Angkor Wat -Temple of The Capital
Angkor Wat – Angkorian Temple Dedicated to Vishnu
Angkor Wat (អង្គរវត្ត) is the world largest religious monuments which has been treated as the world’s most valuable heritage. Angkor Wat not only attractive to visitors around the world with its beauty, but also its perfection of construction architecture. Thus it has become Cambodia’s most preserved temple which attracted millions visitors every year. Angkor Wat represents the highest level of Khmer architecture and it has become a symbol of Cambodia, the only element appearing on the national flag of Cambodia.
Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century since the beginning of King Suryavarman II’s reign (1113-1150). It was built as his state temple and capital city. ‘Angkor Wat’ simply means ‘Temple of the capital’ which ‘Angkor’ is derived from Sanskrit meaning ‘city or capital’. ‘Wat’ is Khmer word for ‘temple’. Angkor Wat was originally built to dedicate to Hinduism, mainly Vishnu. It’s believed that Angkor Wat temple was designed by Divakarapandita, the chief adviser and minister of the king who was a Brahman with divine honors.
Angkor Wat’s orientation is different from other temples in the area which the main entrance is at the west, rather than the east. The bas reliefs are arranged for viewing from left to right which is a practice used in Hindu religious ceremonies for tombs. Because of this J.Przyluski, who studied about Angkor Wat, concluded that Angkor Wat is a tomb. For G. Ceodes, other researcher, claimed that Angkor Wat might be a tomb because of its main entrance is from the west, but Angkor Wat is no difference from other temple that it is the home of the king’s statue in the form of divinity. However, his conclusion was strongly claimed that Angkor Wat was funerary temple or mausoleum. In generally, Angkor Wat is accepted as a temple where the king worshiped to his Hindu gods and it was also a mausoleum for the king after his death.
Architectural Plan of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the biggest temple at Angkor which is laying in a rectangular complex of about 200 hectares. It’s surrounded by a big moat of about 200 meters wide. To enter the main temple, visitors must enter from the west entrance, which is the largest among the four, by passing the causeway of 12 meters wide and made of sandstone. There are two giant lions at both side of the causeway terrace, guarding the temple. Standing at this point, look forward, in front of you is the west entrance gopura with three towers and there is the outer enclosure made of laterite. After passing the moat, arriving the center of the gopura gallery and looking towards the main temple, visitors might have the feeling of arriving the world of divinities which could let you forget about everything else, but the curiosity about the wonderfulness of Angkor Wat. However, to reveal the beauty of Angkor Wat, visitors should not be hurry, but should allow enough time to reach as much places in the whole temple which are worth seeing.
First level enclosure gopura
Even though, now visitors could see the main temple, but at this first level enclosure are some more things to be enjoy. On the right side of the central entrance, there is a huge standing stone statue, carrying distributions that indicate it was originally a Vishnu statue. The statue is too big for this location, people believed that, this may have been moved from the central sanctuary. However, it was transformed into a statue of Buddha worshiped by Cambodian Buddhist. Turn right from the central entrance, walk toward the end of the columned gallery, there is a false door with impressive carving and intricacy decoration. At the end of this gallery towards the east, visitors will see a splendid view of Angkor Wat with five towers which worth to be photographed.
Continue the journey, there is a long walkway links to the entrance gopura of the temple. But before walking down the walkway, turn back to see the exquisite bas relief on the east facing wall of the entrance gopura, especially Apsaras. The unique one among nearly 2000 Apsaras at Angkor Wat is located just a few meters south of the main entrance, who the smile reveals a full set of teeth.
Raised walkway to the second enclosure
Now to reach the main temple, visitors will have to pass a raised walkway of 350 meters long and 9 meters wide. The walkway is bordered by a low balustrade formed by short square columns supporting the body of nagas. There are steps lead to the ground level at both sides of the walkway, decorated with lions and here the balustrades turn and end with their seven heads. The whole walkway has six points with this kind of steps.
Libraries and Basins
Passing half of the walkway, there are two libraries at both sides stand in the courtyards. They were built with four doorways at the cardinal points and a large central area. After the libraries are two ponds, also on both sides. The ponds are 65 meters long and 50 meter wide. At the middle in front of these ponds, Angkor Wat is again appears with five towers. The right ponds is usually dry, while the left one is mostly filled with water, where Angkor Wat is captured with reflection of the towers in the water. This is a superb view of Angkor Wat, especially at sun rise, it seems there is a opening giant case containing full of gold jewellery behind the temple and shining the color of gold to the sky.
Terrace of Honor
At the end of the walkway, a cruciform shaped Terrace of Honor, laying in front of the principal gopura. The terrace opens to three sides with steps flanked by lions on pedestals. The king may viewed processions and received foreign dignitaries here. Behind the terrace is the entrance gopura of the temple with galleries extending to the left and right and here is the first level of the temple. The galleries are famous as the Gallery of Bas Reliefs. At this point, visitors can decide to admire the bas reliefs or continuing upward the central sanctuary.
Second Enclosure Gallery
Leaving the Gallery of Bas Reliefs to later view, we are now step into a cross-shaped gallery linking to the second level of the temple. The gallery was built with equally in size four courtyard, each has a stone basin with steps. There is no water in the basins, they were represent the four elements of water, earth, fire, and wind.The gallery was built as the place for performing royal ritual when a new king was crowned. The king would have to make a vow for his loyalty toward the kingdom in the center of this gallery. There are two more libraries in smaller size at both ends of the north and the south of the gallery.
Hall of Thousand Buddhas
On the south side of the gallery, are a remains of a few Buddha statues. This place was named ‘Hall of the Thousand Buddhas’, because there were many Buddha statues were placed by worshipers since the 16th century, when Buddhism become the state region of Cambodia. But most were removed in the early 1970s, and some were destroyed during 1975-1979. Nowadays, there are few are remain, among these a big Buddha statue standing with Abhaya Mudra (gesture of assurance, blessing, and protection, meaning ‘Do not fear.’) The statue is particularly strange that both hands are raised with the same gesture, while in fact should be only one hand is raise. The locals said that, this statue was placed and worshiped here for protecting the country against Siamese, in which the Buddha is faced to the north, the direction of Siam located. Locals visitors to Angkor Wat are worship to the Buddha sanctuary here, it’s well known to them as ‘Preah Ang Angkor’, who is believed for the sacredness. People are praying with lotus, candles, and incense sticks. Some even scent the Buddha with perfume, touching his foots and asking for healthy.
Hall of Echoes – Prasat Kuok Trung
On the North side of the gallery, a room called ‘Hall of Echoes’ or in Khmer ‘Prasat Kuok Trung’ meaning ‘Hall of Pounding Chest’. It’s so named because of its unusual acoustics. When we are in the Hall of Echoes, closed up the fist and thump our chests to hear the echoes. This hall was used for the new crowned king, after the ritual at the central gallery, the king would walk into this hall and thump his chest. Doing so was to take away all the miseries and sicknesses in mind and body, so that the king would be healthy both mentally and physically as the great king of the kingdom. Nowadays, local visitors thump their chests not only for hearing the echoes, but for the same reason that they praying for healthy while thumping their chests.
The outer wall of the second enclosure
Step to either side along the edges of the basins, there are three roofed stairways are stepped upwards to join the upper gallery. The outer wall of the second level gallery is decorated with more than 1500 Apsaras, the celestial dancers born from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. They looks beautiful and graceful which always attracted visitors for many photographs taken. At first sight, all of them are no different, but look closer you would see each of them wearing different head-dresses and jewellery. At this gallery, Apsaras appear in two or three and even more than three. They are holding each other hands, which it’s said that they are going to a Beauty Competition.
The Uppermost Level of Angkor Wat
Right at the entrance, visitors will see the third level of Angkor Wat with the upper most level was built with five towers and surrounding galleries. There are four sets of stairs with one in the center and two at the corners of cardinal directions. The stairs rise just 11 meters from the ground with 40 steps, but they are ascend at a 70 degree angle, the west stairway are less steep with just about 50 degree angle. With these steep level, it’s said that the stairs were not built for human to climb, but divinities.
Rules of Climbing the Uppermost Level
Now at the east stairway, there is a set of wooden stair with handrail, placed on the original stairway for easy ascend. Climbing to the top level of Angkor Wat, visitors must respect some set rules such as put off the hat, women must wear proper cloths (no short pant or less arm shirt), because the top level is consider the important sanctuary, where people pay respect to their divinities. Children and old-age adults are not allowed to climb, tourist guides are also not allowed, since the place require quietness.
The Architectural Plan
The architectural plan at the uppermost level of Angkor Wat is really look like the final ascent of a great mountain, in which the five towers represent the peaks of Mount Meru. The space of 60 square meters is divided into a cruciform shaped area with roofed galleries and four paved courts. A gopura is built at the top of each stairway. Four towers rising from the corners of the upper level, and they are connected to the central tower by axial roofed galleries. The central tower is 42 meters high above the upper level. The central sanctuary was originally called ‘Bakan’ and open on all four sides and housed a statue of Vishnu. At around 14th-15th century, when Angkor Wat was converted to Buddhist temple, these doorways were filled in with sandstone and sculpted with standing Buddha images, turned the sanctuary into a Buddhist shrine until today.
Pictures of Angkor Wat Taken From Other Corners
Gallery of Bas Reliefs
The bas reliefs are parts of the famous creations in Khmer art and it’s make no difference for Angkor Wat that the Gallery of Bas Reliefs complement its spectacle beauty.
The Gallery of Bas Reliefs extended for 1200 square meters surrounded the first level of Angkor Wat with all standstone carvings. It was divided into eight sections from the four walls with two panels at each at each wall, and additional scenes are carved on the inner walls of the north and the south corner pavilions of west gallery. The other two corner pavilions of the east gallery are left uncarved.
Each section of 600 meters long and 2 meters high tells a specific story from Hindu sources, mainly the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. Beside this, there are historic processions of King Suryavarman II, and some other as more specific as below. The bas reliefs at Angkor Wat were designed for viewing from left to right, so visitors should enter the Gallery of Bas Reliefs at the middle of the west gallery, turn right and start walking in the gallery in a counter-clockwise direction around the temple.
1. Southern half of the west gallery: Battle of Kurukshetra.
2. South-west corner pavilion: Scene from the Ramayana.
3. Western half of the south gallery: Historic Procession of King Suryavarman II.
4. Eastern half of the south gallery: Judgement of Yama/Heaven and Hell.
5. Southern half of the east gallery: The Churning of The Ocean of Milk.
6. Northern half of the east gallery: Victory of Vishnu Over The Asuras.
7. Eastern half of the north gallery: Victory of Krishna Over The Demon King, Bana.
8. Western half of the north gallery: Battle Between Devas and Asuras.
9. North-west corner pavilion: Scene from the Ramayana.
10. Northern half of the west gallery: Battle of Lanka.
Southern half of the west gallery: Battle of Kurukshetra
Battle of Kurushetra is the last biggest battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas (who are cousins) in the Mahabharata, the famous Hindu epic. The carvings of this battle started with the Kauravas advancing from the left and the Pandavas from the right. The two armies march in the middle with commanders (carved in larger figures) riding horses drawn chariots and elephants instructing the battle. At about 5 meters after from the start of the panel, we can see Bhishma, the chief commander of the Kauravas and also the grand father of both groups, laid dying on a bed of arrows after day 10th of the battle. Drona, who was appointed as commander of the Kauravas instead of Bhishma, appears at about 15 meters futher with his hair tied back in a topknot. About 2 meters further, Karna on his chariot, trying to free the stuck wheel and at that moment he was killed by Arjuna, whom appears near the top about 4 meters further. His was firing an arrow from his chariot with Krishna, his charioteer and also his adviser in the battle. Go on further, among the Pandavas, you can see a man rides an elephant and carries a shield bearing the face of Rahu. He is Bhima, a member of the Pandavas who has great body strength.
South-west corner pavilion: Scene from the Ramayana
The inner walls of the south-west corner pavilion carved some scenes of the Ramayana and the Life of Krishna, in which both are the avatars of Vishnu.
There is a scene of Krishna when he was a child, he was tied to a heavy stone mortar by his mother, Yashoda. But with his divine power, he uproots two trees by dragging the stone mortal between them. Accidentally, he released two angels who was curved to be born as trees.
Another carving of 20 armed, multi-headed Asura Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa when his path had been barred by Nadikeshvara on the instruction of Shiva, who was spending time on the mountain with his wife, Uma.
At the request of Uma, the God of Love Kama fires an arrow at Shiva to wake him from meditation. Shiva, who appears here as a hermit, was very angry by this disturbance and kills Kama.
The fight between the monkey brothers Valin and Sugriva, with the help from Rama, Valin was killed. His wife and other monkeys are crying on his death.
A four-armed Vishnu receiving offerings held on trays from his worshipers.
In this pavilion also carved Krishna lifts Mount Govardhana with his only one hand to shelter the villagers and their cattle from the storm created by Indra. Because he was angry that the villagers were worship Mount Govardhana instead of him. It was seven days before the storm was over when the Indra admits defeat.
Above the north door, Rama kills the asura Marica, who disguised as a gold deer, so that Ravana can abduct Sita while she was alone in the cottage.
Also there is a scene about the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
Western half of the south gallery: Historic Procession of King Suryavarman II
At this western half of the south gallery, the carving is again about the battle, but it was a historical basic, shows King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat’s builder, and his army. From the start about 10 meters, the king seated on his throne opening the court with his ministers and army commanders. Below are princesses and ladies of the court are carried in palanquins. The whole panel of the army marches, there are 20 commanders mounted on their war elephants, their rank can be identified by the number of parasols. Counting to the 12th elephant, the king standing on the back of the elephant, in his hand carries sword with servants around him hold 15 ceremonial parasols. Towards the end of the panel, the military procession resumes with a troop of Siamese soldiers who are wild-looking and armed with spears, led by their commanders also mounted on elephant.
Eastern half of the south gallery: Judgement of Yama/Heaven and Hell
The theme at this gallery is the judgement of mankind by Yama, the God of Judgement and of the Underworld. The scene begins with two tiers depict heaven and hell. Identified from the inscription, there are 37 heavens where one pursuits in a celestial palace. And 32 hells, with scenes of punishment and suffering.
At the central tier, Yama with his 18 arms, holding a staff and riding a buffalo, judging the sinners. They are thrown down into Hell through a trapdoor by Yama’s assistants using a pitchfork.
Southern half of the east gallery: The Churning of The Ocean of Milk
The Churning of The Ocean of Milk was taken from the Bhagavata Purana, a great Hindu creation myth. This 49 meters of carving is the most famous panel of bas relief at Angkor Wat. The figures are carved with a professional level, that we sense the strength of their muscles as they are pulling the serpent’s body, as well as the effort in their expressions.
The purpose of churning the ocean of milk is to get amrita, the elixir of immortality. The churning starts with Vasuki, the king of serpent, as the churning rope coiled around Mount Mandara, the churning pole. The Devas (Gods) and Asuras (Demons) pulling alternately to make the mountain rotate, churning the cosmic sea for 1000 years and produce amrita.
The bas relief is the actual churning scene. The beginning of the panel are asuras armies lined up with horses and elephants. After this we see the multi-headed asura Ravana holding the five heads of Vasuki. After him is the team of 92 asuras pulling the serpent’s body. The ocean of milk is represent by variety of marine life such as kinds of fish, crocodiles, dragons, and turtles. In the middle, four-armed Vishnu directs the churning operation on Mount Mandara. A giant turtle Kurma, an avatar of Vishnu, is supporting Mount Mandara as it threatens to sink. Above Vishnus is Indra, he helps to steady the top of the mountain. Look carefully beside Vishnu, the elephant Airavata and the milk-white horse Ucchaissravas emerges from the churning. In the sky, thousands of Apsaras are born from the churning too, they are dancing to celebrate the success of getting amrita. On the north side, 88 devas pull the serpent’s body and the last person of the team holding the tail is Hanuman, a characters from Ramayana.
Northern half of the east gallery: Victory of Vishnu Over The Asuras
The bas relief of this panel shows Vishnu fighting an army of asuras. However, the stiffness of carvings tell that it was carved at the later date, probably in the 16th century. The scene begins with an army of asuras marching towards Vishnu at the center, who stand four-armed on the shoulders of his vehicle, garuda.
Eastern half of the north gallery: Victory of Krishna Over The Demon King, Bana
The next 66 meters carving panel also was carved at the later date. At the beginning of the panel Krishna with eight arms, multi-heads, accompanied by Pradyumna (left) and Balarama (right), mounted on the shoulders of a garuda. This scene is repeated in several occasions as Krishna advances towards Bana with his army of gods. Finally the multi-armed Bana appears with his chariot pulled by a pair of fierce lions. With a single throw of his discus, Krishna cut off all of Bana’s 1000 hands, leaving only two hands. At last Krishna kneels in front of Shiva, who sits enthroned on Mount Kailasa with his wife Uma and his son Ganesha and agrees to spare Bana’s life.
Western half of the north gallery: Battle Between Devas and Asuras
This is an well carved epic battle scene on a grand scale running for 94 meters relate to 21 important gods in Hindu pantheon. However, the battle is unspecified, one god battles against a demon, while warriors are fighting in the background. The interesting part of this panel is the present of those Hindu gods appear carrying their attributes with their vahana (vehicle). Not all of them are able to identify.
Kubera, God of Wealth, on the shoulders of Yaksha
Agni, God of Fire, in a chariot pulled by a rhinoceros
Skanda, God of War, mounted a peacock
Indra, King of Gods, on his elephant Airavata
Vishnu, four-armed on his Garuda
Yama, God of Judgement and of the Underworld, on a chariot pulled by buffalos
Shiva in a chariot pulled by two bulls Nandi
Brahma, Creator of the Universe, rides his sacred goose, Hamsa
Surya, the Sun God, in a chariot
Varuna, God of Ocean, stands on a five-headed naga, Makara.
There is only one asura that have been identify, it’s asura Kalanemi appears in multi-headed and multi-armed who is the rival of Vishnu.
North-west corner pavilion: Scene from the Ramayana
At the north-west corner pavilion, scene from the Ramayana is the main source of inspiration for carvings. We will find: Rama and Lakshman use bow and arrow to fight the giant Viradha, who has captured Sita in the forest. Sita walks into fire to prove her faithfulness to Rama during her period at Lanka. The celebration of returning of Rama to Ayodhya after the victory in the Battle of Lanka, Rama rides Kubera’s chariot drawn by Hamsas (sacred gooses). Rama and Lakshman forge an alliance with the giant Vibhisana, Ravana’s brother. Hanuman found Sita on the Lanka island and shows to Sita the ring of Rama to prove that has come on Rama’s order. Rama and Lakshman fighting the giant Kabandha. Rama wins the hand of Sita, daughter of King Janaka, from an archery competition by draw the magic bow of Shiva.
There is also one carving of Krishna, riding garuda with his wife Satyabhama. They are returning from having wrest Mount Maniparvata from the asura Naraka.
The most interesting one in this pavilion is the carving of Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi at his feet. Below is the procession of Gods on their vehicles acting as guardians of the eight directions, requesting that Vishnu undergo a new incarnation on earth. They are:
1. Kubera, God of Wealth, on the shoulders of Yaksha, guard the North.
2. Varuna, God of Ocean, on goose Hamsa, guard the West.
3. Skanda, God of War, on a peacock, guard the Southwest.
4. Vayu, God of Wind, on a horse, guard the Northwest.
5. Indra, King of Gods, on elephant Airavata, guard the East.
6. Yama, Gods of Judgment, on a buffalo, guard the South.
7. Agni, Gods of Fire, on a rhinoceros, guard the Southeast.
8. Unidentified God on a lion (probably is Ketu), guard the Northeast.
Northern half of the west gallery: Battle of Lanka
This is among the most popular and perhaps most viewed bas relief by most visitors to Angkor Wat, the Battle of Lanka from the Ramayana. A long panel portrays Rama and his monkey troops defeat asura Ravana ans rescue Sita. Rama standing on the shoulders of Hanuman, wields his bow appear at about 20 meters from the start. Asura Ravana appear with 20 hands and 10 heads on his chariot drawn by monstrous lions.