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Angkor Wat – An architectural marvel


Angkor Wat- one of the biggest religious monuments carved out of stone is found to be built by Suryavarman II during 1120 and 1150 and fittingly functioned as both the state temple and as the capital city of the khmer empire justifying its name (Angkor means the city and Wat means the Pagoda). Owing to its baffling size, many even call this as the largest Asian pyramid that scales as high as 200 feet high.

Spiritual orientation

Without any doubt, Angkor Wat bears enough proof regarding the spiritual orientation of the ruler and his subjects following the Hindu tradition and beliefs. But what is more interesting is that Suryavarman II chose the Hindu deity God Vishnu over God Shiva - the then prevailing god of Angkor. Even though the actual reasons for this particular change of adherence are unfamiliar, historians find this one particular analysis suitable: Vishnu is the god who is known to reinstate universal order by taking the human form or avatar; maybe Suryavarman II too desired to depict himself that way as a lord who would bring prosperity to his subjects or even as the avatar of the great deity himself.


What does Angkor Wat Signify?

Actually, Angkor Wat is considered as a replica of the universe but in the miniature form. The tower in the centre surrounded by smaller crests can be considered as the Mount Meru (the abode of Gods), the lower courtyards as continents and the moat as the oceans. The mythical seven-headed serpent can be symbolically assumed as a bridge that facilitates humans reach the heavens or god’s abode.

The outer wall is rectangular in shape with gates on either its sides, but the western side gate is wider and richly decorated with sculptures and engravings to mark it as the main entrance. God Vishnu’s idol carved out of a single sandstone block can be found on the tower’s right-hand side. The offerings found here proves that it still a place of worship for many.

The 9.5m wide and 475m long avenue is lined with serpent rails, starting from the key entrance to the temple’s central part, flanked by 2 pools and 2 libraries. The northern side is a famous spot for viewing sun rise.

The central complex has towers on the second and third storey corners with lotus-bud shaped tops. The central tower is seen 31m over the third level giving the entire magnificent ensemble its awe-inspiring unity.

The upper level also called as the Bakan Sanctuary is very steep signifying that reaching the god’s abode is no simple task.

Noteworthy features

Intriguing Bas reliefs

The core part of the temple complex features bas-reliefs extending to almost 2,600 feet including historical events and scenes from mythology. The most prominent ones that can be easily understood are the ones from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabratha, demons and gods churning the ocean using Maha Meru (sacred mountain) for obtaining the milk that can lead to eternity, Heaven and Hell, the Battle of Kurukshetra, Krishna and the Demon king, the Lanka battle and the Elephant Gate.

Western entrance

Normally temples follow the eastern orientation but in Angkor Wat it is the opposite with the main entrance facing the west. Earlier it was thought that it could have been a site to perform the funerary rites of the royals but archeologists and historians understood at a later stage that it was due to the king’s affinity to God Vishnu that has lead to the change in orientation from east to west. But there are some who believe in both the theories.

Mesmeric Apsaras or Nymphs

Over 3000 carvings of celestial apsaras or nymphs (similar to fairies) can be seen on the walls of this temple. Each carving is distinct from one another in its own way and one cannot miss the hairstyles (as many as 35) they showcase. Though many of these wall carvings have damaged over the passage of time and due to chemical cleaning procedures, they still look alluring.

Stellar link

The most astounding feature of Angkor Wat is its perfect alignment with the constellation called Draco which became visible in the year 10,500 BC in the sky. Many historians not only admire the temple’s stellar link but also wonder how it was achieved in an age that lacked in technological sophistications. However, it is inevitable that the temple geometry was built to create profound link with the universe. The findings reveal that each measurement synchronized with the astrologically observed measurements prevailed at the time of constructing Angkor Wat which lead to a speculation that the building complex could have been served as a cosmic clock or calendar.

Building technique

Archeological findings reveal that the sandstone blocks used for construction were quarried from Phnom Kulen (the holy mountain) that was 50km away from the construction site and is said to be floated on rafts along the Siem Reap River. The mind blowing logistics involving thousands of labourers, elephants, usage of a strong material known as Laterite and intricate artistic work on sandstone encasings all put together gives a clear picture of the technique involved in building this monument. In addition to this, an archeological finding in the year 1934 revealed that the central tower had a shaft which reached a compartment in which 2 gold leaves and 2 crystal pieces were found far below where the statue of the God Vishnu must have been placed. The purpose of these deposits was supposedly meant to spiritually energize the place and can be compared to a battery offering power to a mobile electronic device.