The Story of An Ancient Temple – Angkor Wat
Angkor was built as a city of Hindu and Buddhist temples in Cambodia. At its peak in the 11th and 12th centuries, Angkor was the capital of an empire that stretched from Malaysia to Myanmar. Angkor Wat, was built between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, and encompassing an area of about 500 acres (200 hectares), is one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed. Its name means “temple city.” Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world.
Angkor Wat’s complexity and beauty both attract and distract one’s attention. From a distance Angkor Wat appears to be a colossal mass of stone on one level with a long causeway leading to the center but close up it is a series of elevated towers, covered galleries, chambers, porches and courtyards on different levels linked by stairways. The place is surrounded by a 650-foot-wide (200 m) moat that encompasses a perimeter of more than 3 miles (5 km). This moat is 13 feet deep (4 m) and would have helped stabilize the temple’s foundation, preventing groundwater from rising too high or falling too low. Its layout imitates Mount Meru, the holy mountain considered to be the center of the universe. The central tower represents the summit, the four courtyards represents continents and the moat around the temple signifies oceans.
The builder of Angkor Wat was a king named Suryavarman II. A usurper, he came to power in his teenage years by killing his great uncle, Dharanindravarman I, while he was riding an elephant. He venerated the god Vishnu, a deity often depicted as a protector, and installed a statue of the god in Angkor Wat’s central tower. This devotion can also be seen in one of the most remarkable reliefs at Angkor Wat, located in the southeast of the temple. At the centre of the heart of Angkor is Bayon, the temple built by the 12th century Khmer monarch Jayavarman VII. Bayon is decorated with 216 smiling faces. All the faces are said to bear a striking resemblance to the king.
Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. The general appearance of the wonder of the temple is beautiful and romantic as well as impressive and grand it must be seen to be understood and appreciated. One can never look upon the ensemble of the vat without a thrill, a pause, a feeling of being caught up onto the heavens.
It is famous for having more than 3000 beguiling apsaras (heavenly nymphs) carved into its walls. Each of them is unique, and there are 37 different hairstyles for budding stylists to check out. Many of these exquisite apsaras were damaged during efforts to clean the temples with chemicals during the 1980s, but they are being restored by the teams with the German Apsara Conservation Project. Bat urine and droppings also degrade the restored carvings over time.
As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people, visitors are asked to dress modestly. It is not possible to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat without upper arms covered and shorts to the knees. Local authorities have recently released visitor ‘code of conduct’ guidelines and a video to encourage appropriate dress, as well as reminding tourists not to touch or sit on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.