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.
Following the completion of decades-renovation project named as the world’s largest puzzle, the 11th century Baphuon temple was re-opened to the public on Jul 3, 2011 under a ceremony highly attended by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. We are as Cambodians would like to express our profound gratitude to France for completing the renovation project of Baphuon temple which had spent 10-million-euro funded by France.
Located at 400 meters northwest of Bayon temple, inside Angkor Thom, Baphuon temple was built in 1060 AD as the state temple of King Udayadityavarman II. Baphuon temple faces east in a direct line with the Elephant terraces at the north side, laying within a long enclosure of 425 m x 125 m, and borders the Royal Palace to the north. From the East entrance, Baphuon temple shapes like a big round mountain, while it’s a 37 meters mountain-temple (Prasat Phnom) with five levels. The fifth level height is 24 meters above the ground level. Each level had Gopuras at the cardinal points and has a corner tower at each sub-direction. Since it’s mountain shape, Baphuon was first built to symbolize mount Meru and house a Shivalinga for Hindu religious rituals of the King.
Zhou Da Guan, the Chinese diplomat who visited Angkor at the end of 13th century, has also described about Baphuon temple in his words that: ” North of the Golden Tower (Bayon Temple) at a distance of about two hundred yards, rises a Tower of Bronze, and even higher than the Golden Tower, a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base.”
According to the stone inscription found around the temple said that, King Udayadityavarman II had constructed a golden mountain in the middle of his capital, and built a gold temple on it to house Shiva linga.
As long as we step in the temple from the east entrance, we would feel this temple is extremely unique from others. Visitors would walk on a raised causeway toward the temple. The raised causeway is supported by round pillars arranged in three rows, each row has 125 pillars and each pillars was made from a piece of big stone, without any joint. The whole causeway measures 172 meter, and about one meter raised from the ground. Walking on the raised causeway, though it’s just one meter high, I have got the feeling of great pleasure, in which I’m in a high position or a special person who have been admired or respected. The feeling of congratulating from people around who were walking on the ground.
The Reason to Move from Angkor
In the 14th century, the power of Khmer Empire had been fell down, due to less ability of the later King as well as the grow of its neighbor country, Siam, and they kept fighting Angkor many times. The first time Siamese control Angkor were between 1352 till 1375. And the second time was in 1393 for five months, which King Ponhea Yat (Borum Reachea II) chased them out.
The decision of moving from Angkor had been made in the reign of King Punhea Yat (1393-1463) with agreement from many royal officers. Because of the disturbance from Siam, many Khmer citizens had been arrested by Siam to their country and the amount of Khmer soldiers became deducted which cannot be ready to take a fight. So the first reason to move from Angkor is to retreat and regain power, in order to protect the country from Siam.
After leaving Angkor, King Ponhea Yat had chose Toul Basan (currently in Kampong Cham province) where his used to camp for building his military to get back Angkor from invading of Siam in 1393. However, after got back Angkor from Siam, the king didn’t reign at Angkor, but still came back to Toul Basan for one year. Toul Basan was a good place, but that year there was a flood which destroyed everything had been built. So once again, King Ponhea Yat had to move his capital to else where, and Chaktomuk (Phnom Penh) has been chose until now.
Why Angkor Wat Facing West?
According to the principle of Hindu temples built in Angkor period, the temple are facing east. Despite this rule, Angkor Wat Temple is unique in many points of view, and among that, the temple is facing west. But why Angkor Wat facing west?
For hundred of years, many schoolars have conducted research to answer this question and had come up with some different conclusions.
Angkor Wat facing west is because Angkor Wat Temple had been built to be a tomb. Then what are the evidence to say Angkor Wat is a tomb?
According to Chinese history recorded that Zhou Da Guan who has visited Angkor in the late 13th century said: “there was a large tomb located at the south of Angkor Thom city.” To the south of Angkor Thom is Angkor Wat.
Then Angkor Wat is the tomb of whom?
The Khmer history book has said that King Suryavarman II, the builder of Angkor Wat, built this temple to dedicate to Lord Vishnu to be his state temple as well as to be his tomb.
Because of the location of building Angkor Wat at the east is too narrow and very close to Siem Reap river. So it’s hard to celebrate any royal ceremony. Then people may ask that if it’s too narrow why the King didn’t choose other location?
Well, Angkor Wat is a huge temple. The stone which used for building Angkor Wat were taken from other areas. This location is close to Siem Reap river which was more easy in transportating the stone.
Prasat Neang Khmau
On the way to Koh Ker Temple or Prasat Thom, there are many small towers along the way. Neang Khmau Temple (ប្រាសាទនាងខ្មៅ) is after Prasat Pram, the first five-tower temple at the beginning of the road. Neang Khmau Temple is also built before and in the reign of Jayavarman IV (921-941).
Prasat Neang Khmau locates in the right side of the road, a single tower surrounded in a complex of about 50 square meters by laterite walls. It was probably a gopura at the entrance enclosure, because we still can see the sandstone door steeps remaining.
The temple is built on a high sandstone platform. There should be a pair of lion guardian at the stair-step of the terrace. The architecture of the tower is perfect with five tiers of submit. The temple has entrance door from the west, the other sides are false doors. The sandstone lintel and pillars are also carrying impressive carvings.
The laterite of this tower has black color from which this temple get its name (Prasat Neang Kmau = Temple of Black Lady). Do you know why the laterite turn black? Because it is high in iron and became black caused by oxidization. Some other temples in this area also turned black.
Prasat Pram (Five Towers)
Prasat Pram (Five Towers) is among the temples in Koh Ker Temple Group which was built during 921-941, in the reign of Jayavarman IV (928-941), when the capital of Khmer Empire was Koh Ker.
As we start our journey into ancient city Koh Ker from the south, the first temple we see is Prasat Pram.
Prasat Pram is a group of five towers in two rows, two at the front and three at the back. It’s surrounded by an enclosure made of laterite with an entrance door from the east. We can see the base of a cruciform terrace at the entrance of the temple, but we do not know that there was a gopura or not.
The five towers, one at the north east made by laterite, the rest are in brick. The two towers at the front line are face west, probably they are libraries. The other row has three shrines, this is could be dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma?
All the towers have only one entrance door, the other sides are false doors. The carvings on sandstone lintels and columns are equally impressive to other Angkorian temples. There are two towers occupied by the strangler fig. It’s created a spectacular scene of ancient temple and nature.
Koh Ker Temple or Prasat Thom
Koh Ker was an ancient capital of Khmer Empire in between 928-944 AC started from the reign of King Jayavarman IV (928-941), and 3 more years of his son Harshavarman II (941-944). After this, when Rajendravarman (944-968) crowned, he has returned to Yasodhapura (Angkor) and built Pre Rup as his state temple.
According to the stone inscription of Sdok Kork Thom, in 921 AC, king Jayavarman IV, the brother-in-law of king Yasovarman I (889-915), had left Yasodhapura (Angkor) and built another city called Choakaliya (Koh Ker). Even though during this time Yasodhapura was reigned by Yasovarman’s sons, Harshavarman I (915-923) and Isanavarman II (923-928). The inscription added that, when he was leaving to Koh Ker, he also brought along the Devaraja linga with him.
Another stone inscription found at Neang Khmao temple (a temple within Koh Ker area) said: after king Isanavarman II died in 928 AC, Jayavarman IV announced himself as King of Khmer Empire with his new capital at Koh Ker.
Koh Ker was an impressive royal capital of Brahmanic temples, which can prove that Jayavarman IV was a king of wealth and power. During his 20 years at Koh Ker, Jayavarman IV built about 96 temples of all sizes. Koh Ker Temple or Prasat Thom is the largest one. Moreover, there are 42 major temples which contained many extraordinary sculptures in Khmer art of Angkor period. Some of them are now keeping in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The biggest Shiva linga of Angkor period is also found in the temple complex of Koh Ker, specifically are from Prasat Thneng and Prasat Leung.
Koh Ker Temple was built to be Jayavarman IV’s state temple. It was home of Shiva linga Tribhuvanesvara, the God of Happiness. There are about 40 stone inscriptions have been found at Prasat Thom.
Plan of Koh Ker Temple
It’s hard for us to see the plan of Koh Ker Temple due to the condition of the temple. Most of them are now collapsed. However, the Angkorian temple has their rule of construction and they have the same components as well.
The First Gopura
The whole complex of Koh Ker is surrounded by an enclosure made of laterite. But as you arrived, you will first see a huge gopura which is not situated within the enclosure. This gopura has only one entrance door, the wall extend to both sides are designed in the style of balustrade windows and three tiers, one tier is set to the back after another one. Visitor could not enter through the entrance door of gopura, but from the side, where the extend wall collapsed.
Right behind the gopura there are two towers at each side which we do not know what function they hold, probably they are libraries?
Now right in front of you, a temple in better shape compare to others, it’s Prasat Krahom. The tower faces east with two door from the east and west. Right in front of Prasat Krahom,there is a statue of laying Nandi (Shiva’s vehicle), though the statue has been destroyed. There are two entrance doors at the left and right side of Prasat Krahom, and the enclosure of the whole complex is also started from here.
Passing Prasat Krahom, you enter another enclosure of Koh Ker temple complex. This enclosure is first surrounded by moat and the construction of the temple is at center. From Prasat Krahom toward another gopura, visitor would walk through a walkway which is lined with columns and was original roofed. However, now we can only see the columns falling down along the way. This walkway is also adorned with nagas.
At the end of this walkway, another enclosure wall by laterite with one tower and two entrance doors. This tower is named Prasat Khmao. It has false doors at the north and south side. The carvings are quite impressive here. We can see Dvarapala (temple guardian) on the walls of east and west.
Get through Prasat Khmao, we see another enclosure made of sandstone with one entrance gopura. Within this compound, a number of buildings which look very complicated, because they are in poor condition. All the towers are made of brick. One big tower at the center of the complex, now it has been covered by thatch roof. At the northeast and southeast corner there are two towers. They are may be the libraries of the central tower. Behind the central tower, there are many smaller towers built in lines. Which might be added later to serve as rest house for people who come to worship. At the west of this enclosure, there is also a door out.
Enclosure of Koh Ker Temple
From here we can see Prasat Thom or Koh Ker Temple. It is within an enclosure of 100m by 89m. There is no other tower within this complex. Prasat Thom is 40 meters square at the base and 35m high. It doesn’t located in the center of the complex, but a lot to the west. Prasat Thom is an imposing seven tiered pyramid. There is only one stairway to climb from the east side.
Top of Koh Ker Temple
At the top of the tower measured 10 meters square. It was originally roofed, but now we can only see the door frames. The top shrine was originally stored the Shiva linga, Tribhuvanesvara, and this linga was supported by garuda. It’s said that during French Colonial, the linga was taken by French. Now from the top, we can see a hold of 3 meters square at the middle of the top terrace, which we do not know how was the linga placed and why there is a hold like this. Beautiful views of surrounding from the top, but climbing is not allow now, due to the old age of the temple.
Koh Ker is remaining an enigmatic and less known temple, because of lack restoration. However, when I am standing in front of Koh Ker temple, I feel the great power of the temple which I cannot describe.