Angkor Wat

Hindu/Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia

Angkor Wat (/ˌæŋkɔːr ˈwɒt/; Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត, "City/Capital of Temples") is the largest religious structure (temple complex) in the world by land area, located in Cambodia. Originally constructed as a personal mausoleum for the King Suryavarman II, dedicated to the Vishnu in the early 12th century, it was converted into a Buddhist Temple towards the end of 12th century and remains so in the present day.

Angkor Wat

The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as the state temple for the Empire. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. Today, it is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in Cambodia and around the world.


  • A few days before we were due to leave for Hanoi, our Cambodian hosts took pity on us. A small plane was laid on to fly us to Angkor Wat, where we could marvel at the magic of the 850-year-old Khymer palaces. The occasion was slightly surreal. Next door a bitter and cruel war was taking place; we could hear the noise of the bombings from Cambodia. And yet these old ruins generated an unbelievable tranquillity. I walked silently through and around them. I observed their richness from every possible angle and gazed in awe at the rich repertoire of images. The beautiful reliefs on the plinths supporting the terraces were matched by the friezes of erotic groups and minor deities of traditional Hindu sculpture. Here in the middle of the Cambodian jungles one caught a glimpse of the myths and legends of medieval India. Here, too, a caste of military aristocrats must have established its control over tribespeoples and ‘barbarians’. As I wandered, in a semidaze, I thought of the polymathic qualities, skills and perseverance that must have been a hallmark of the architects, stonemasons, master-artists and their apprentices, the latter notorious for the outspoken eroticism of their sexual sculptures. And the slaves who carried the stones that made all this possible? What was their lifespan? I saw the sun set on Angkor Wat that evening and almost forgot the war. It is one of the wonders of the world, but impossible to record except in the mind’s eye. No postcard or film could convey the richness of the Cambodian sky or the play of golden red shadows and reflections on the stones and statues of the ancient Khymer works....
    The same night, in a neighbouring palatial ruin, we saw a moon rise and in its light witnessed an exquisite display of Cambodian folk dancing, once again a variation of the old dances of Southern India. In the background lay the darkness of the forest. The night was enveloped by silence. The technologies of the 20th century could neither be seen nor heard. We might easily have been part of a scene from a different epoch. The image of Angkor Wat remains vivid. When I shut my eyes I can still recall many pictures of the sun setting on the delicate and graceful reliefs. I thought of them a lot in the years that followed, first when Kissinger and Nixon embarked on their campaign and bombed the country into the Stone Age, resulting in a savagery which gave birth to the deranged squads of Pol Pot. Neither variant, I am happy to say, destroyed Angkor Wat. It is still there and I have not given up the idea of seeing it again one day.
    • Ali, Tariq - Street fighting years, an autobiography of the sixties (2018)
  • It is a lake in width, it is enclosed in masonry, and it measures about three miles around! Superb! Few architects think in measurements as big as that... Any architect would thrill at the harmony of the facade, an unbroken stretch of repeated pillars leading from the far angles of the structure to the central opening, which is dominated, by three imposing towers with broken summits... The Vat rises in fair majesty against the heavens... All the ancient power of the temple and its gods is puissant still. It surrounds those who look upon the wonder. The eyes sweep upwards over the rising storeys, up, up, to the mounting towers, to the pure firmament, and pause subdued. It is ever thus. Some power overcomes, some mysterious spell is caste, one never look upon the ensemble of the Vat without a thrill, a pause, a feeling of being caught up into the heavens. Perhaps it is the most impressive sight in the world of edifices. The whole place is covered, once you open your eyes to it, columns, lintels, surbases, panels, pediments, jambs of doors and windows. One says that this holy sanctuary contained a wondorus statue of God Vishnu carved from precious stone... The portico is magnificent in a way not unfamiliar. One is at once in harmony with the plan. Nothing exotic about it, nothing that shocks Western traditions, simply grandeur and dignified beauty as we know it in our own architecture."
  • Only one Hindu temple surpasses that of Borobudur, and it, too, is far from India—lost, indeed, in a distant jungle that covered it for centuries. In 1858 a French explorer, picking his way through the upper valley of the Mekong River, caught a glimpse, through trees and brush, of a sight that seemed to him miraculous: an enormous temple, incredibly majestic in design, stood amid the forest, intertwined and almost covered with shrubbery and foliage. That day he saw many temples, some of them already overgrown or split apart by trees; it seemed that he had arrived just in time to forestall the triumph of the wilderness over these works of men. Other Europeans had to come and corroborate his tale before Henri Mouhot was believed; then scientific expeditions descended upon the once silent retreat, and a whole school at Paris (L’École de l’Extrème Orient) devoted itself to charting and studying the find. Today Angkor Wat is one of the wonders of the world.
  • To Shiva the Khmers, toward the end of the ninth century, dedicated the oldest of their surviving temples—the Bayon, now a forbidding ruin half overgrown with tenacious vegetation. The stones, laid without cement, have drawn apart in the course of a thousand years, stretching into ungodly grins the great faces of Brahma and Shiva which almost constitute the towers. Three centuries later the slaves and war-captives of the kings built Angkor Wat,117 a masterpiece equal to the finest architectural achievements of the Egyptians, the Greeks, or the cathedral-builders of Europe. An enormous moat, twelve miles in length, surrounds the temple; over the moat runs a paved bridge guarded by dissuasive Nagas in stone; then an ornate enclosing wall; then spacious galleries, whose reliefs tell again the tales of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; then the stately edifice itself, rising upon a broad base, by level after level of a terraced pyramid, to the sanctuary of the god, two hundred feet high. Here magnitude does not detract from beauty, but helps it to an imposing magnificence that startles the Western mind into some weak realization of the ancient grandeur once possessed by Oriental civilization. One sees in imagination the crowded population of the capital: the regimented slaves cutting, pulling and raising the heavy stones; the artisans carving reliefs and statuary as if time would never fail them; the priests deceiving and consoling the people; the devadasis (still pictured on the granite) deceiving the people and consoling the priests; the lordly aristocracy building palaces like the Phinean-Akas, with its spacious Terrace of Honor; and, raised above all by the labor of all, the powerful and ruthless kings.
  • Tcheou-ta-Kouan speaks of the many books that were written by the people of Angkor, but not a page of this literature remains; like ourselves they wrote perishable thoughts upon perishable tissue, and all their immortals are dead.
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