Angkor Wat: Largest religious structure in the world.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat means “Temple City”. It has more than 100 temples. According to Guinness book of world records, it is the largest religious structure in the world.

Area: 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2 or about 400 km2)
Location: Cambodia, Southeast Asia
Year Built: 12th century, roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150

It was when Khmer Empire ruled Cambodia from 802 AD to 15th century, King Suryavarman II started building temples in Cambodia region dedicating them to the Gods of Hindu mythology. Angkor Wat was built in the beginning of 12th century and was dedicated to God Vishnu. Statue of Vishnu was placed in Angkor Wat’s central tower.

After the downfall of Khmer Empire the area became partially abandoned and was rediscovered by the followers of Buddhism, it was converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century and various stone inscriptions were added to the existing ones with the statue and other monuments related to Buddhism religion.

No written records have survived other than stone inscriptions. Whatever we know about Khmer today is based on archaeological findings, theories of Chinese travellers and stone inscriptions. Original name of Angkor Wat is still unknown as no inscriptions or stele is found representing the real name of Angkor Wat temple.

Angkor Wat Temple Architecture

Khmer temple architecture included two type construction works: Temple mountains and Galleried temples.

Angkor Wat temple was designed to represent Mount Meru Peak ( the Garhwal mountain that lies Garhwal Himalayas, in the Uttarakhand region of India) also known as home of Gods in Hindu mythology. At the center of the temple stands 5 towers in a pattern similar to five-side of a die representing 5 peaks of the Mt. Meru. Walls of the temple represents mountains surrounding Mount Meru and moat represents oceans around the real mountain.

angkor wat
By BaldiriOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Site dimensions: The outer wall has length of 1,024 m by 802 m and height of 4.5 m
The outer wall is surrounded by open ground 30 m wide and moat 190 m wide and 4 m deep.

Orientation and Access of the temple: Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. The main entrance to the temple is in west direction, the direction associated with Vishnu. Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone pathway to the west. Now the western sandstone pathway has been replaced with the wooden bridge.

Stones used in construction: Laterite being stronger element was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts while most of the temples visible areas are constructed using sandstone blocks although the binding agent used to join the blocks is not yet identified.

These sandstone blocks were transported from the Phnom Kulen Hills, about 30 km (18 miles) to the north of the temple. Recent researches prove that they were transported to the site by a series of canals.

Royal Palace: Royal palace is believed to have existed alongside temple which was made up of perishable material rather than sandstone. The area which was once royal palace is now covered by the forests as the Royal Palace was made up of perishable stone still unknown to us. Only the markings of stone on the ground have remained of the Royal Palace.

Gopuras or Towers: There are gopuras(towers) at each of directions east, west, north and south. These towers are connected by the galleries accompanied by the square pillars on the outer (west) side and a closed wall on the inner (east) side.

Western tower is by far the largest tower of all five. Under the western tower is a statue of Vishnu, known as Ta Reach, which may originally have occupied the temple’s central shrine. Each side also features a library with entrances at each cardinal point.

angkor wat
By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0

Decoration: Decorative elements used in Angkor Wat includes statue and stele of Hindu Gods (devatas) and angels (apsaras), animals, bas-reliefs, and on pediments one can see murals and narrative scenes.

The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with beautiful geometric patterns, the western side of the wall with dancing figures of apsaras and the east side of the wall with railed windows.

Artworks and Murals: More than 200 paintings have been found in the central tower which depicts the musical interests of Khmer people and several other paintings include hunting and war scenes.

More than 3000 apsaras carved into the walls of Angkor wat temple. Getting damaged due to maintenance and passage of time, they are being restored by the teams with the German Apsara Conservation Project.
Angkor Wat
Construction: To create the moat around the temple, 1.5 million m3 of sand and silt were removed which is a heavy task even today with the help of modern machinery. According to some inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants.

Bas-reliefs: bas-reliefs are the sculptures with higher depth so that it can be viewed from any angle without noticable change in proportions. on the walls of the outer gallery at Angkor Wat (mid-12th century) represents many stories and events related to the history and Hindu mythology-

Story of Ramayana (Battle between Rama and Ravana)
Story of M m.,ahabharata (Battle of Kurukshetra between Pandavas and Kauravas)
Story of Samudra Manthan or Churning of Ocean
Story of the two monkey prince, Bali and Sugriva
Court and proceedings of King Suryavarman II
Rules of Yama(God of death) and the tortures of Hell
Battle between devas(Gods) and asuras(Divine beings but Evil)
Battle between Vishnu and Asuras army
Conflict between Krishna and the asura Bana
Battles between Khmer and Cham army
Scenes from the everyday life of Angkor
Worship of Shiva and Vishnu
More than 3000 Dancing Apsaras

K.235 stone inscription: Sdok Kok Thom

Dating to 8 February 1053 is a 340-line text written in both Sanskrit and Khmer language, inscribed on a gray sandstone stele of 1.51 m height installed in the northeast corner of the temple’s court.

Architectural details of Sdok Kok Thom

Location: Thailand (present day)
Purpose: The temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Stone : Red sandstone and Laterite,
Year Built: 11th centuary

In the centre of the tower is a sandstone pillar, most probably depicting the Shiva Linga.

Pillar also has four doors. The only east door is the original one which gives entry to the tower other three doors are for faking.

The temple also has two libraries in the northeast and north-south direction. These libraries were made up of sandstone with wide window frames and base of laterite.

A rectangular courtyard of 42 by 36 meters encloses these two libraries and central pillar having galleries on all sides.

On the eastern side is a gate (gopura) representing the east direction the temple. A laterite wall standing approximately 2.5 meters high and measuring 126 meters from east to west and 120 meters south to the north provides additional enclosure to the entire complex.

Outside you can see baray, or holy reservoir, measuring roughly 200 by 370 meters.

The term means obviously “king of the gods,” in the sense that one god, generally Śiva, was recognised as higher than others in the Hindu pantheon and through his authority brought order to heaven. Court religious ritual, as described repeatedly in the inscription, focused on maintaining a linga, or holy shaft, in which Śiva’s essence was believed to reside.

More facts about Angkor Wat

Archaeologists found the evidence of another city near Khmer identified as a ‘lost’ city called Mahendraparvata, which is located about 25 miles (40 km) north of Angkor Wat.

The temple forms part of a complex of 72 major monuments, begun c. AD900, that extends over 24.8 km (15.4 miles)

Other buildings except the temple were built of wood and unknown perishable materials which have decayed and lost with time.

Eleanor Mannikka has noted that Angkor Wat is located at 13.41 degrees north in latitude and that the north-south axis of the central tower’s chamber is 13.43 cubits long. This, Mannikka believes, is not an accident. “In the central sanctuary, Vishnu is not only placed at the latitude of Angkor Wat, he is also placed along the axis of the earth,” she writes, pointing out that the Khmer knew the Earth was round.


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