Angkor Wat Temple
Warmly Welcome To Siem Reap, Kingdom Of Wonders!
Firstly, I would like to recommend you that an auspicious beginning of your Angkor visit is to make merit at the shrine of the so-called Big God and Small God, located in the Royal Crusade for Independence Garden in the center of Siem Reap. According to the 12th century legend, two monks had a dream that two goddesses told them the Thais would soon invade Cambodia and the goddesses asked that the images of Big God and Small God be stored in the great temple of Angkor Wat. The monks ignored the request until they had the same dream again and then they moved the images to the mezzanine floor in the gallery of a Thousand Buddhas. As predicted by the goddesses, the Thais invaded and pillaged the area but they didn’t find the images. The goddesses, in accordance with belief, are the daughters of an Angkorian king and are known by the local residents as Preah Ang Thom and Preah Ang Toch or Neang Chék, Neang Chorm. The local people have worshipped these two since the 12th century and they believed that making an offering to them will insure peace throughout the kingdom.
Angkor Wat literally means the Holy City which became a Buddhist Monastery in the 16th century, after the Khmers moved the capital from here to Phnom Penh; the buddhist monks came to maintain this temple. Its real name in the 12th AD was called Vrah Parama Vishnuloka meaning the Sacred/Heavenly Abode of Vishnu. When the temple became a well-known buddhist site, according to 16th AD inscription, its name was called Preah Mohanokor Indrabrat Preah Visnuloka and in 17th century inscription, called Indrabrat Nokor Sreisodhara Visnuloka. The 2 pagodas in the Angkor Wat complex have been called North and South Indrabat Borei. The word “Indrabat” in the Pali language, derived from the Sanskrit “Indrabrat” which refers to the city of Indra (it is rooted in the brahmanical belief that Indra has a palace on secular plane) and nowadays Siem Reap people or a big amount of people call it Angkor Touch meaning “Small City”. Angkor Wat, the largest and tallest temple of the Angkor groups and one of the most intact is an architectural masterpiece. Its perfection of composition, balance, proportions, reliefs and sculptures makes it one of the finest monuments in the world. It is an expression of Khmer art during the Khmer Empire reached its greatest territorial expansions and its apogee in cultural, artistic, economic, political and architectural achievements and also one of the most inspired and spectacular monuments ever conceived by the human mind, soaring skyward and surrounded by a moat that would make its European castle counterparts blush. It is a sumptuous blend of form and function, a spellbinding shrine to Vishnu and, with its captivating image replicated in the reflective pools below, a feast for unbelieving eyes as well as the most popular spot for sunrise around Angkor and not without good reason. The sun shifts position depending on the time of year, and during the equinoxes of March 20/21 and Sept 22/23 it rises directly over the central tower. Sometimes it’s a glowing ball of orange emerging above the cloud line; at other times flaming streaks of cirrus clouds paint the sky blood-red, providing a dramatic backdrop to the temple. But even if it doesn’t deliver, don’t be disappointed – this is always a magical and mesmerizing place to be at dawn.
This temple was founded by the King Suryavarman II (his posthumous name Vrah Vishnu Loka), his reign in 1113-1150 and designed by his minister or advisor who was a Brahmin with divine honors, named Devakarapandita who worked for the two predecessors. This west-faced temple is contrary to all the east-faced temples. The reasons why it faced to the west are still the matters of being diplomatically debated by scholars: _ it served as a royal mausoleum after the king passed away; _ this temple was dedicated to the supreme god, Vishnu who is always associated with the west of Mt. Meru; _ if it faced east it faces against the old city “Yasodharapura”, its center is Phnom Bakheng “Phnom Kandal” and the area to the east of this temple is very close to the Siem Reap river so it has no space for the people when they conducted the ceremonies.
Angkor Wat is a text in itself. The 100s of reliefs sculpted on its stone narrated the events from the Hindu Epics, the Puranas and also symbolically embodied the fundamental religious, ethical, philosophical and political principles of the Khmers at the time of the king Suryavarman II. It was built as a holy place for linking the intimacy between the God and King relationship and served as a temple-mountain and state-temple of the king Suryavarman II. Jean Filiozat, the French scholar is the first to perceive that the reliefs’ function may be part of astronomical, numerological and cosmological concepts embedded in the Khmer architecture. For Legendre de Koninck perceived that the 8 large panels of the 3th enclosure’s reliefs help divide into the northern and southern groups: the southern half contains 4 reliefs representing a temporal circle from the destruction to rebirth (the battle of Kurukshetra and the churning of the ocean of milk). In between the 2 panels (the historical parade and the depiction of the heavens and halls) indicated the 2 stages established by the competent king.The northern half’s 4 panels represent a series of combats, especially of Vishnu against the Asuras, of Krishna vs the asura Bana, of the Devas vs the Asuras and of Sri Lanka. These sacrificial combats symbolize the 2 objectives of the royal function: • the drive towards the establishment of a new order and the end of an age of misery, the Kali Yuga. Now numbers of scholars believe that the main access may have been possible only during the special activities or occasions under the guidance of Brahmins and the pilgrims were not permitted to go beyond the 1st level of the temple. In the past as in India the devotee were not allowed to enter the main shine when the priest invoked a deity in the image that stood in the grabhargrha (the sanctum sanctorum). The layman stands at the threshold to witness the god’s presence and experience the divine.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by 5 enclosures: 1/the outer enclosure, 1025m by 802m, is pierced by 4 gates on the cardinal points, the west is the largest of the 4s and only the east and west are linked by the causeways. 2/the 4th, 332 by 258m marked by Naga balustrades, so the area between the outer and the 4th was taken up with the city. 3/the 3rd, 258m by 215m is the 1st level of the temple. 2/the 2nd, 120m by 100m is the 2nd level. 1/the 1st standing on the pyramid of 60m in diameter is the 3rd level which is surmounted by 5 towers arranged in the quincunx shape, one in the center and four at each corners. The 5 towers are linked together by galleries and the central originally opened to 4 sides and housed the statue of four-armed Vishnu and in 16th century the Buddhist monks closed the 4 doors and carved the standing statues of the Buddha on them and in 1908 the French archeologists opened the south and in 1923 made an excavation inside it for 23m deep. ●In the mid-1970, however, Mrs. Eleanor Moron began studying the dimensions of the temple in detail, convinced that these might contain the key to the way the temple had been encoded by the learned men who designed it. After determining that the Khmer measurement used at Angkor, the hat, was equivalent to approximately 0.4 m = 1.3 ft so the distance of the western entrance and the central tower came to 1,728 hats, and the three other components of this axis measured, respectively, 1,296 hats, 867 hats, and 439 hats. She then argued that these figures correlated to the four ages or Yuga = one Kalpa = 4.32 million human years of Indian thought in Hindu cosmology. The first of these, the Krita Yuga, was a supposedly Golden Age, lasting 1,728 million years. The next three ages (Tetra Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga) lasted for 1,296 million, 864,000, and 432,000 years. Today we are living in the last age so at the end of this era, it is believed, the universe will be destroyed, undergone the evolution or it is the universal apocalypse, to be rebuilt by Brahma (reborn from Visnu’s navel and sitting on the lotus) along similar lines, beginning with another Golden Age “History Of Cambodia, Page 58, 60”.
The Bas-reliefs Of the 3rd Galleried Enclosure:
•The West Gallery:
– (W G, N P 51.25m): This panel unveils the battle of Sri Lanka btw Prince Rama and Ravana. Rama is the hero of Ramayana Epic and also the son of king Dasharatha who ruled the Kingdom of Aryodhara. His monkeys and generals facing south are on foot while Ravana, the Rakshasa king who ruled the island of Sri Lanka and his Rakshasas stands on ornate war chariot harnessed to horses or lions with dragon heads (Chimera). The fighting went into action after Ravana abducted Sita, the consort of Rama. In the fighting the hero standing on the shoulder of Hanuman is shooting his arrows and the two men standing near him; one holding the bow is Laksmana, his brother and another is Vbhisana, the younger brother of the demon king. Ravana, 10 heads and 20 arms, is standing on the chariot pulled by chimera. ** Nila vs Prahasta, Angada vs Vajradamstra, Mahodara and Narantaka, Hanuman vs Nikumba and Sugriva against Kumba.
– (W G, S P 48.35m): This section depicts the battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata epic btw the two clans, the Kauravas and the Pandavas who are the cousins. The Kauravas, the sons of the darkness have 100 brothers and one sister; king Dhritarashtra and queen Gandhari are their parents and the eldest son named Duryodhana who bring the disaster of this family; their armies face south. The Pandavas, the sons of the light have five brothers, Yudhishtra, Arjuna, Bhima, Sahaddeva and Nikula; king Pandu and his two wives, Kunti and Madri are their parents; their armies face north. The fighting accelerated in the center and lasted for 18 days. Finally the Pandavas won the battle. The reasons that aroused the fierce fight: Firstly, when the old king, the father of Kauravas, unhappy at occupying his place unsuitable to his infirmity, calls for his children and nephews to meet him and allows them free rein. Then his sons, grouping around the eldest, proceed to bully the 5 brothers. Given their virtue the old king would like to leave the kingdom to the Pandavas but his sons oppose this. Secondly, when they played chess, the eldest of Kauravas won everything from the Pandavas by treachery. First they obtained the exile of their rivals and then denied them even the smallest rights. Inevitably the war breaks out.
•The South Gallery:
– (S G, W P: 93.60m): The relief carved in stone on this wall illustrates the historical parade of the king Suryavarman II, the founder of this temple. At the west edge the narrative scene divided into 2 registers. The upper shows the sitting people attending the king’s audience while the lower the princesses, ladies of the court are carried in hammocks or litters attending the military procession.
– (S G, E P: 66.05m): The panoramic relief of this is the representation of 37 heavens and 32 hells. Divided laterally in 3 registers, the inscriptions leave no doubt the 2 uppers represent the heavens and the lower is the hells. Starting from the west end towards the right, the 2 uppers depict a long parade towards the heavens of the great Khmer nobility who are carried by their servants followed by ladies and noblemen of lesser rank, while the commoners walk along quietly, some with their children. The bottom represents the damned and their punishment. You see the group of 19 men in the top, carried by servants and accompanied by attendants, aides de camps and followers, may represent the 19 commanders of the historic parade of the south gallery of west panel. Some 20m to the east, the 2 uppers are interrupted by a large figure with 18 brandishing arms sitting on the water buffalo. This image is Yama, god of heaven and hell gateway, who judges the departed souls and 2m more 2 sitting men are his scribes or assistants pronouncing the sentences.
•The East Gallery:
– (E G, S P: 48.45m): This panel unfolds the churning of the ocean of milk, the Hindu myth of creation in the Bhagavata Purana. This myth describes at the genesis of the world the Devas and the Asuras (Gods and Demons) are fighting to govern the universe for many years. In the fighting the devas lost many soldiers and are very tired to combat with the asuras as well as in the disadvantage of the asuras so they rush to ask the supreme god, Vishnu for help. When they reached he advised to stir up the ocean of milk to extract the nectar of immortality or incorruptibility. This ambrosia lay in the depths of the ocean. In order to generate it the gods need the aid from the demons. Before the gods left he reassured them not to be jealous or argue with them when the result emerged everything will be yours. After listening to his instruction the gods pay homage and leave to persuade the demons to co-work. As the agreement has been made the gods and the demons lifted Mt. Mandara to place in the ocean as pivot and take the naga Vasuki as a pulling rope. When they churned the ocean for many years the mountain starts sinking so Vishnu incarnated as a tortoise to support it and Indra sits on the top to help balance the mountain. They continue to churn for a thousand years and the things come out: _ the 3-headed elephant Indra took as his “vihana” mount. _ Parijita tree Indra brought growing in the heaven. _ the white horse Ucchaihshravas does not belong to someone. _ Laksmi Vishnu took as his spouse. _ Apsaras flying in the sky and _ the last thing is the elixir of immortality appeared at the hand of demons so Vishnu assumed the guise of the beautiful girl named Mohini she distracted the asuras with her fascinating beauty so that Vishnu was able to deliver the nectar among the gods. As Vishnu was delivering, one asura named Rahu sneaked standing in the god’s queue and got the nectar from the supreme and the gods of the sun “Surya” and the moon “Chandra” saw told to him. Vishnu took his discus and threw to behead the demon. As the discus cut his head he already swallowed the ambrosia so the head is eternal and the body is dead when the head flew into the sky and shouted that if he met the sun and the moon he will swallow.
– (E G, N P: 51.45m): Caturbhuja “four-armed form of Vishnu” It unveils Krishna (the 8th incarnation of Vishnu) killing the four Danavas (Muru, Nisunda, Hayagriva and Pancanada) before he enters the city of Pragjyotisha where the Daitya king Naaraka lives. This king entered Dvaraka “the heaven governed by Indra” and stole Aditi’s earrings given to her by Indra and Mt. Maniparvata and also 16001 ladies.(who is Aditi?_ In Hinduism it is believed that she is the mother of all gods). Krishna cut his head off and brought the earrings and mountain back to heaven and released those women. Thereafter they agree to marry him.
•The North Gallery:
– (N G, E P: 66.03m): the panel reveals the victory of Krishna over the demon king Bana. The battle occurs when Usha, the daughter of Bana, falls in love with Aniruddha (son of Pradyumna and grandson of Krishna) she has him brought to her by magic arts. While the couple tried to escape out of the city of Shonitapura, Aniruddha is captured by Bana’s magic arrows which transform themselves into snakes binding him prisoner. On having heard Bana holds Aniruddha captive, he organizes a great army and marches towards Bana’s capital.
– (N G, W P: 93.60m): This narrates the combat btw the Devas and the Asuras. The battle began when the asura Prahlada, a devotee of Vishnu, refuses to rule the kingdom of the demons; the task is given to Andhaka who is considered blind despite his 2000 eyes in his 1000 heads. The gods disapprove of this and the fierce war follow btw them. (Another story): Bali, originally a virtuous daitya king had acquired such tremendous power through devotion and penance that he defied to challenge the gods. He is the son of Virochana and grandson of Hiranyakasipu. He is told that the gods have annihilated his family, he decides to war against the gods. The demon general Maya heads the troops, while Bali marches in the midst with Bana, Kalameni bring up the rear, Vama is on the left and Taraka the right flank. After the demons won Indra and other gods flee to Brahmaloka. With his sons, brother and relatives, Bali becomes the ruler of heaven. He takes on the role of Indra (Sakra), Bana that of Yama, Maya that of Varuna, Rahu that of Soma, Prahlada that of Agni, Svarbhanu that Surya and the other asuras those of the various devas. To restore order in the threefold world, Vishnu incarnates as Vamana, the dwarf and restrains Bali with the trick of the 3 steps [Vishnu Trivikrama].
Why have the sandstones of Angkor Wat eroded badly? The stones have badly eroded from acid rain, bat-shit but mainly because of the poor quality of the stone and the presence of clays in the stratification of the stone bed. Sandstone is formed by a process of sedimentation causing horizontal layers to be consolidated into a variety of different qualities of sandstone. During this process layers of clay are mixed with the sand. As clay tends to expand when it becomes wet, stones which have been laid incorrectly‒with the strata set vertically‒soak up the water and the expansion of the clay causes the thin stratification layers to flake. Stones should be laid on their natural bed but as monolithic columns require lengths of 3 or 4 metres, stones intended for columns are cut along the horizontal bed and upended. Thus the stone is laid on a vertical bed and moisture can creep, by capillary attraction, between the sedimentation layers. The quality and strength of the stones differed depending from which part of the quarry they were taken.