Author: janevala

Little Hagia Sophia — Poem Verde Antico

Little Hagia Sophia is a mosque in Istanbul Turkey. Its foundations are about hundred years before Islam even existed, as a Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus. Its current name refers to Hagia Sophia proper, once the largest building in the largest city of its time, Constantinople. Both were built around same time, only few years apart, but current name was assigned to the converted mosque by Ottoman Turks who occupied the city in 1453 AD.

Interior of Little Hagia Sophia. Word intimate is perhaps best describing the mood and feel.

Ottomans spared several of the impressive Byzantine churches, and repurpose them to worship a new god. This way lot of original design and details can still be seen today. When I lived nearby, I often frequented Little Hagia Sophia and took some photos. Here are some that shows the details of interior.

Roman columns made of verde antico gave idea for the title, as poem in marble has already been attributed to Taj Mahal.

Roman numerals and alphabet come by everywhere, no wonder as they were chiselled during time when locals considered themselves as Romans. East part of Roman Empire would last thousand years after West had lost to armies of Barbarians. Byzantines would often contest the control of Italian peninsula, and occupy the former capital.

Hagia Sophia proper. Little sister would fit inside many times over.

Kitchen: Gaeng Hung Lay

I wrote some years ago how Chiang Mai and North Thailand (Lanna) used to be part of Burma for over 200 years, rather than Siam (Thailand) that it has since been part of (link).

Khao Niao, sticky rice is often served with Hang Lee.

One of the things where Burmese heritage shows, is some of foods that remained popular in the region, passing from generation of chefs to the next. One particular dish that makes the case is called Gaeng Hung Lay, or just Hang Lee. It’s an Indian type of sweet curry, stewed pork ribs and pork belly dish that are more common in further West. Chilies are main ingredient to spice up traditional Thai foods. When I lived in Chiang Mai, we often frequented in restaurants that were making good Hang Lee. Some of these places are little adventures all on their own, at the end of curvy mountain road that runs through the forests at the mountains.

Sunrise in Loei province.

Jolly good times.

Mekong river at morning, near Golden Triangle river junction.

Stone lions overlooking town of Mae Hong Son.

I’m not much of a chef myself, but this link provides good instructions how to make Hang Lee yourself. If traveling in Thailand, it can nowadays often be found from Thai restaurants all across the country, but obviously in north the easiest.

Kuala Lumpur Street Impressions

Street impressions and some popular scenes from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, early 2020. I traveled to KL first time in 2003, and bought my first digital camera from there. Few of those photos in here as well.

Curiously, as COVID-19 virus pandemic is spreading currently, I remember doing these early trips when world was fearing similar SARS virus, also originating from China in 2003.

Photo from above is from 2003, bellow 2020. Back then Petronas Towers were only few years old. Now, decades later, they still look just as modern and futuristic as ever (least to me).

Roof top pool bars are a thing in KL. Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur Tower (Menara) can be seen forming part of horizon. Pretty cool place for a morning swim, or chill out with friends after work.

Old meets new. Minaret of Masjid Jamek (more information bellow) is famous old landmark of the city. Menara is towering behind.

Birthplace of a metropolis, aka. muddy estuary, at the meeting point of Kelang (Klang) and Gombok rivers. In Malay language where river meets another, is called “kuala”. In 1857, tin prospecting expedition came to the river confluence with mud silted waters and river banks. Tin ore was discovered from the mud which in Malay is called “lumpur”. It was also this far that tin ore ships coming from sea could reach, making it important location for mining settlements and other mining infrastructure. Tracks to tin mining villages further away started from here. Mining industry grew rapidly over the coming years, because discovery was made right in time when industrial revolution was getting speed in West. This generated endless demand for raw materials. Soft tin has some qualities that other metals don’t, for example it does not corrode and become poisonous like iron does. It was thus ideal for storing food, at the time when plastics didn’t exist and aluminium wasn’t an option yet. Tin commercial tin exporting began in 1859.

Masjid Jamek was built in 1909, when Malaya was one of most prosperous colonies in British Empire. Tin and rubber were main sources of its fortunes. Mosque served as main mosque for local Malay community, until 1960’s when building more modern national mosque was completed.

Old Secretariat building is another famous landmark of the city, modern Kuala Lumpur behind. In front of Secretariat is former cricket field, nowadays known as freedom square (Merdeka).

2003 & 2020. Sri Mahamariamman Temple, KL old town.

Batu Caves are on a limestone hill outside the center, and is popular tourist destination in Kuala Lumpur. In caves and outside are statues and figures inspired by Hindu legends. Caves can be reached easily by public transport, but prepare for long queues at popular times.

KL public transport is extensive and works well.

Petaling Street in Chinatown is famous destination for bargain hunting and street food.

KL street impressions.

KL street impressions.

KL street impressions.

Used electronics and trinkets of all kinds for sell in street market. Chinatown.

When wandering in streets, shops and museums start to get too exhausting, city bird park provides a nice respite.

In Kuala Lumpur Bird Park.

Legend: Churning of the Ocean of Milk

The myth of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk comes from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, but is relayed in complete form in Bhagavata Purana, one of Hinduism’s 18 great Puranas, “great histories”. The story starts at the beginning of the world when Devas (Gods), and Asuras (Demons) had been fighting for 1000 years in an effort to produce Amrita, an elixir that would render them immortal and incorruptible.

After getting tired and unable to achieve their goal, the Gods and the Demons asked Vishnu for a help. Vishnu asked them to work together instead of fighting, and so Devas and Asuras started cooperation. For churning the milk of the Ocean, they used Mount Mandara as rod and Vasuki (ancestor of Nagas, snake Gods with multiple heads) as the rope.

The Devas held the tail part and Asuras held the head part of Vasuki’s body to churn the ocean by pulling on each side. Before producing the Amrita, the ocean of milk was churned for another 1000 years. During the long process, the mountain was becoming unstable; therefore Vishnu incarnated himself as the tortoise Kurma and used his back to support the falling mountain. Besides the Amrita, the ocean of milk also produced other treasures such as the goddess Lakshmi, the elephant Airavata, the horse Uchchaihshravas, a wishing tree and lovely Apsaras.

Once Amrita was produced, a fight took place between the Devas and Asuras to gain possession of it. Vishnu then intervened and helped the Devas to win and kept the elixir out of harm’s way, thus establishing peace.

Bridge railings in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap Cambodia. The depiction of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk became very popular in Khmer art, perhaps because their creation myth involved a Naga ancestor. It is a popular motif in both Khmer and Thai art.

All Roads Lead to Angkor

This post was long in the making. I visited Siem Reap and Angkor in early 2013, and like many, was amazed by the magnificence of its temples. Such sites don’t require much background information and understanding, just move along and awe the architecture and opulence they represent. Later when living in Thailand, Khmer history popped up here and there because much of the region was once part of Khmer empire (see my previous post about Khmer Provincial). Finally now second visit to Cambodia and somewhat better informed. Here’s my take from this fascinating place and the role it once played in the region.

Elephants and riders in historic park.

Traditional costumes worn by group of young Cambodians.

Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and me 🙂

Rise of Khmers was centuries long process. Heyday of empire was around eleventh and twelfth centuries but many sources cite of trading and diplomatic relations with them a lot earlier. Chinese, Indians and seaborne Javanese are known to be connected with pre-Angkorian kingdom known as Funan (name given them by Chinese). Khmers are said to have 9 great kings that ruled with wisdom and success for their country. They were Jayavarman II (802-850 AD); the founder of “Khmer proper”, Indravarman I (887-889 AD), Yasovarman I (889-910 AD), Jayavarman IV (921-941 AD), Rajendravarman (944-968 AD), Suryavarman I (1002-1050 AD), Udayadityavarman (1050-1066 AD), Suryavarman II (1113-1150 AD), Jayavarman VII (1181-1218 AD). As can be seen from gap periods, there were not so great times in between.

Reigns of the last two of the list are periods when empire has been considered of reaching its zenith. It had occupied or vasallized much of Southeast Asia, with borders reaching from Burma to the Dai Viet and Champa (both in modern day Vietnam) and China in the north. In south Khmers bordered with Malay peninsula Hindu kingdoms, as spread of Islam would reach there when Khmer empire was already in decline in 13th century. As empire expanded, it gathered number of enemies who weren’t happy to pay tributes, send men to its military and participate endeavours of further expansion. Especially Champa and Dai Viet were often in war footing against Khmers, and some historians believe that even the capital Angkor was sacked by the marauding armies from the west (To see map of the empire, click link to Wikipedia here).

Miniature model of Angkor Wat, in Angkor National Museum, Siem Reap.

During Suryavarman II, construction of largest temple complex of Angkor Wat was begun. Completion of this massive project is debated, it might have been after the death of its founder.

Angkor Wat is said to be largest religious monument in the world. Temple has unusual orientation towards west, opposing direction to most Khmer Hindu temples. One possible explanation is that it’s dedicated to Vishnu, God of the west, instead of Shiva. West is also direction of death. Stories in bas-reliefs in the temple are organized same manner as religious ceremonies for tombs in Hinduism.

Large pool inside Angkor Wat. Complex has several of these within.

Building spree during Jayavarman VII was even more intense, Angkor Thom with Bayon Temple in its center and numerous other temple complexes of similar proportions were erected. Every one of the temples housed community of thousands of members, with monks/priests being at the top of hierarchy. Jayavarman also greatly improved the road system mentioned in previous post (link), and is said to have been concerned of the well being of his citizens, building shelters and hospitals for them. Over 100 rest houses, also known as fire houses, were built every fifteen or so kilometers along road, to help with the chores of long travels.

Statue of Jayavarman VII in Angkor National Museum, Siem Reap.

Except the temples, city of Angkor was largely made of wood. On the surface, little of it remains today. Modern lidar (technology of emitting laser rays, bit like old radio wave based radar) has helped scientist and historians to study the real dimensions of the remains of Khmer civilizations buried in jungle. Angkor is estimated to have had million citizens, largest city on earth in its time.

When tolerant religions become less tolerant. Jayavarman VII was famous for his building projects, but he was also devout Buddhist, which was unusual in traditionally Hindu country. During his reign many large Buddhist temple complexes were built, which much have seen as sacrilegious or least a challenge, by the establishment of Hindu clergy. Clock was attempted to reset couple decades after Jayavarman’s death, by one of his successors who was Shiivaite. Buddhist artworks were vandalized and images of Buddha were chiseled of, large Buddha statues were converted into Linga.

Inside Preah Pkhan, one of many temples built during the reign of Jayavarman VII. Linga in center might be one of Buddha statues converted by Shiivaites.

Buddhist monks visiting Bayon Temple, at the center of Angkor Thom, the capital of Jayavarman VII.

One of entrance gates to Angkor Thom. City had four main gates pointing to four cardinal directions.

Young Cambodians. Khmer influence is very visible still today, and not only in Cambodia. Khmer’s influenced traditions, customs, and set norms and examples for coming kingdoms to copy and further. For instance Thai numerals in use today are a copy from Khmer’s. In many ways life in Southeast Asia is living history of Khmer’s, people just don’t stop and think about it.

This old sign has since disappeared, but serves here a purpose: Welcome, I might find my way back there also some day!