Angkor Wat (“City Temple”) is a vast temple complex near the city of Siem Reap, 200 miles from the capital of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. A 12th century creation built by King Suryavarman II as a funerary temple (Mausoleum) to hold his remains, symbolically confirming his spiritual status alongside that of Vishnu. After the city fell to invaders, the temple receded into the jungle but continued as a Buddhist temple and a pilgrimage site over the centuries. Angkor Wat is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture in Cambodia and is so grand in scope that some rank it among the seven wonders of the world. It appears on the Cambodian national flag, the rare instance of a flag incorporating an image of a building.
The “lost city” of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s after Cambodia during the French colinization period . Today, Angkor draws thousands of visitors anxious to see this remarkable “Temple in the Rainforest.” Buddhist monks are daily visitors to Angkor, their bright orange robes in vivid contrast to the grey stonework of the temple.
Angkor Wat consists of five central shrines, surrounded serendipitously by a moat and three galleries. On the west side is a paved causeway, leading over the moat, under a magnificent portico, extending for approximately a quarter of a mile to the primary entrance of the complex.
The first gallery has square pillars on either side of the entrance. The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the outer wall with dancing figures. The periphery of the inner wall is filled with arched windows, apsaras (nymphs), and dancing male figures on prancing animals. Apsaras are found on the walls of all galleries.
From the first gallery a long avenue leads to the second gallery. This is reached via a raised platform with lions on both sides of a staircase. The inner walls of the second gallery contain continuous narrative relief. The western wall shows scenes from the Mahabharata epos.
The third gallery encloses the five shrines which are built on a raised terrace and are interconnected by galleries. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Sculptured lintels and frontons decorate the entrances to the galleries and the entrances to the shrines.
Visitors to Angkor take away a variety of impressions; some gain insight into Buddhism, archaeology or history, while others have a deep seeded experience of connectedness to the spiritual energy of the temples. The real show stopper of Angkor however is the sunrise and sunset.
The skies over the sacred city always put on a show and if you time it right, you can embrace the glistening rays of dawn or the afterglow of the setting sun as it frames the spires of this ancient space. Whatever brings you here will be far less than what you take away, for a new sense of stillness, peace and solitude will permeate your entire being. A moment at Angkor is like nothing you have ever experienced before, or ever will again.
Let your feet lead you into the sacred embrace of Angkor – this Temple in a City, a city of Joy!
Related Articles and Videos:
- Sunrise at Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia (travelpod.com)
- Climbing the Vast Temples of Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia (travelpod.com)