Angkor Wat's marvelous bas relief - Battle of Devas and Asuras

The Wars of Hindu history depict great heroes and demons in battles of celestial proportions, filled with the awesome force of celestial weapons, religious mysticism, magic, celestial and supernatural beings.

Overriding the awesome battles and wondrous features is a deep driving purpose of religion and fate.

War in Religion and Lore

While no Hindu Epic or scripture fails to describe the horrors of war and its fallout, major wars are fought with a religious purpose: often to eliminate demonic beings, or lords and rulers who pursue war wantonly for ambition and domination.

The most destructive wars in Hindu Lore are driven with the mission of good triumphing over evil. Hindu teachings prescribe war as the final option, to be employed only after all peaceful methods are exhausted. But when this time comes, war is taught to be a matter of great personal and religious importance, where every man must do his duty (if he belongs to the warrior caste), exemplify courage, honor and fearsome prowess even against all the odds, and even at high cost of life.

The Bhagavad Gita places duty above all gain and loss, triumph and destruction, no matter how terrible or personal it becomes. In fact war without attachment may help the warrior to transcend the limited personal identity.

Angkor Wat

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: 1324'45?N 10352'0?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.

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


This webpage was updated 27th January 2020