Angkor Wat, an ancient temple in the Northwest plains of Cambodia, reveals astonishing architecture that reflects classical, religious, and cultural values.
It is one of the world’s most magnificent and vast temple structures, measuring 162.6 hectares (401+3/4 acres) (from Wikipedia). It lies 5km north of the modern town of Siem Reap, Northwest plains of Cambodia.
The temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu early in the 12th century and then converted to a Buddhist temple. It has been built on the order/request of King Surya Varman.
Site, Layout, and Aesthetics of Angkor Wat
Spatial structure, rich cultural heritage connected with the built environment, surrounded by moats and forests, is a retreat to Architecture. Its massive stone structure with intricate architectural features leaves the visitors with astonishment and everlasting memory.
The classical style of Khmer architecture, the temple’s remarkable layering of five towers, and three rectangular galleries are characteristic of the Angkor Wat temple. With a west orientation, the temple occupies a rectangular about 1500 by 1300mts covering 162.6 hectares.
As a three-tiered pyramid, it comprises three levels, the first and second levels with galleries, columns, and courtyards, and the third level with five towers arranged in quincunx form in the center and the other four in four corners each. The towers, shaped like lotus petals with their central spire rising to 65m from the ground, represent Mount Meru. The three rectangular galleries, chambers with sloped roofs, are in layers one above the other. On the terrace, giant stone lions take their place as if they are safeguarding the temple.
A vast compound wall (3.6km long) surrounds the temple, where the sugar palms and mango trees adorn the surrounding terrace.
Moats surround the external enclosure of the monument, which is over five km long and bordered by sandstone steps. The view of the temple reflecting its majestic facade in the moats is a delightful experience.
The Principal Entrance of Angkor Wat – Western Causeway
According to Dr. Bosch, this westward orientation is typical of Indo-Javanese funerary monuments. The long causeway, shaded by a magnificent banyan tree, leads to the west entrance and draws our eyes to the glorious facade. The causeway, paved and faced in sandstone bordered by Naga (five-headed snake), which in the presence of sunlight, fringe it with the play of light and shadow.
Symbolism and Significance
In 1866, the Scottish photographer John Thomson mentioned the temple represents the whole of the Universe, Mount Meru- the center of the Universe, the central quincunx depicts five peaks of the mountain, the three terraces of the temple as the three elements of earth, water, and wind on which the heavenly mountain rests. Moat symbolizes mountain ranges and the ocean, the central shrine aligns with the rising sun.
The construction of Angkor Wat also represents a spiritual significance as the home of gods.
Scale and Proportion
Perfectly ordered and balanced plan, symmetry and harmony of proportions, and purity of lines; all define Angkors’ work power. Exquisite carvings of reliefs and carvings make it one of the most admired monuments in the world. Even though the facades are enormous, entrances to the interior are simple, with rectangular openings proportionate to human scale. Researcher Eleanor Mannikka states that the arrangement of solar and lunar eclipses was meant to honor and raise the King’s power.
Materials, Textures, Techniques, and Details
The walls of the open and lengthy corridors of the galleries with richly ornate false doors are filled with written inscriptions, carved reliefs, and paintings. Their linear arrangement expresses movement across the space. Colonnaded facades welcome the galleries. The walls of the open and lengthy corridors of the galleries are embellished with richly ornate false doors, written inscriptions, carved reliefs, and paintings. Their linear arrangement expresses movement across space. The ceilings of the primary vaults (of the crossing cloister) paneled with timber sculpted with rosettes as lotus blossoms, provide extraordinary views.
We can see the exceptional skills of the sculptor in the works of bas reliefs, mural ornamentation, colonnades, lintels, pilasters, false doors, and other architectural features.
The inscriptions describe the history of Cambodia and take the visitors back to the 7th century, written in two languages-one in Sanskrit written in verses, the other in Khmer or Cambodian-the local language. They engraved stones with a chisel of less than one centimeter on the walls, and door openings of the sanctuaries covered most of the stone surface.
The walls, lintels, and columns of the monument adorn the sandstone carvings of various deities, which enhance the magnificence and gloriousness of the temple. The reliefs are so intricate and precisely finished; that it is difficult to match with the works of modern construction machinery standards.
The reliefs include stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, the great Hindu epics seen in the galleries comprising columns on the outer side and walls on the inner side carved with beautiful reliefs on four sides of the temple.
On the bas-reliefs, one can see the picture of customs and traditions, followed in daily life in the ancient times in that region; the carts, costumes, instruments used for cultivation, hunting, fishing, trade, arts and crafts, the parades celebrating on significant days, etc.
The Galleries in Angkor Wat
Galleries surround the central Quincunx on four sides. The two galleries north and south 2.9m in width are close to the exterior and have a double row of pillars towards the courtyards.
The western gallery
The western gallery with the scenes such as the Battle of Lanka and the Battle of Kurukshetra (between Kauravas and Pandavas) with Lord Krishna and Arjuna on their chariots holding weapons and the soldiers with their horses surrounding them; depicts fine craftsmanship.
The southern gallery
The southern gallery highlights the story of the procession of King Surya Varman II and his entire kingdom. The palanquin used by a queen, the written inscriptions, the commandos with the levels of royalty, marching with weapons uniformly and steadily, and the elephants and horses of each of them define remarkable craft. Afterlife judgment of Yama Raj depicts the punishments shown, where the souls with good deeds are carried to heaven and bad ones are drawn to hell., each of them with distinct gestures and expressions represents unique stone carvings.
The eastern gallery
Eastern gallery stone carvings depict the story of the churning of the sea under Lord Vishnu’s direction in the center. Beautiful carvings of the serpent (Vasuki) spreading around the mountain, Devas, and Asuras on either side holding the snake, and the sea animals being affected by the churning of a mountaintop, are framed into incredible scenery.
The northern gallery
The northern gallery shows the battle between Lord Krishna and Bana.
The Apsaras exhibit distinct hairstyles, attire, and ornaments; dancing effortlessly, showing a splendid rhythm reflecting the culture during the Angkor period.
Simple square /rectangular windows with curvature balustrades adorn the walls of the galleries. These provide ample ventilation and are therefore distinct from the usual style of design.
Preservation/ Sustainability of Angkor Wat
Even though Angkor Wat lasted thousands of years, it has faced damage and deterioration due to ancient wars, theft, plant growth, and fungi. The few portions of three towers are unfortunately crumbled, weatherworn sandstone statues, and passageways with plain walls rather than monuments. One can see water infiltration decay corners in a few places through the loose-jointed vaults.
The responsibility of maintaining and preserving the natural state of monuments belongs to the Archeological Survey of India.
The temple was constructed with sandstone as the primary building material, and laterite was used in most segments. One of the most striking aspects is that few parts were built with no application of the binding agent. Five to ten million sandstone blocks were used with a maximum weight of 1.5 tons each. Holes on some walls indicate they were decorated with bronze sheets. Reliefs are carved kilometers together with the gallery wall alone comprising 1000 sq.m.
Tourism and Angkor Wat
Impressive in the character of its grand Architectural composition, Angkor Wat has now become one of the famous tourist attractions. It is increasingly becoming a source of revenue. Therefore, it also promotes international tourism, which helps in understanding different people, languages, histories, lifestyles, and cultures.
A great example of an architectural marvel with elements such as gopuras, towers, and galleries carved with historical stories that represent style and period. Moreover, the courtyards act as central performing art places. Additionally, ceilings decorated with lotus rosettes symbolize the nation. Furthermore, walls with oil paintings and dancing figures represent art forms and evidence of the past. All these depict cultural, religious, and symbolic values representing a nation, as well as architectural, archeological, and artistic significance.
You can visit a few other temples here.
Sahithi is an Indian-based architect and Interior designer. Worked for a while and started freelancing. While Architecture is her profession, writing is her passion and makes her feel stronger. Loves reading, writing, and traveling.