Signals from the almighty

Having completed my tour of the famous Angkor Wat temple near Siem Reap in Cambodia, I was feeling elated as I made my way to the next temple in the complex. The Bapuhon temple, built using sandstone blocks in the mid-11th century, was a three-tiered temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Later, it got converted to a Buddhist temple when a 70-metre long statue of the reclining Buddha was built on the second tier.

To get onto each of the temple’s three tiers, you need to climb steeply inclined stairs — a constant reminder that heaven was hard to reach. You also have to climb the steps sideways so that you approach the deities reverentially without coming face to face with them. The several arches in the temple too are designed to ensure that every individual bends respectfully before entering the main hallway.

Nowadays, a new set of stairs have been super imposed on the original stairs, but these are no better. I conquered my fears and climbed up the first tier of the temple mountain. Feeling triumphant, I surveyed the second tier that had to be climbed. There were several other tourists besides me in similar contemplation; all of us wanting to see the figure of the reclining Buddha. But no, I reluctantly gave up as the stairs looked too steep for me.  

Hardly 50 metres away was a pathway leading me to the downward exit through an archway-lined corridor. I bent down to pass through the arch and seconds later felt a soft thud on the top of my head! “It’s only a bump,” I thought. “I will rub some ointment when I get back.”

Moments later, I felt something warm and runny on the top of my head — it was blood! I panicked and looked around for first aid. Evidently, in a remote temple complex in the midst of the jungle, there was none. Pressing a handkerchief to the top of my head, I ran down a set of steps to the ground level, even as the blood kept pouring out, onto my shirt, down my spectacles, everywhere!

My waiting Tuk Tuk driver pushed his vehicle to the limit to do the five-odd kilometres back to town to find a clinic while I desperately held on to a blood-stained handkerchief trying to stem the flow. On arrival, I was immediately rushed in to have my scalp sutured. Three stitches were required before the bleeding stopped.

I do not understand why this happened to me amid a thoroughly enjoyable and uneventful temple tour. Had I offended the Buddha because I turned away before climbing the second tier and did not visit him? Is this how punishment is meted out by the divine? But I did eventually get very good medical attention at the clinic — now, only a tiny scar on the top of my crown remains. Strange are the ways of the Divine, perhaps the Buddha only wanted to punish me in proportion to my transgression!

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Signals from the almighty

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