I have started a five set series of posts on being tagged by my beautiful and very talented wife, Archana, to write picture posts. This series is about the 5 spiritual places that I would like to visit with Archana. This is the third one on Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia.
Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is world’s largest religious structure that was built between A.D. 1113 and 1150 by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the Yasodharapura (named after Lord Krishna’s mother) which was the capital of the Khmer Empire. Although the Khmer Kings were from the Shaivaite tradition, but this temple was dedicated to Vishnu. It was later became a Theravada Buddhist temple in the late 13th century, when statues of Buddha were added as well. Before Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples, was built, Phnom Bakheng was the main place of worship in the Angkor region.
It uses more stone in the whole construction than that used in the Egyptian pyramids. The ground it once covered was larger than modern day Paris. The structures here at Angkor Wat are 10 times larger than the largest Catherals in Europe.
The temple has a central tower which is 213-foot-tall (65 meters), surrounded by four smaller towers and a series of enclosure walls. This layout mimics the Mount Meru, a legendary place in Hindu mythology.
As is the case with most Ancient Hindu temples and in keeping with the rules of Agama Shastra, the temple’s construction using only blocks where gravity is used to hold the large stones.
The stones, as smooth as polished marble, were laid without mortar with very tight joints that are sometimes hard to find. The blocks were held together by mortise and tenon joints in some cases, while in others they used dovetails and gravity.
Sadhguru explains this way of constructing temples and building in this way, while discussing the technique used to build Sadhana Hall behind the famous Dhyanalingam.
As you can see, in the main structure, there is no steel, there is no concrete. It is just brick and lime which is making the building stand. It is not standing here because of the strength of the material, but because of perfection of geometry. Normally, with all buildings, there is a tussle between the gravitational forces and the building material. One day gravity will win; be sure about that. But here, there is no tussle between gravity and the building; they are in perfect harmony. Or in other words, in every building, the building material is under stress; but here, there is no stress. The building itself is in a state of relaxation; it’s meditating.
Angkor – the largest city in the world
Angkor Wat means “Temple City” or “City of Temples” in Khmer.
Angkor, which means “city” or “capital city”, is a word in dialect for the local Khmer word nokor(នគរ). Nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (नगर). Wat means temple grounds in Khmer, which comes from the Sanskrit words वाटिका or वाट. Remember Ashok Vatika in Ravan’s palace? Though the original name of the temple is not available, but it may have been known as “Varah Vishnu-lok”.
Before the Industrial Revolution, this city of Angkor – with a population of over a million was probably the largest city in the world. When we look at this temple, it seems to be in a dense forest. But just a few hundred years back it was a sprawling city. It was just recently mapped out using remote sensing laser technology (known as LiDAR) around Angkor Wat in the Kulen’s jungle and nearby lowlands. The place has been dated between the 9th and 15th centuries AD by the archeologists.
A new map made from satellite data reveals Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple was the center of one of the largest cities of the pre-industrialized world.
The research also sheds light on the extent of the city’s sprawl and on its mysterious downfall, factors that could be linked in a way that bears on today’s extensive and suburbanized metropolises.
Using ground-sensing radar provided by NASA, researchers found evidence that the ancient Cambodian capital took up an area of nearly 400 square miles (1,000 square kilometers). For comparison, Philadelphia covers 135 square miles, while Phoenix sprawls across more than 500 square miles, not including the huge suburbs. Each has about 1.5 million residents in the city limits.
The city was not only large but also had an amazing water system consisting of canals and even a hydraulic network to get the water to the rice fields in the suburbs.
The new maps show that Angkor’s water system consisted of canals in the North that funneled water into massive reservoirs in the city’s center where the temple resided. “From there, a series of distributor canals dispersed the water through the southern parts of Angkor and down towards the lake,” Evans explained.
In the 1950s, the late archaeologist Bernard-Philippe Groslier speculated that traces of a hydraulic network were part of an ancient irrigation network that ferried water to farmers in the city’s suburbs.
It is said that overpopulation and misuse brought about its downfall.
Henri Mouhot and Popularizing Angkor
It were the writings and sketches of Henri Mouhot, which popularized Angkor Wat in the Western minds. Although some mistakenly give him the credit of “discovering Angkor Wat” – as is the wont of many a Westerner mind who find a place for the first time, as if no one ever lived here.. and those who did don’t qualify as “discoverers”!
Mouhot is often mistakenly credited with “discovering” Angkor, although Angkor was never lost — the location and existence of the entire series of Angkor sites was always known to the Khmers and had been visited by several westerners since the 16th century. Mouhot mentions in his journals that his contemporary, Father Charles Emile Bouillevaux — a French missionary based in Battambang — had reported that he and other western explorers and missionaries had visited Angkor Wat and the other Khmertemples, at least five years before Mouhot. Father Bouillevaux published his accounts in 1857: “Travel in Indochina 1848–1846, The Annam and Cambodia”. Previously, a Portuguese trader Diogo do Couto visited Angkor and wrote his accounts about it in 1550, and the Portuguese monk Antonio da Magdalena had also written about his visit toAngkor Wat in 1586.
Anyhow Mouhot did make detailed sketches which worked very well with the Western audience along with his evocative writings on the place.
He wrote about Angkor Wat in these words – which may be taken with a pinch of salt, because the colonial powers from the West considered cultures with a different sensibility than theirs as “barbaric”. Something, that justified their rule over those societies sans any guilt.
“One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michael Angelo—might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.”
Other historical accounts
One of the first Westerners to see Angkor Wat was Antonio da Madalena, a Portuguese monk, who visited in 1586. Long before Europeans arrived, a Chinese emissary named Zhou Daguan lived in Angkor for one year between 1296 and 1297; he created a written account of his experience there sometime before 1312. Zhou Daguan’s book, the only account of 13th-century Angkor, was translated into English by Peter Harris in the book: A Record of Cambodia.
Here is an wonderful movie on Angkor Wat by the History Channel.
Location and how to get there?
Angkor Wat is in Cambodia about 5.5 km (3.4 mi) north of the modern town of Siem Reap. Angkor, the town is part of the Siem Reap province, just north of the town of the same name, and east of the former capital, Baphuon. It is around 6.5 km from the Siem Reap International Airport.
From Bangkok: about 406 km (via National Highway 6)
From Phnom Penh: about 321 km (via NH 6)
The best time to visit Angkor Wat is winters – November to February. The place is open from 5 am to 6 pm.
Here are some of the pictures of Angkor Wat.
Image Source: Monk, Entering Angkor Wat, Early Morning, smaller temple in the complex, Mount Meru representation, Phnom Bakheng, Angkor Wat in evening sky (Featured), Temple Structures, Sculptures inside, Carvings in Angkor Wat, Structure in Angkor Complex, Crumbles ruins of Angkor Wat, spectacular tree in the ruins, Monks Queuing up at Angkor Wat, Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Facade of Angkor Wat, Ruins of Angkor Wat French Postcard 1911, Angkor Vat circa 1870