We went to Baphuon Temple this morning to see the extraordinary narrative relief panels on the gopuras of enclosure II. These fascinating reliefs, depicting a range of myths from the Hindu epics, are carved on superimposed and adjacent panels on the inner and outer faces of the building.
One panel that particularly caught my eye today tells the tale of the baby Krishna, and how his uncle, the evil King Kamsa, to escape the prophesy of his demise, orders that all young boys be massacred, like a latter-day Herod.
In Bhagavata belief, Vishnu, the supreme yogin who divides himself in three parts to create, preserve and destroy the worlds, is also the one who ‘descends’ from his heavenly abode every time the dharma weakens and the adharma surges, to save the good and eliminate the bad, to restore order from yuga to yuga.
The task of restoring the dharma is conceived as a violent fight against a bad prince, usually an asura, the maker of disorder always having royal power.
Towards the end of the junction of the Dvapara Yuga with the Kali Yuga, Vishnu will appear as Krishna at Mathura to slay the evil King Kamsa who has spread chaos in the region and committed many sins, thus weakening the dharma.
Krishna is the most celebrated hero of Indian mythology, and the most popular of all deities. He is ‘the dark one’, the eighth avatar of Vishnu, a direct manifestation of the god himself, the embodiment of love, of the divine joy that destroys pain. His story, which began in the Mababharata was expanded and completed in its appendix, the Harivamsa. The Harivamsa Purana describes how Vishnu plucked two of his own hairs, a white and a black one, and these hairs entered the wombs of Rohini and Devaki. The white hair became Balarama, of fair complexion, and the black one his half-brother Krishna, of dark skin.
King Kamsa, who, according to prophecy, would one day be dethroned and assassinated by a new-born nephew, the eighth child born of his cousin Devaki. Having heard the prophesy, but not knowing who the boy was, Kamsa ordered the massacre of all young boys (Bhagavata Purana, X, 3).
Figure 1. The Massacre of all Young Boys, Baphuon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia In this scene, from a panel on the southern gopura II at Baphuon Temple, a person, in frenzied movement, holds a baby by his limbs before smashing him against the rock of a mountain, where other little corpses are waiting for him.
Figure 2. The Massacre of all Young Boys, Preah Khan Temple, Angkor, Cambodia. In this representation of the tale, on a half-pediment at the western gopura I at Preah Khan Temple, a child is about to be smashed against a rock by a figure that looks a lot like an asura. To the right two figures in prayer, possibly Krishna's parents Devaki and Vasudeva praying to the gods for their son's escape.
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