The Temple Complex at Angkor Wat

You’ve probably already heard of the temple at Angkor Wat, deep inside the forests of Cambodia, and you may have seen pictures which are similar to this:

Angkor Wat

In case it’s not clear, here’s a model sized version of the whole structure.

angkor wat model

What you might not know is that the site is part of a huge landscape of temples, terraces and carved reliefs which stretch for miles within the jungle.  Just to get a sense of scale, there’s a map HERE, of which Angkor Wat is the small square structure just below the centre, enclosed in a thick black line which represents the moat. The scale of the whole thing can be seen clearly on a satellite image:

Angkor Wat satellite

Thankfully the moat is what’s keeping the jungle from enveloping the whole complex, unlike some of the neighboring sites, such as the one at nearby Ta Prohm:

trees at ta prohm

So it’s all very pretty, but what’s it all for?  Well, there’s a big question…

The site of Angkor Wat is primarily 12th C in date, being built as a temple complex for the king, the handily named Suryavarman II,  Fair trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? Anyway, he had the whole place built for his state temple complex and capital city.  Eat your heart out Buckingham Palace.  It’s the worlds largest religious building, having first been Hindu dedicated to Vishnu and then Buddhist.  The whole place was built to represent Mount Meru, home of the Devas in Hindu mythology with a moat and outer wall 2.2miles long and three rectangular galleries, each higher than the last.

The whole place is orientated to the west (rather than the standard east orientation), which some understand to be because the whole place was originally dedicated to Vishnu, associated with the west, and others understanding that the alignment is because it was intended to be used as a funerary temple for the king.  Evidence for this comes from the carved reliefs which proceed anti clockwise rather than the usual clockwise – rituals take place in reverse order during Brahaminic funeral services.  If it is a funeral temple, then it represents the largest amount of expenditure for the preparation of a single corpse.

Graham Hancock has an alternate theory, that the whole complex represents part of the constellation of Draco.  A further interpretation of Angkor Wat has been proposed by Eleanor Mannikka. She argues that the structure represents a claimed new era of peace under King Suryavarman II: “as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king’s power and to honor and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above.”

Whatever the reason for it’s creation, the site remains a spectacular and enigmatic place in the Cambodian jungle.  The most comprehensive guidebook to the site can be found online HERE, translated from the original French.


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