The Great Temple of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat the largest religious monument in the world that was built by a 12th century King with the intention of gaining immortality

Angkor Wat meaning ‘Capital Temple’ deriving from Sanskrit is a temple complex situated 5.5km north of Siem Reap and is the largest religious monument in the world. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II in Yasodharapura (present day Angkor) the capital of the Khmer Empire. The Temple was designed as a state temple and eventually a mausoleum. The Khmer Empire possessed immense power and wealth as well as being culturally sophisticated. Many of the remarkable temples built by the Khmer empire can still be found in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It’s also interesting to note that recent satellite imaging has revealed Angkor to be the centre of one of the largest cities in the urban pre-industrial world.

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One of the legends say that the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by the Hindu deity Indri to act as a palace for his son. Nevertheless the temple was built as a Hindu temple and dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu.

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After the city of Angkor fell to invaders the temple largely fell to disuse and receded into the jungle. As the centuries went by the temple became a shrine to Buddhism and to this day remains a Buddhist temple and pilgrimage site.

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The temple itself was designed to represent Mount Meru, according to Hindu mythology this was the home of the Devas (Hindu deities). The central quincunx of towers represent the five peaks of Mount Meru and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.

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For the readers that are interested, unlike most of the Khmer temples Angkor Wat is oriented to the West, as opposed to the East. This has lead people to believe the temple was intended as a funeral temple. Further to this the bas reliefs on the temple proceed in a counter-clockwise direction. This is noteworthy as the temple was originally of Hindu design, Brahman funeral rituals were carried out in reverse.

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The temple is the pinnacle of classical Khmer architectural design while being influenced by Indian ideas, visitors can find bas reliefs from the Ramayana and Mahabharata within the temple.

A bas relief depicting a scene from the Ramayana - Angkor Wat
A bas relief depicting a scene from the Ramayana – Angkor Wat

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The city of Angkor was built guided by Hindu cosmology, so the temple, Mount Meru the home of the gods was the centre of the city (universe) and everything else was built around it. By building the temple and the city with this ideology King Suryavarman II wanted to secure his immortality through identification with the Hindu God Vishnu.

Satellite image of Angkor Wat - The temple (Mount Meru) is in the center
Satellite image of Angkor Wat – The temple (Mount Meru) is in the center

The temple is very important to the people of Cambodia and it’s also one of the countries prime attractions for tourists.  The temple complex due to its importance is on the UNESCO list as a World Heritage site. Angkor Wat can furthermore be found on the Cambodia national flag where it symbolises Integrity, Justice and Heritage.

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Visitors will take away a lot from there visit to Angkor Wat whether its spiritual, religious or archaeological but one thing that almost everyone that visits Angkor Wat can agree on are the breath taking views of sunsets and sunrises over the temples.

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If you’d like to explore Cambodia and Angkor Wat for yourself contact us, enquiries@flowtraveller.com we have some fantastic guided tours available for you.

If you’ve been to Angkor Wat we’d love to hear your experiences, please add your stories in the comments below. Also if you have any questions please also leave them in the comments below.

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Win Sein Taw Ya, Myanmar (Burma) – Worlds Largest Reclining Buddha

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