As Liz and I crossed over the moat and onto the grounds of this magnificent temple, I was deeply moved. A sensation flooded through my body and I felt that I was covered in “God” bumps, as my hair stood on end. I was “weak in the knees” and had to stop and gather myself. We began to walk and after 5 minutes it happened again; then once more as we approached the center of the temple.
Angkor Wat (which means City Temple, i.e., a temple which housed a city) is the home of the world’s largest Vishnu temple. One might think that since it’s a Vishnu temple (Hindu), we might be in India, but we are in Cambodia. Early in the 12th century King Suryavarman II built this temple to house both the temple and the royal palace.
There was massive reconstruction work going on while we were there, and I must admit did take a little away from the atmosphere. But the reconstruction is needed. This temple’s outside wall encloses a space of 203 acres. The grounds inside the moat are the size of four football fields. It’s massive and I haven’t even begun to describe the temple itself.
At the center of the temple stands a quincunx of towers which looks like lotus flower buds, one at each corner of the temple and one exactly in the middle. The temple itself is made from sandstone and the carving (all hand carved) is unbelievable. How did they erect those huge towers without machinery…and build four levels to the temple…not to mention the intricate carvings on the towers, walls and every piece of the temple?
It is said that for hundreds of years, traders from India would sail to Cambodia to trade goods. They would be stranded there for the length of the rainy season. While there they influenced the land with their own beliefs and customs and so, after a while, Cambodia became a Hindu land. In those times, the Kings were very dedicated to their religion and King Suryavarman built this temple to show his love and dedication, which shows throughout.
The temple was built as a representation of Mt. Meru, known as the home of the Gods in the Hindu religion. The entire temple features carvings. The walls have carvings depicting the Hindu religion. For example, on one entire side of the temple is the story of the “Sea of Churning of Milk,” which shows the demigods and demons battling for immortality. On another side of the temple, the entire wall relates the story of the Ramayana, the epic tale of Rama and his brother Lakshman rescuing Rama’s wife Sita, who was kidnapped by an evil King named Ravana. Rama and Lakshman are then joined by Hanuman and defeat Ravana to rescue Sita. All of these beautiful stories are magnificently illustrated by hand carvings on the walls. And inside the temple, there are carvings of Krishna holding up Govardhana Hill.
As we left the temple, I was engulfed three separate times in the same feelings and sensations I experienced when I entered the temple. It was as if the temple welcomed me and did not want to let me go. As I write this, those same feelings wash over my body.
My partner, Liz, compared the architectural feat to that of the pyramids of Egypt. The craftsmanship of the masons is unparalleled. I took many pictures and I wish I could share them all. Here are a few:
The churning of the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate process. Mount Mandaranchal was used as the dasher (churning tool), and Vasuki, the king of serpents, became the churning rope. The gods held the tail of the snake, while the demons (Asuras) held its head, and they pulled on it alternately, causing the mountain to rotate which, in turn, churned the ocean. However, once the mountain was placed on the ocean, it began to sink. Vishnu, in his second incarnation in the form of a turtle, Kurma, came to their rescue and supported the mountain on his back.
following pictures were taken during the rising of the sun over Angkor Wat.
Next week: More Temples of Cambodia
sign up to receive newsletters and updates from Michael, scroll to the bottom
of the Ah-Man Web Site.