The Ganges at Sunrise

This is our entry in nancy merrill photography’s A Photo a Week Challenge: Texture.

In November 2014, we visited the ancient city of Varanasi in the northern India state of Uttar Pradesh. We went out in a rowboat on the Ganges River early one morning to experience the sunrise, as Hindu pilgrims have done for centuries. We gazed east, while just to our west, the never-ending funeral pyres burned on the shore. The photo contrasts the texture of the worn paint on the boat with the smooth rippled surface of the water. The solid darkness of the water is broken by striations of sunlight reflected on the ripples created by the oar.

This photo was taken on November 19, 2014. Specs are:

Olympus TG-3, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/160 sec, 4.5 mm.

Why we went to South India

We went to South India for several reasons, but the primary reason was to take this picture at the Hampi Temple Complex.

The object of this picture is a chariot carved from stone.  The chariot originally contained a Garuda, an eagle-like creature from Hindu mythology. The chariot represents the type of cart that Hindu idols are carried in during religious processions. This chariot stands guard outside a temple to Vishnu and is oriented so that the Garuda can gaze at the idol representing the god inside.

Vishnu is one of the three main Hindu gods.  Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu is responsible for its continuation, and Shiva is responsible for its destruction. Each Hindu god has an animal-like vehicle for travel and Vishnu travels on the back of the Garuda. Vishnu is incarnated at times of need. Two incarnations of Vishnu that are familiar in the West are Buddha (not everyone in India agrees with this) and Krishna, whose American supporters — the Hari Krishnas — made it difficult to pass through airports in the 1970’s because of their chanting and soliciting of donations. It wasn’t clear to us if the Garuda gets reincarnated also.

Fun facts:

(1) This chariot is of such significance that its image is on the money.

(2) For centuries, the stone wheels could be turned, but the Indian government decided to cement them in place.

Ritual Bathing at Kataragama Temple

Ritual purification in religion can involve bathing in a river to maintain purity prior to an important act.  The bathers seen in the Menik Ganga in the following photo are preparing to enter the Kataragama Temple near Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka, a sacred site for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Vedda people. Although the water didn’t seem clean to us, physical impurities don’t diminish the ritual purity such bathing brings to the believers.

 

This photo was taken on February 14, 2018. Specs are:

Canon 100D, ISO 100, f/11, 1/60 sec, 50 mm.

 

Angkor Wat

We have been planning future trips and one place we want to revisit is Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Angkor Wat is the largest temple complex in the world, built at about the same time as the great cathedrals were being constructed in Europe. The temples are a blend of Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries.

We visited before in March 2013 and found it fascinating but VERY hot. We have learned more about photography since then and hope to have some interesting shots when the weather is a little nicer.

Our guide on the last visit was a former Buddhist monk and our driver (who spoke no English) turned out to be a moonlighting medical doctor who would drive us during the day and work at the clinic in the evenings. After seeing various signs telling us to follow the marked paths because there might be landmines in other places, we followed our guide closely. Our earlier visit to Angkor Wat is described in a blog post at this link.

The Angkor Wat complex is enormous and beautiful. When we were there in 2013, it was crowded with tourists and (did I mention?) HOT.  The following photo is a polar panorama of one face of the main temple complex.

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Angkor Wat as a Small World

One highlight of most visits is seeing the temples during sunrise and sunset. We arranged to see both views with our guide. One evening, we and our guide trekked up a steep slope to see sunset. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy. As our guide put it “Too bad it is cloudy; sometimes this is very nice.” (Sometimes tourism is less exciting.) The next morning, we got up very early to see sunrise, shown in the following photo.

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Sunrise, Angkor Wat

 

The temples are made of sandstone blocks set in place without mortar. After the blocks were placed, their blank faces were ornately carved by skilled craftsmen.

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Angkor Wat

The scale of the complex is amazing. The follow photo shows a small part of an inner courtyard.

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Inner Courtyard, Angkor Wat

The individual buildings are covered on the outside with aging but elaborate carvings.

The walls on the interior of the buildings are also covered with ornate relief carvings such as the dancing girls in the following photo. These are the Apsaras of Hindu mythology.

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Dancing Girls, Angkor Wat
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Dancing Girls, Angkor Wat

There has been an active Buddhist religious presence in the complex. This was true even after the temples were “lost” and before they were “discovered” by the French in the 1800’s. The following photo shows one of the giant Buddha heads that adorn the exterior of the Banyan Wat.

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Buddha Face, Angkor Wat

Here is one of several active Buddhist shrines within the complex.

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Buddhist Shrine, Angkor Wat

 

By being early and quick, we managed to get photos without too many people. Angkor Wat is so popular that such photos are deceiving. The next photo is more representative of our visit. Our guide is one of the tiny figures below at ground level.

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Tourists Climbing Stairs, Angkor Wat