Angkor Wat, Cambodia, the largest religious monuments ever, built during the early years of the 12th century by Suryavarman II, is a symbolic representation of Hindu cosmology. Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, it was converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and statues of Buddha were added to its already rich artwork.
The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "Temple City" or "City of Temples" in Khmer; Angkor, meaning "city" or "capital city", is a vernacular form of the word nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara. Wat is the Khmer word for "temple grounds", also derived from Sanskrit vāṭa, meaning "enclosure".
The original name of the temple was Vrah Viṣṇuloka (Sanskrit) or Brah Bisnulōk (Local variant) which means the sacred dwelling of Vishnu.
The King Suryavarman II worshipped the God Vishnu, a deity 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 carving at Angkor Wat, located in the southeast of the temple. The carving describes how the Devas (Gods) and the Danavas (Demons) churned the ocean (Samudra Manthan) under the aegis of Lord Vishnu, to produce the divine elixir of immortality (Amrit).”
Suryavarman’s devotion to Vishnu is also shown in the posthumous name he was given, “Paramavishnuloka” which, according to a researcher Hélène Legendre-De Koninck, means “he who is in the supreme abode of Vishnu.” (Reference: "Angkor Wat: A Royal Temple," VDG, 2001)
According to legend, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to act as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. According to the 13th century Chinese traveller Daguan Zhou, it was believed by some that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect.
Recent research using airborne laser scanning (lidar) has shown that Angkor contains an urban core that could have held 500,000 people and a vast hinterland that could have held many more inhabitants. Researchers have also identified a ‘lost’ city called Mahendraparvata, which is located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Angkor Wat.
A Moat, Tower and Hidden Paintings
Angkor Wat itself 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.
Angkor Wat’s main entrance was to the west (a direction associated with Vishnu) across a stone causeway, with guardian lions marking the way. To the east of the temple was a second, more modest, entrance.
The heart of the temple was the central tower, entered by way of a steep staircase, a statue of Vishnu at top. This tower “was at once the symbolic centre of the nation and the actual centre where secular and sacred power joined forces,” writes researcher Eleanor Mannikka in the book "Angkor: Celestial Temples of the Khmer Empire" (Abbeville Press, 2002). “From that unparalleled space, Vishnu and the king ruled over the Khmer people.”
Hidden paintings have recently been discovered in the central tower. One chamber in the tower has a scene showing a traditional Khmer musical ensemble known as the pinpeat, which is made up of different gongs, xylophones, wind instruments and other percussion instruments. In the same chamber, there's also an intricate scene featuring people riding horses between two structures, which might be temples. These two paintings are among 200 that have been recently been discovered in Angkor Wat.
(Sunrise at Angkor Wat)
Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. The central tower rises from the centre of the monument symbolizing the mythical mountain, Meru, situated at the centre of the universe. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall corresponds to the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat the oceans beyond.
Although Angkor Wat is dedicated to Vishnu, the full purpose of the temple is still debated. One question is whether the ashes of Suryavarman II were interred in the monument, perhaps in the same chamber where the deposits were found.
A dozen lunar alignments with Angkor Wat’s towers, suggests that it served an important astronomical role. During the long and clear Cambodian nights, when the stars filled every inch of the black sky, the astronomer-priests stood on the long western causeway... and recorded the movements of the moon against the towers in the top two galleries of the temple.
Showcasing its cultural heritage in the most enchanting form, Angkor Wat lures its visitors with its panoramic and rustic beauty. It is a treasure for the visitors for its rich history, culture, and traditional values.
Google Maps has street views of Angkor Wat and other Cambodian temples.