Angkor Wat

The Mysteries of Angkor Wat

Deep into northwest Cambodia is the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire, a great site dedicated to the god Vishnu. It was built by the King Suryavarman the Second (Shield of the Sun) of the Khmer Empire sometime between 1100 and 1150 CE, and its name means ‘The City of the Temples’. It spans more than 400 acres and is full of many different buildings, making Angkor Wat one of the largest and most complex religious monuments ever constructed in the history of mankind.

The temples became known to the Europeans around 1860 through French Missionaries. Henri Mahout, a French botanist who did extensive research at this time, initially thought that the temples of Angkor Wat were built by another race and not by the Cambodians.

During the 12th century the Khmer ruled most of Southeast Asia. It was during this period that Angkor Wat was built, over a period of approximately 30 years. According to archaeologist Charles Higham, Suryavarman wasn’t just a man, but a demigod. In all depictions he appears large and muscular with everyone seated around him. According to legends, Suryavarman the Second killed his uncle in order to become king.

The city of Angkor was a city of 1,000,000 people, with a complex irrigation system, paved roads and beautiful buildings; however, within 200 years the Khmer civilization collapsed with no apparent reason. Scholars suggest that an environmental collapse may have played a major role in the Khmer civilization’s disappearance.

The temple is an enormous three level pyramid built on a floating rectangular piece of land surrounded by water. It consists of nine towers, each more than 60 meters high. It was built to represent the ‘home of the gods’, Mount Meru, a mythical sacred mountain in Hindu mythology which is considered to be the residence of the god Brahma and the Devas. It was referenced to be approximately 1,000,000 km high. Similar descriptions of such a mountain also appear in Javanese legends and other mythologies around the world. Isn’t it possible that what they refer to is a place that would have been so far from Earth as to be considered the place where the gods came from?

Another distinct feature of the temple of Angkor Wat is its containment of the portraits of 1796 women in stone in the centre of the city. Each portrait is unique in some way, and researchers are still puzzled as to the purpose of these women. Certainly they must have been very important to be portrayed in the most significant temple of the Khmer civilization.

The myths say that the temple was constructed mathematically to be in harmony with the universe, and the distances and sizes in Angkor Wat are related to the Indian mythology. In her work "Angkor: Celestial Temples of the Khmer Empire", Eleanor Mannikka suggests that Angkor Wat was also used for astronomical purposes. Scenes from the Hindu sacred book, the Mahabharata, can be found curved on the outer wall in eight different panels.

Impressive and massive, Angkor Wat is an intriguing place to visit that once again will question our prevailing belief that our civilization is more advanced than civilizations that existed in the past.

By April Holloway

Related Links

Myths about the discovery of Angkor

Sacred Angkor

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat: History of Ancient Temple

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