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Notes on the Geography of Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen

At Banteay Srei, the Siem Riep River forks, with tributaries coming from the north and northeast. Historically, the eastern branch is important, because it comes off Phnom Kulen ("Lychee Mountain"). There, at the start of the eighth century, Jayavarman II declared himself universal monarch, an event taken to mark the consolidation of the Khmer state and the beginning of the Angkor period. In and of themselves, the streams seem insignificant, but there are surprises upstream ten or fifteen miles.

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Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 1

A half-hour's drive north of Banteay Srei, a path starts. The red banding marks the limits of the de-mined area. You don't see a lot of short cuts and trail branches.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 2

At the end of the path, the modest Siem Reap River.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 3

There's a waterfall.

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Above the waterfall, and carved in the sandstone streambed, there's a low lingam, nested in a square yoni. The lingam is Shiva's symbol, and the two symbols together, representing the male and female sexual organs, symbolize fertility. Placing them here blessed the flowing water.

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There's not just one or two such carvings: there are dozens. In this case, five linga are arranged in a quincunx within a yoni.

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Here, the bedrock has been covered with so many linga that the rock is alligated.

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Another instance of multiple linga.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 8

Hard to make out, but emerging during the dry season is a reclining Vishnu, floating on the ocean. His wife Lakshmi sits nearby. A lotus emerges from Vishnu's navel to signify the birth of a new era. It's a common theme, shown elsewhere in Angkor and much farther afield: Brahma should be emerging from the flower to take charge of the emerging world. Vishnu usually reclines on the serpent Ananta.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 9

No such thing as too much of a good thing: in this image you can make out the efflorescing Brahma and the serpent Ananta, its head flaring behind Vishnu.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 10

Change of gears: we've moved over to the east branch and, high up on the Phnom Kulen, a very impressive waterfall. Yes, swimming is possible: there's a nice sandy beach down here.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 11

Upstream from the waterfall, the stream is tranquil. Look closely in the sunny patch, however, and you'll see that the streambed here, too, has been virtually paved with linga and yonis.

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An especially large set.

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And here's another Vishnu, on the left and with the usual emsemble: the water was flowing from right to left, and though it was possible to stand in the stream to take the picture "right side up," the sun's reflection on the ripples made the surface opaque from that angle.

Cambodia (Angkor): Kobal Spien and Phnom Kulen picture 14

Yet another Vishnu, this time under a canopy of linga.


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