Largest Hindu Temple - Angkor Wat

Largest Hindu Temple - Angkor Wat
Image Credit Pixabay
Angkor Wat
Country: Cambodia
Place: Angor
Builder: started by Suryavarman II completed by Jayavarman VII
Year: 12th Century

Angkor Wat translates to "City of Temples" or simply "City Temple." is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, situated at Angkor, Cambodia, built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since 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. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's prime attraction for visitors.


Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall, 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

According to legend, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to serve as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. According to the 13th-century Chinese traveller Zhou Daguan, some believed that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect.

The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as "Varah Vishnu-lok" after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished. In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.

Towards the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed from a Hindu centre of worship to Buddhism, which continues to the present day.


Architecture

The Angkor Wat temple is made from 6-10 million blocks of sandstone, each of which has an average weight of 1.5 tons. The city of Angkor required more stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined, and originally occupied an area considerably greater than modern-day Paris. Given the additional complexity of the overall building scheme, it is clear that Angkor was designed and managed by some of the finest architects in southeast Asia.

The temple was designed and built on the basis of religious and political ideas imported from India, albeit adapted to local conditions. From the time of King Yasovarman I, for whom the city (originally called Yasodharapura) was named, Angkor was designed as a symbolic universe modelled on traditional Indian cosmology, and its temples were built in order to provide a means whereby Khmer kings could be assured of immortality by becoming closely identified with Shaiva or one of the other important deities of the realm. Angkor Wat, for instance, was built by King Suryavarman II as a huge funerary temple and tomb to serve as a home for his earthly remains and to confirm his immortal and eternal identification with Vishnu.


Angkor Wat defines what has come to be understood as the classical style of Angkorian architecture: other temples designed in this idiom include Banteay Samre and Thommanon in the area of Angkor, and Phimai in modern Thailand. It combines two basic features of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the galleried temple, founded on early Dravidian architecture, with key features including the "Jagati" - a raised platform or terrace upon which many Buddhist and Hindu temples were built. In addition to Angkor Wat, another famous shrine with a jagati is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, at Khajuraho.

Built on rising ground and surrounded by an artificial moat, the temple of Angkor Wat is laid out symmetrically on tiered platforms that ascend to the central tower (one of a quincunx), which rises to a height of 213 feet (65 metres). Long colonnades connect the towers at each stepped level in concentric rings of rectangular galleries, whose walls are lined with sculpture and relief carvings. The temple is approached across the moat, via a stone causeway lined with stone figures. The ascending towers represent the spiritual world and mountain homes of the gods and were probably built in homage to ancestral deities. The temple's structures are chiefly built in stone with detailed bas-reliefs carved into the walls; the corbelled blockwork and pseudo-vaulted towers are covered with highly animated figures chiselled into the sandstone and volcanic rock.

Sculpture

The Angkor Wat temple is world famous for its stone sculpture which can be seen on almost all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and roofs. There are literally miles of reliefs, typically in the form of bas-relief friezes illustrating scenes from Indian mythology, and featuring a bewildering array of animal and human figures, as well as abstract motifs like lotus rosettes and garlands. They include devatas (Hindu gods or spirits), gryphons, unicorns, lions, garudas, snakes, winged dragons, dancing girls and warriors. Khmer sculptors - surely some of the greatest sculptors in southeast Asia - paid meticulous attention to the headdresses, hair, garments, posture and jewellery of the deities and human figures. In addition to reliefs, Angkor Wat contains numerous statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Carved pediments and lintels decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the shrines. While the inner walls of the outer gallery, for example, are decorated with a series of large-scale scenes depicting episodes from Hindu sagas like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. On the southern gallery walls, there is a representation of the 37 heavens and 32 hells of Hindu mythology, while the eastern gallery houses one of the most celebrated friezes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, featuring Vishnu showing 88 devas and 92 asuras.


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