Angkor Wat is a Hindu temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world, ever constructed by human race, with the site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres).
Angkor (nokor) comes from the Hindu (Indian) word Nagar which means capital or city. Wat or Watika means house in Sanskrit and is the Khmer word for temple.
Several historians rated Angkor Wat higher than Taj Mahal or Pyramids; some even stating that grandeur of Angkor Wat is bigger than combination of 100’s of Taj Mahal or Pyramids. The praise lies in the effort, dedication and immaculate precision in constructing world’s first temple city – biggest temple complex known to human race yet.
The largest Hindu temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II (Surya = Sun + Varman = Shelter in Sanskrit) in the early 12th century in Yasodharapura, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple. Unlike his predecessors who practiced ‘Shaivism’ for their supreme god, Bhagwan Shiv; Suryavarman II broke ranks with them and built this temple, dedicated to Bhagwan Vishnu.
According to localites, the construction of Angkor Wat (meaning City of Temples) was ordered by Indra to act as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. However, according to the 13th century Chinese traveler Daguan Zhou, it was believed by some that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect – the mammoth construction and its precision still make its visitors awestruck about the immense capabilities of Hindu architects and construction workers.
Toward the end of the 13th century, as Buddhism unfolded in the region, Angkor Wat was gradually transformed from a Hindu center of worship to Buddhist monastery, some of the Hindu ceremonies and festivals were formally revoked and rituals of Buddhism were adapted which continues to the present day. It should be noted that this is not the first Hindu temple that is captured by non-Hindu followers. Across the world more than 100,000 major temples were dismantled or converted into non-Hindu structures; In India alone about 60,000 temples were converted into non-Vedic islamic constructs – mosques or tombs, under barbaric muslim invasions. However like all such religious structures across the world the Angkor Wat construction too bear depiction of Nagas (Shiv worshippers), yogis, demigods of Hinduism as sculpts and arts across all pillars and sites of the complex. Scenes from the Hindu sacred book, the Mahabharat, can be found carved on the outer wall in eight different panels.
What is known as world heritage site today was left in ruined state for centuries, the breathtaking grandeur and the monumental neglect by the erstwhile kings is aptly described by the French explorer Henri ” 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.”
Hindu Temple Angkor Wat – Facts and Details
The Angkor Wat temple represents Mount Meru which is the home of the Hindu devtas – it was referenced to be approximately 1,000,000 km high. The central five towers represents the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat represent the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.
Unlike most temples, the Angkor Wat faces west. There hasn’t been a clear explanation why so. It has been said that Bhagwan Vishnu was somehow associated to the west. If the spherical shape of earth and rotation is taken into consideration then the bhakti bhav (spiritual consciousness) reaches even to the east. (click on all the images for larger view)
The terrace on which it stands on is higher than the actual city. It has three walls surrounding the building itself, each level higher than the last. These galleries are dedicated to the Brahma (Creator of the Universe), Chandra (the moon – time definer for the earth), and Bhagwan Vishnu (Protector of the Universe). Bhagwan Shiv is known as destroyer of existing Universe for new Universe of existence, however Shiv is also protector of Universe, the sacrifice during Samudra Manthan detailed so. Each gallery has a Gopuram on each of the points, and the two inner galleries; each have towers at their corners, together they form a quincunx with the central tower. Since the temple faces west, the features are all set facing towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure and gallery on the west side; which is why the steps on the western side are more shallow than the ones on the side.
The second-level enclosure is 100 by 115 m, and it might have been flooded to represent the ocean around Mount Meru. Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and Gopurams of the inner gallery. The steep stairways represent, how hard it is ascending to the home of the devtas, showing it is never easy to meet devtas. This inner gallery (Bakan) is a 60 m square with centric galleries connecting each of the Gopurams with the central shrine, and subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers. Carved lintels and pediments decorate the entrances which lead to the galleries and to the shrines. The tower above the central shrine peak ranges from 43 m to a height of 65 m above the ground; unlike the other temples, the central tower is higher than the surrounding four.
How Angkor Wat was constructed?
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. The blocks were presumably put in place by a combination of elephants, coir ropes, pulleys and bamboo scaffolding. Henri Mouhot noted that most of the blocks had holes 2.5 cm (0.98 in) in diameter and 3 cm (1.2 in) deep, with more holes on the larger blocks. Some scholars have suggested that these were used to join them together with iron rods, but others claim they were used to hold temporary pegs to help manoeuvre them into place.
The monument was made out of 10 million sandstone blocks with a maximum weight of 1.5 tons (1500 kilograms) each. In fact, the entire city of Angkor used up far greater amounts of stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined, and occupied an area significantly greater than modern-day Paris. Moreover, unlike the Egyptian pyramids which use limestone quarried barely 0.5 km (0.31 mi) away all the time, the entire city of Angkor was built with sandstone quarried 40 km (25 mi) (or more) away. This sandstone had to be transported from Mount Kulen, a quarry approximately 25 miles (40 km) to the northeast. The route has been suggested to span 35 kilometres (22 mi) along a canal towards Tonlé Sap lake, another 35 kilometres (22 mi) crossing the lake, and finally 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) against the current along Siem Reap River, making a total journey of 90 kilometres (56 mi). However, Etsuo Uchida and Ichita Shimoda of Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan have discovered in 2012 a shorter 35-kilometre (22 mi) canal connecting Mount Kulen and Angkor Wat using satellite imagery. The two believe that the Khmer used this route instead. The population of the city at the time of construction may have been over prayut (1 million) people.
Following Vedic tradition of constructing Hindu temple along the rivers, to keep the sacred vicinity clean and pious, an artificial lake was created around Angkor Wat temple from all sides, this adds to the beauty of the temple.
Virtually all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and even roofs are carved. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from Hindu literature including unicorns, griffins, winged horses pulling chariots as well as warriors following an elephant-mounted leader and celestial dancing girls with elaborate hair styles. The gallery wall alone is decorated with almost 1,000 square metres of bas reliefs. Holes on some of the Angkor walls indicate that they may have been decorated with bronze sheets. These were highly prized in ancient times and were a prime target for robbers.
The monumental dedication to construct Angkor Wat can be gauged, comparing with modern day efforts.
Construction: While excavating Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a stonemason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture under 4 feet (1.2 m), this took about 60 days to carve.
Transportation: Roger Hopkins and Mark Lehner also conducted experiments to quarry limestone which took 12 quarrymen 22 days to quarry about 400 tons of stone.
The labor force to quarry, transport, carve and install so much sandstone must have run into the thousands including many highly skilled artisans. The skills required to carve these sculptures were developed hundreds of years earlier, as demonstrated by some artifacts that have been dated to the seventh century, before the Khmer came to power.
The magnificent and beautiful structures can never be made without dedication, selfless devotion and blessings of God.