Oudong and the Monkey
Having guests here with us in Cambodia brings Lee and I out and about playing tour guide as we show our friends and family some of the beauty and culture of our new home.
Seeking some time out of the city, we drove to Oudong Temple with Tris. A two hour drive following the Tonle Sap river north, meandering through the Cham towns that populate this side of the city. Street stalls and riverside huts sat next to elaborate mosques. The ladies in headscarves and burqas cleverly sheltered from the increasing dust as paved roads gave way to dirt tracks.
We could see Oudong emerge in the distance, sitting atop one of the only hills across the plain. The spines on the stupas tickled the sky as we approached from the east. Reflecting on it's perch over the valley, we could understand why Oudong used to be the location of the capital before King Norodom chose Phnom Penh to take it's place.
Walking the stairs to the temple we were accosted by monkeys, happily playing and being mischevious amongst their human visitors. One even posed as we took out our cameras, the animals clearly at ease with everyone arriving in their jungle home. The temple still plays an active role in the monastic life of the area. The presence of Khmer people and monks encouraging tourists to approach the space with sense of reverence and peace.
We sat in the shadows of the large stupa, taking in the landscape and listening to the chants and sutras. Coming from three directions, the sounds of Pali and Khmer filled the air with the most beautiful echoes. Closing our eyes we let ourselves be carried by the sounds, our hearts like swallows relishing in the breeze of mountain air.
Exploring the temples and winding stairways, our Khmer guide encouraged us to return to the main path, but something caught my attention at the southern end of the mountain. An umbrella sheilding a shrine, and an almost human like statue peaking out. From the back he had a tail supporting his stance on his hind legs. Turning to face the statue I was met with a terrifying expression. Hanuman, the monkey god, standing for victory and protecting the inhabitants of the temple from fear.
I know Hanuman from his eponymous yoga pose - the splits. A pose that causes fear to rise from my hamstrings and hips as they remember a time they were injured from the pose. Staring into Hanuman's eyes, the same fear returned.
Hanuman sits at Oudong, exposing it's visitors to fear at the same time as he protects them from it overwhelming them. When Oudong was the pulpit of the countries capital, he would have served to bolster the courage of the soldiers to protect the summit. Today, Hanuman bolsters my own courage and reminds me that my body and my mind are both on the same side. The fear in my monkey mind should not be directed at my own body.
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