Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cambodian Temple: Angkor Wat

Probably the most well know and best preserved Cambodian temple is Angkor Wat. Actually, it is smaller than Angkor Thom in area. But the temple itself is huge, occupying one square kilometer, whereas the area of Angkor Thom included everything within the walls.

Angkor Wat is estimated to contain the same cubic volume of stone blocks as the Egyptian pyramid at Cheops. Every stone at Angkor Wat is decorated with carvings.

Angkor Wat at sunrise.
The central tower of Angkor Wat soars 65 meters which is the same height of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It is a three-tier structure symbolizing the Hindu Mount Meru, a holy mountain comprised of seven terraces surrounded by an ocean with 33 gods enthroned.
Building began around 1120 and was finally completed some thirty years later King Suryavarman II so was able to see it completed. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu, whom the builder identified as the divine king.

Monks are easy to spot in a crowd. Women must
not touch them so we are to keep our distance.
Angkor Wat faces west, perhaps it was to be the funerary for the King Suryavarman II, but little is really known about it. The theory is that from the inscriptions, the bas-reliefs are meant to be viewed in a counter-clockwise direction indicating a mausoleum, whereas normal temples are view in a clockwise manner. No one knows for sure. For a period of time, it was occupied by Buddhist monks who probably had a hand in its preservation.
There are two entrances: West (front) and East (back). As you approach from the west, you see the causeway is guarded by Khmer-style lions and nagas (seven-headed cobras) with hoods outspread. The causeway is 220 meters long and much has been restored. It is beautiful approach to the temple, especially in the morning when the sun is behind it and there is a reflection in the moat.

After passing through the over the causeway, you reach the second entrance which hosts a triple tower. The approach is regal as you anticipate reaching the temple itself. There are library buildings on either side of the causeway about halfway to the temple.
In front of the temple is a huge terrace, probably a viewing stand for the royals. It is known as the Terrace of Honor and is flanked by Khmer lions. It is believed that there may have been over 300 lions guarding stairways and entrances to Angkor Wat.

People are often seen praying with a monk..
The first level is contains a massive gallery of bas-reliefs. This gallery covers 750 meters! For pilgrims in the 17th century, the heart of Angkor Wat is the “Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas“ dating from the period when the temple was Buddhist.
There are many inscriptions visible on the walls throughout the temple. Unfortunately, many of the Buddhas are not there today and many of those that are have been beheaded.

The bridal couple allowed us to have a photo with them.
On the second level or terrace, there are many windows and beautiful carved columns. The columns are seven per group and are twisted in design. The interior walls and niches are decorated with over 1,700 stone apsaras (celestial dancers) and devatas (goddesses). The figures face straight ahead, but their feet are turned to the side. These dancers and goddesses with their linked arms and seductive poses have been described as models on a catwalk.

These bare breasted dancers were probably modeled from the king’s entourage of dancers, who would have been part of the royal harem. Hindus consider dancing a sacred act and female dancers devote their lives to dancing for the gods. It is through the medium of dance that the dancer communicated with the divine world, seeking to guarantee fertility for the land and well-being for the people. Today apsara dancing is taught in schools and is danced by five or seven women.

The third level of Angkor Wat is up very steep steps. Devotees were not allowed within the temple levels, but worship at ground level. The third terrace is a square platform hosting five towers – one in each corner and one in the middle. The central tower soars 65 meters in height. Each tower is eight stories and a crown, resembling a flower. The detail and design are awesome! The whole place is amazing.



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