Meditating at the Banteay Srei in Cambodia

Meditating at the Banteay Srei in Cambodia

For some of us, Yoga is a private communication of who we are and what we are. Meditation is an integral part of this communication. Up until now, I would mostly meditate from home on chants remembering the natural forces of death and destruction symbolized through Shiva.

I would inevitably recite the Maha Mritunjaya Jaap, an ancient Hindu chant, which reminds one of how life succumbs to death, the triviality of material pursuits and how eventually the goal of life is to seek moksha and be free from the circle of birth and death. The chant makes an interesting reference to the cucumber to illustrate how it is not affected by the dirt it grows in. The cucumber is meant to symbolize not being affected by the ‘dirt’ of trivial pursuits, even though one lives in a world that is fraught by these pursuits.

Remembering Shiva or the force of destruction enables one to note how destruction prevails in the world, and it is fear of it that makes one weak and not the force itself. Interestingly enough, in a recent article published by the BBC, Eric Weiner made an interesting finding on why the Bhutanese people are the happiest in the world -by contemplating of death almost everyday the Bhutanese people become more attuned to positive thoughts.

Banteay Srei: Meditating at home has never really let me down. But it was when I was at the temple of Banteay Srei, a 10th century temple in Cambodia, when I realized what it could have possibly been like to meditate in the lap of nature and in the cradle of history that reminds one of destruction and eventual rebirth. Unlike all the other temples in Cambodia, the Banteay Srei is dedicated to Shiva rather than Vishnu and draws much lesser people, or atleast drew fewer on the evening of a balmy January day when I was present.

What provided the perfect fodder for meditation was the jungle surrounding the Banteay Srei that had consumed it up until 1914 (when it was re-discovered) and the sound of humming insects. Sitting on a parapet, under a tree right outside the Srei – away from public eyes, I had the perfect environment to meditate. For the first time in my life, I came to know what it was like to meditate in the lap of a forest, and in the precincts of a temple, that had once lived, then succumbed to the forces of destruction only to be born again – something I construed as the force of life itself. With these realizations, I could proceed peacefully to the world inside me through meditation. I had a context.

Takeaway: Having meditated for a good twenty minutes my primary realization was that I was incredibly fortunate to have had this experience. Historic temples like the Angkor Wat or Ta Prohm in Cambodia or even older temples in India like the Dashavatara temple in Deogarh of the 5th century lie inevitably torn down by the lines of tourists making it impossible to find quieter spaces where one can sit down and meditate.

While tourism brings in the necessary revenues for development in countries like Cambodia that really need it, I fathom that tourism also displaces the monks who otherwise use these temples to brace nature and life simultaneously through meditation.

All in all, 20 minutes of the time I had in the lap of nature and spirituality, was enough to make me realize today, we are increasingly being driven inside concrete walls and man-made music to meditate. Maybe the Banteay Srei is a dying species and maybe we might need to do something about it.

References: Eric Weiner, Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness (
Photographs: © Apoorva Anubhuti