Kew and Teddington, is much prettier than the second. Almost all of it used to be attached to one royal palace or another, and much remains Crown land. I saw about twenty cormorants, including a group just roosting in a tree, which I have never seen before, as a fox strolled by beneath it annoying the crows.

And well over a dozen grey herons. This one was in Richmond.

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All along the river from Ham House onwards you can see and hear rose-ringed parakeets in the trees. They – and the other wild parakeet species in the southeast - are descended from captive birds liberated forty or more years ago; there is a story that they escaped from Shepperton Studios during the filming of The African Queen, or were set free by Jimi Hendrix, or escaped from a container at Heathrow. All of these could be true, but there were certainly escaped parakeets in England from the nineteenth century. The ancient Greeks kept the Indian subspecies as pets, and the Romans likewise kept the African subspecies, and there are feral populations along the Rhine and in Barcelona, and in Japan and Florida. They now range, in their thousands, from Croydon to Esher; they have even been seen in Peckham. They are very pretty and very jolly, but it is likely that they displace local species such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and starlings. Like many invaders, they thrive partly because they have no natural predators.

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The gardens in Hampton Court are covered in flowers right now.

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Here is a deer in Bushy Park, which used to be the hunting grounds for Hampton Court Palace. The winter fur is just being moulted and the antlers are growing. There are so many deer in the park that the ground is carpeted with deer droppings.

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Another heron, in Bushy Park.

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On Wednesday I walked over the cliffs from Hastings to Cliff End and then along the Royal Military Canal to Winchelsea. Hasting and Winchelsea are two of the seven (yes) Cinque Ports. Hastings is kiss-me-quick hats, bingo, amusement arcades and mini golf, but also a good place for cockles, eels and whelks.

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The cliffs above are covered in gorse, currently in flower.

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The path goes through Fairlight, a windy place on top of the cliffs, where every cottage has a ceramic nameplate on the wall. Union and St George flags fly on poles. The natives are friendly, so long as you’re white I expect. It is part of the constituency of Hastings and Rye, which, surprisingly, has a Labour MP with a majority of 2,000. Until 1997 it was a thumping Conservative majority. The local district council has a large Conservative majority, and the local ward elected three Conservative councillors.

Winchelsea is an interesting place. You pass through a medieval gate and then have to walk half a mile to the village itself. The village used to be one of the most important ports in England, and was then much bigger. But the meadows upstream were reclaimed and farmed and the river consequently silted up.

It has an interesting church, which is merely the chancel of a much larger church. Mmm, lichen on gravestones, isn't it?

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It is not clear whether the nave was ever built, as around that time the French kept on coming over to Winchelsea and sacking the place. Here, in the church of St Thomas, is Edward II, above the tomb of an admiral of the Cinque Ports.

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  • ***

And here are some more pictures of Nha Trang, Vietnam. A purveyor of sunglasses.

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A view towards the sea.

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Outside Nha Trang is a well-preserved Cham temple, called Po Nagar. It sits on a hill.

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The other tourists there when I visited were Vietnamese.

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It is still used, although converted now to Buddhism.

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Posted by Wardsan 08:11 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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