Angkor Wat, travelers know it as world’s largest religious monument located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat will be the best preserved specimen of Khmer Architecture dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Angkor Wat is more than a Temple and a World Heritage Site.
A trip to Cambodia and of course to Angkor Wat will allow you to get familiar with what is a Vishnu Temple which was built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II the legendary Khmer Emperor from 1113 AD to 1145-1150 AD. Khmer emperors used to have a state temple, and till the time of Suryavarman II, the Shiva temple in Baphuon served that purpose. Suryavarman was influenced by the advent of Vaishnavism (believers of Lord Vishnu) in South India and dedicated his new state temple to Lord Vishnu. Construction of Angkor Wat took thirty years. Around the 14th Century, there was a wave of Theravada Buddhism and the King and many subjects converted their faith. Angkor Wat also changed into a Buddhist temple.
The Architecture of Angkor Wat complex
We book a Cambodia tour packages and Angkor Wat is the largest Temple in the World and measures over 500 acres. A causeway carries visitors across a moat that surrounds the complex. The moat symbolized the primordial cosmic ocean supposed to have existed before creation of our world. There is a grand entrance pavilion which is wide enough for elephants to pass through the royal procession. The gateways are decorated with more than 500 sculptures of Apasaras or divine dancers. The temple is one meter above the ground, built on a sandstone plinth and is made up of three levels.
The exterior walls of the first level Angkor Wat feature magnificent stone murals in bas-relief style. The subject of these murals is from Hindu Mythology. My favorites were the “Ramayana” , “Mahabharata”, and “Churning of the Ocean”.
The second level of Angkor Wat is full of sculptures of smiling Apsaras or Divine Dancers. As many as 1500 Apsaras will enchant you in this part of Angkor Wat.
The third level of Angkor Wat has five magnificent towers. While four of them are in the shape of Lotus Buds, the central tower rises 65 meters into the skies. The central sanctuary used to house a golden statue of Lord Vishnu riding the Garuda. After the 1600s when Angkor Wat became a Buddhist Temple, it houses statues of the Buddha.
Cosmic influence in the Architecture
The architecture of Angkor Wat was influenced by Astronomy, The Calendar and Hindu religion. The Sun was very important for the builders and its movements have dictated the position of the bas-reliefs. The alignment is such that the sun illuminates certain specific elements of the bas -relief Angkor Wat Temple has special observation areas to watch the Moon and the Sun. The axis of the outer wall around the Angkor Wat complex is equal exactly to the solar year in days. The circumference of the wall is equal exactly to the lunar year in days! It is also equal to the 12 waxing and 12 waning halves of the lunar month each year.
Angkor Wat is the only Temple in Cambodia to face west. Typically Khmer Temples face the East as the Sun Rises. However, it is learn that West is the direction of lord Vishnu and hence this exception was made by Suryavarman II. In fact originally Angkor Wat was known as Vrah Vishnulok, which means abode of Lord Vishnu in Sanskrit.
Angkor Wat is a replica of the Universe in stone. The tower that rises from the center of Angkor Wat stands for Mount Meru, the mythical mountain supposed to rise from the center of the universe. The five peaks of Meru are represented by the towers of Angkor Wat. The mountains at the edge of the world are shown as the outer walls of the Angkor Wat complex. As per Hindu Mythology an ocean fills up the outer universe and that is represented by the moat around the Angkor Wat complex.
Angkor Wat today stands for Cambodia and is in fact featured in its national flag. It is popularly believed that Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the Universe in Stone. One of the true wonders of this World, Angkor Wat is a must visit during your trip to Cambodia.