Angkor Wat or Angkor Vat

Name: Angkor Wat
Creator: Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150).
Date built: first half of the 12th century Primary deity: Vishnu
Architecture: Khmer style
Location: Angkor Thom, Cambodia
Coordinates: 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″E

History of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat (or Angkor Vat) is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation-first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist.

The temple is the epitome of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture, with key features such as the Jagati. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and for the numerous devatas (guardian spirits) adorning its walls.

Wat is the Khmer word for temple. Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of its founder, Suryavarman II.

Angkor Wat lies 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred on the Baphuon. It is in an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures. The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 - c. 1150). In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer.

The new King decided to convert the official religion of the empire from Hindu to Buddhist. Angkor Wat was converted from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle. One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. The temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot's travel notes. Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, was unable to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple, and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site.

There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement including cooking utensils weapons or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. The temple has become a symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863. In January 2003 riots erupted in Phnom Penh when a false rumour circulated that a Thai soap opera actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.

Site and plan

Angkor Wat, located at Coordinates: 13°24’45”N 103°52’0”E, is a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard design for the empire's state temples, the later plan of concentric galleries, and influences from Orissa and the Chola of Tamil Nadu, India.

The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.

Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level.

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. Further evidence for the view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction-prasavya in Hindu terminology-as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services. Freeman and Jacques note that several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat's alignment was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west. A further interpretation of Angkor Wat has been proposed by Eleanor Mannikka.

Drawing on the temple's alignment and dimensions, and on the content and arrangement of the bas-reliefs, she argues that these indicate a claimed new era of peace under king Suryavarman II: "as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king's power and to honor and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above." Graham Hancock believes that Angkor Wat meant to be a representation of the constellation Draco.

Architecture Style

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture-the Angkor Wat style-to which it has given its name. The binding agent used to join the blocks is to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime have been suggested. Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design, which has been compared to the architecture of ancient Greece or Rome.

According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. The elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival, redented towers shaped like lotus buds; half-galleries to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple.

The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work. Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors. The Angkor Wat style was followed by that of the Bayon period, in which quality was often sacrificed to quantity. Other temples in the style are Banteay Samré, Thommanon, Chao Say Tevoda and the early temples of Preah Pithu at Angkor; outside Angkor, Beng Mealea and parts of Phanom Rung and Phimai.

Architectural Features

Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west; the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly replacing a wooden bridge. There are gopuras at each of the cardinal points; the western is by far the largest and has three ruined towers. Glaize notes that the gopura both hides and echoes the form of the temple proper. Under the southern tower is a statue of Vishnu, known as Ta Reach, which may originally have occupied the temple's central shrine.

Galleries run between the towers and as far as two further entrances on either side of the gopura often referred to as "elephant gates", as they are large enough to admit those animals. The galleries have square pillars on the outer (west) side and a closed wall on the inner (east) side. The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the west face of the wall with dancing figures; and the east face of the wall with balustered windows, dancing male figures on prancing animals, and devatas, including (south of the entrance) the only one in the temple to be showing her teeth.

Outer enclosure

The outer wall encloses a space of 820,000 square metres (203 acres), which besides the temple proper was originally occupied by the city and, to the north of the temple, the royal palace. Like all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except the outlines of some of the streets. A 350 m causeway connects the western gopura to the temple proper, with naga balustrades and six sets of steps leading down to the city on either side.

Each side also features a library with entrances at each cardinal point, in front of the third set of stairs from the entrance, and a pond between the library and the temple itself. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is the cruciform terrace guarded by lions connecting the causeway to the central structure.

Central structure

This model of Angkor Wat shows intact the half-galleries of the lower level and towers at the corners of the second-level galleries. The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. Mannikka interprets the galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma, the moon, and Vishnu. Each gallery has a gopura at each of the points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their corners, forming a quincunx with the central tower.

Because the temple faces west, the features are all set back towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure and gallery on the west side; for the same reason the west-facing steps are shallower than those on the other sides. The gallery is open to the outside of the temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the structure. Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (the ‘Hall of a Thousand Buddhas’). Buddha images were left in the cloister by pilgrims over the centuries, although most have now been removed.

The area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of pilgrims, most written in Khmer but others in Burmese and Japanese. The second and inner galleries are connected to each other and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas abound on the walls, singly or in groups of up to four. Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery.

The inner gallery, called the Bakan, is a 60 m square with axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine, and subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. The tower above the central shrine rises 43 m to a height of 65 m above the ground; unlike those of previous temple mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four. The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhism, the new walls featuring standing Buddhas.

In 1934, the conservator George Trouvé excavated the pit beneath the central shrine: filled with sand and water it had already been robbed of its treasure, but he did find a sacred foundation deposit of gold leaf two metres above ground level.

Decoration - The marvelous bas-reliefs.

The bas-relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk shows Vishnu in the centre, his turtle avatar Kurma below, asuras and devas to left and right, and apsaras and Indra above. Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the causes for its fame is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which predominantly takes the form of bas-relief friezes. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. From the north-west corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans).

On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology. Devatas are characteristic of the Angkor Wat style. On the eastern gallery is one of the most celebrated scenes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, showing 92 asuras and 88 devas using the serpent Vasuki to churn the sea under Vishnu's direction (Mannikka counts only 91 asuras, and explains the asymmetrical numbers as representing the number of days from the winter solstice to the spring equinox, and from the equinox to the summer solstice). The northern gallery shows Krishna's victory over Bana (where according to Glaize, "The workmanship is at its worst") and a battle between the Hindu gods and asuras.

Construction Techniques

The blocks were held together by mortise and tenon joints in some cases, while in others they used dovetails and gravity. Henri Mouhot noted that most of the blocks had holes 2.5 cm in diameter and 3 cm deep, with more holes on the larger blocks. The Khmer architects never made the curved arches used by the Romans.

The stone was presumably transported by raft along the Siem Reap river. One modern engineer estimated it would take 300 years to complete Angkor Wat today. The monument was begun soon after Suryavarman came to the throne and was finished shortly after his death, no more than 40 years. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from Indian literature including unicorns, griffins, winged dragons pulling chariots as well as warriors following an elephant mounted leader and celestial dancing girls with elaborate hair styles.

Holes on some of the Angkor walls indicate that they may have been decorated with bronze sheets. While excavating Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a stone mason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture under 4 feet (1.2 m), this took about 60 days to carve. Roger Hopkins and Mark Lehner also conducted experiments to quarry limestone which took 12 quarrymen 22 days to quarry about 400 tons of stone. The skill required to carve these sculptures was developed hundreds of years earlier, as demonstrated by some artifacts found that were dated to the seventh century before the Khmer came into power.

Angkor Wat as it is today

Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has seen continued conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism. The temple is part of the Angkor World Heritage Site, established in 1992, which has provided some funding and has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site. The German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) is working to protect the devatas and other bas-reliefs which decorate the temple from damage.

The organisation's survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and deterioration of the stone but in part also due to earlier restoration efforts. Other work involves the repair of collapsed sections of the structure, and prevention of further collapse: the west facade of the upper level, for example, has been buttressed by scaffolding since 2002, while a Japanese team completed restoration of the north library of the outer enclosure in 2005.

World Monuments Fund began work on the Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery in 2008. Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination. Tourism has also provided some additional funds for maintenance-as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site was spent on the temples-although most work is carried out by foreign government-sponsored teams rather than by the Cambodian authorities.


Suryavarman II

Suryavarman II (posthumous name Paramavishnuloka) was king of the Khmer Empire from 1113 A.D. to 1145-1150 A.D. and the builder of Angkor Wat, which he dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.

His reign's monumental architecture, numerous military campaigns and restoration of strong government have led historians to rank Suryavarman as one of the empire's greatest kings.

The king appears to have grown up in a provincial estate in the area of present-day Lopburi in Thailand, at a time of weakening central controls in the empire.

An inscription lists his father as Ksitindraditya, his mother as Narendralashmi.

As a young prince, he maneuvered for power, contending he had a legitimate claim to the throne.
states an inscription, he approved the desire of the royal dignity of his family.

Bounding on the head of the elephant of the enemy king, he killed him, as Garuda on the edge of a mountain would kill a serpent.

Scholars have disagreed on whether this language refers to the death of the southern claimant or King Dharanindravarman.

Suryavarman was inaugurated in 1113 A.D. An aged Brahman sage named Divakarapandita oversaw the ceremonies, this being the third time the priest had officiated for an incoming king.

The priest embarked on a lengthy tour of temples in the empire, including the mountaintop Preah Vihear, which he provided with a golden statue of dancing Shiva.

During his decades in power, the king reunited the empire, reversing many of the benign policies of his predecessor, historians believe.

In the west and north, his soldiers expanded the borders to cover new parts of present-day Thailand, Laos and Peninsular Malaysia.

As is common in reconstructing Khmer history, there is plenty of room for debating these and other precise events.

Khmer inscriptions, a major source of information, may exaggerate the empire's accomplishments, while accounts from rival states may do the same with its shortcomings.

Inscriptions in the neighboring Indianized state Champa and accounts left by writers in Dai-Viet, a Vietnam precursor state, say that Suryavarman staged three major but unsuccessful attacks on Dai-Viet, sometimes with the support of Champa.

In 1128 A.D., he is said to have led 20,000 soldiers against Dai-Viet, but they were defeated and chased out.

In 1145, A.D., Suryavarman appears to have invaded Champa, defeated its king and sacked the capital Vijaya.

In subsequent fighting, Cham forces recaptured the capital and killed Harideva.

In addition to war, Suryavarman practiced diplomacy, resuming formal relations with China in 1116 A.D. A Chinese account of the 13th Century says that the Khmer embassy had 14 members, who after reaching Chinese soil were given special court garments. The embassy went home the following year.

Another embassy visited in 1120 A.D.; in 1128 A.D., the emperor conferred high dignities on the Khmer ruler, deeming him great vassal of the empire. Problems concerning commerce between the two states were examined and regulated.

The king's reign saw great innovations in art and architecture.

He presided over construction of Angkor Wat, the largest temple ever built in the capital, and in many modern minds the ultimate masterpiece of Khmer architecture.

Other temples dating to his reign include Banteay Samre, Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda and, east of the capital, the huge Beng Mealea complex.

Suryavarman married, but no record exists of his wives' names.

Suryavarman II was unusual among Khmer kings in making Vishnu rather than Shiva the focus of court religious life.

Scholars have long debated whether his association with Vishnu helps explain why Angkor Wat faces west, the cardinal direction with which Vishnu is associated, rather than the common orientation for Khmer temples of east.

For reasons unknown, Suryavarman II is the first Khmer king to be depicted in art.

A bas relief in the south gallery of Angkor Wat shows him seated on an elaborate wooden dais whose legs and railings are carved to resemble naga snakes.

His right hand holds what seems to be a small dead snake-its meaning is unclear.

His torso curves gracefully, his legs folded beneath him.

Kneeling attendants hold over His Majesty a profusion of fans, fly whisks and parasols that denoted rank.

Whiskered Brahman priests look on, some of them apparently preparing things for a ceremony.

An ark bearing the royal fire, symbol of power, is carried on shoulders.

Further on in the gallery is a display of Suryavarman's military might.

Commanders with armor and weapons stand atop fierce war elephants, with ranks of foot soldiers below, each holding a spear and shield.

One of the commanders is the king himself, looking over his right shoulder, his chest covered with armor, a sharp weapon in his right hand.

Inscriptional evidence suggests that Suryavarman II died at some point between 1145 A.D. and 1150 A.D., possibly during a military campaign against Champa.

Suryavarman was given the posthumous name Paramavishnuloka, He Who Has Entered the Heavenly World of Vishnu.

Angkor Wat appears to have been completed only after his death.

A modern sculpture that adapts his court image in the Angkor Wat bas reliefs today greets visitors arriving at the Siem Reap airport.

Parasols shelter this image of the king, as real ones did the real Suryavarman almost nine centuries ago.

Suryavarman II is a civilization leader in the 2007 PC computer game Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword.

In the game, Suryavarman is the leader of the Khmer Empire and has the leader traits Creative and Expansive (these traits were previously used for Cyrus of Persia in the original Civilization IV game).

Yasovarman II

Yasovarman II was the ruler of the Khmer empire from 1160 to 1166. He succeeded Suryavarman II. His rule was ended when he was assassination by one of his subordinates.


Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Map


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