Built by Suryavarman II, the 12th-century ruler of the Khmer empire, the Angkor Wat is one extraordinary structure that can blow anyone mind’s off when they behold it. Angkor, which went by the name of Yasodharapura in those times, was the capital of the Khmer empire and it is in this city that the Vaidik/Buddhist temple stands tall. Suryavarman dedicated the temple to Lord Vishnu, one of the supreme deities of Vedism and among the religion’s holy trinity or Trimurti, aside from Brahma and Shiva. The entire temple complex is spread across an area of two square kilometers. Towards the end of the 12th century, it was converted into a Buddhist temple. However, it continues to mesmerize anyone who visits it.
The architectural masterpiece is the world’s largest monument. The total area is almost four times the size of the Vatican City. According to historians, the temple was built on the command of The Khmer king, Suryavarman II between 1110 and 1150 CE. That makes Angkor Wat approximately 900 years old. One of the first visitors from the western world was Antonio de Madalena from Portugal. He visited the temple in the year 1586.
Later on, in the 40s decade of the 19th century, Henri Mouhot, a French explorer, discovered Angkor Wat. As per Mouhot’s words, the temple is grander than any structure that is still present in Rome and Greece. He was the first individual who let the western world aware of this magnificent monument. The French ruled Cambodia for the major part of the 20th century. They restored the temple site and made it ready for tourism purposes.
Unfortunately, the work was halted, owing to the Cambodian civil war and sustained damage during the time Khmer Rouge came to power. Cambodia became independent from the French in the year 1953 and since then, it has had full authority over Angkor Wat. The temple complex was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and now witnesses footfalls of two million visitors on an average every year. The beautiful sunrise over the mystical temple is a sight worth watching.
Angkor Wat, the Khmer translation of which is City of Temples, is the heart and soul of Cambodia and it’s not surprising owing to its beautiful architecture, vastness, and the number of tourists it attracts every year. The temple, as of today, is located 5.5 km north of Siam Reap. Siam Reap is considered to be the gateway to the magical and ancient world of Angkor.
The main temple is surrounded by a high wall, 15 feet high as well as a wide moat that was constructed to prevent any outside attacks. During its prime, Angkor Wat comprised of a city, the palace of the emperor, and the temple. The temple walls were built of sandstone.
According to researchers, the temple is a representation of Mount Meru, a sacred temple in Vedism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Mount Meru is considered to be the home of the gods or devas. The five towers of the temple happen to be the five peaks of Mount Meru. The walls are a representation of the mountain ranges around it and the moat symbolizes the sea. At its highest point, the main temple reaches almost 70 feet.
The demise of the Angkor empire remains a mystery till today. According to several studies, it has been revealed that intense rains during the monsoons that swept the region after a prolonged period of drought led to extensive damage to the city’s infrastructure. As a result, the empire collapsed.
Angkor Wat Today
Since the Cambodian civil war, the Cambodian government has taken numerous steps to restore the beauty of the monument. Representatives from France, Germany, and India have joined hands and have contributed to the restoration process. There is no doubt that entire Cambodia takes great pride in the Angkor Wat. It is a symbol of the rich culture and heritage of the country and is a major tourist attraction today.
The world’s biggest temple continues to be an enigma. However, owing to the massive footfalls of tourists every year, the water table under the sandy soil is being depleted. The decline is damaging the stones of the temple and that’s alarming. Maybe, some constructive steps would be taken to minimize the issue.