A monument so intertwined with the history and identity of an entire country that a mere mention of one name strikes up instantly a visage of the other, the grandeur of Cambodia’s iconic heritage site of the Angkor Wat is one of immeasurable extent indeed. Not just in its national identity though, the global structure is a treasure also in such assertions of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one that commands distinction as being also the largest religious monument to ever exist.
Literally translating as the City or Capital of Temples is this early 12th century build of religious essence, that saw a magnificent manifestation in reality courtesy the vision of Khmer king Suryavarman II. The state temple then, built as it was in the capital of the Khmer Empire at Yasodharapura, the structure has since evolved in its essence to be also prominent in its archaeological and architectural reputation. And thus it happens to hold present day relevance as being one of the most important archaeological sites of south east Asia and one profuse in its encompassing the riches and legacy of the Khmer identity particularly in elements of the architectural.
In its religious origins, Angkor Wat might have been dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu but today it asserts as a Buddhist temple instead. In fact Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka meaning ‘the sacred dwelling of Vishnu’ had been the name when it was first built. The shift in belief occurred soon thereafter by the end of the 1100s, endowing upon it also the much cosmopolitan identity of being a Hindu- Buddhist temple. Its design therefore is a work upon Mount Meru, the sacred five peaked home of the Hindu devas, with numerous images of the Gods adorning its walls. With the additional basis in reverence, many a statues of the Buddha were added to this already rich repertoire of artwork. Needless to say, the exemplary architectural essence of the Angkor Wat was only exalted many times more by this unique rendition in harmony.
It is harmony also in design that validates the emergence of Angkor Wat as a realm harbouring long standing global coveting. The grace of its subdued elegance is one befitting indeed of what is a seat of the religious first and foremost. But consider the supreme projection of perfection in all aspects of what captures the eye, particularly the intricate decorations and the finesse of its architecture reveals in as much beauty of craftsmanship. Stately perhaps is what describes best the aesthetics of this structure rising upon a high terrace in very deserving indeed an exaltation of the kind of stature it possesses.
Even beyond the magnificence of the temple sight that graces the horizon with its 5 beautiful lotus like towers, the very locational setting of the structure is much prominent as well. The namesake city of Angkor housing the temple that today occurs as the second largest Cambodian city of Siem Reap had been the largest pre- industrial city of the world in its more than a million count of population. Even today it continues to be as much a phenomenon- specifically with its hundreds of temples holding up that identity, Angkor happens to be one of the largest archaeological sites continuing to expand its profile in world standing with the touristic claim to fame.
Part of the larger identity of the Angkor Archaeological Park that occurs in its entirety as availing the UNESCO distinction, the temple complex is a marvel in every aspect of its existence. Be it the staggering 162.6 hectared area of its spanning or the intriguing engineering that went behind its construction, not to mention of course the more than evident rule of the aesthetics that which makes it the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia, the Angkor Wat allure is of a different intensity indeed. Centered at the heart of the sprawling park and central indeed to the entire Cambodian narrative so much so that has found it place of pride upon the national flag is this flamboyant expression of history that served also purposes in the military basis of this coursing through the times.
And thus Angkor Wat summons today the starstruck gaze of some 2 million tourists annually, in substantiating yet again as being a show of the standouts. Outside the ordinary happens to be as well the essence of what shapes up its religional residing, with quite a few peculiarities displayed along this aspect of existence. The dedication to Vishnu itself was a break away from the existing Shaiva tradition even as other renditions of non- ordinariness happen to be as evident.
Unlike the Angkorian temples collectively emerging as being of the eastern orientation, Angkor Wat happens instead to be directed towards the west. As a symbolism in death therefore, one asserted further by the counterclockwise read of its bas-reliefs, the temple had most definitely been built upon a funerary intention. Not very surprisingly therefore, it identifies also as the eventual mausoleum of its creator Suryavarman II who passed away before the structure could attain completion.
The more elaborate meaning of Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka as ‘the king who has gone to the supreme world of Vishnu’ evokes indeed this reigning idea in being the funeral grounds of Suryavarman II. And indeed in the considerable length of time that it took for construction to find completion after 35 years of commencement, Angkor Wat quite fittingly emerged as being a tribute to the king who scripted for an entire nation the story of its most striking identity.
Quite diversely characterised therefore is the global indeed relevance of what Angkor Wat holds in its being, holding Outstanding Universal Value as specified by the UNESCO recognition accorded to it. Diverse as well had been the composition of what made Angkor a city of both religious and secular residing, with however the earlier case holding today in greater assertion of identity. But even in this consideration of the religious, it is some awareness in secularity that runs through this trail of popular treading by tourists. Palimpsestic indeed in co-residing of both Hindu and Buddhist ideals, the appeal of Angkor Wat though is somewhat more intriguing in its run along different strands of the sacred. So divine in fact might be a conjuring up of this vision of Cambodia that has also an entire natural surreality stem from this important expanse of the archaeological.
The concrete structure of Angkor Wat might have worked out for it a residing in the hydraulic character as something deliberately built upon. But this wonder of more than a single doing also encompasses for itself the basis in being a solar city, very dramatically demonstrated by the phenomenon of what is called the Angkor Wat equinox. So worthy happens to be this unexpected occurrence in ideas of the celestial that has even furthered the prominence of Angkor Wat as a tourist hotspot. Adhering to the newer trend of tourism that draws upon the aesthetics of the solar occurrences in sunrise and sunset is this very interesting experience that this place of both mystical and modern musings deliver, making it hold its charm as a destination even over and above its essence steeped in national as well as global recognition.
This dawning upon itself the distinction of an own exclusive equinox has helped Angkor Wat establish its reputation as being the best place in the world in 2022 to witness the magical rising and setting of the sun that which is so chased a touristry activity everywhere. Twice every year, the phenomenon comes to be in spring and autumntime assertions of the city’s identifying as a celestially defined curiousness, probably worked into its very system of building.
Falling in place as a sequence of astronomical curations availed out of a proper consideration of astronomy indeed is the phenomenon that is interesting also in its partial basis in the Hindu spectrum of religion. Asserting as the exact match of the shadow cast on the central spire of the temple and the western entrance bridge is this visual treat, the guiding principle of which has determined in fact most of the entire construction of the complex. Devised in much astronomical and cosmic rhythm has been also many other temples of the Khmer civilisation, evident much in the wide array of astronomical symbols depicted along the lengths and breadths of their expanse in perhaps a measure in asserting the connection of the central structure with the others.
Whatever the extent of careful consideration that might have led this maverick of nature to play through the already magnificent Angkor Wat narrative, this biennial rising of the sun exactly on the peak of the main temple is another very distinctive arena of interest in which the historical site has established its spectacular image in.
This greater image of which Angkor Wat is embodying in dimensions of the purely aesthetic is a draw upon every element of its construction. And yet, somewhat distinctive happens to be the beauty brought upon this specimen of Khmer architecture by such means that emerge as extensively decorative a pursuit. Underlying religious significance continues to mark though this expression of features but it cannot be refuted that a significant proportion of the fame that this much recognised Cambodian symbol finds itself it happens to be an availing out of its carvings. Depicting some of the most significant episodes in Hinduism be it the much explored Churning of the Sea of Milk or the Battle of Kurukshetra for instance are the walls of the building. Much indispensable indeed to the entire relevance of what has propelled the world’s largest religious monument to scouting as much expansive an arena of fame are these numerous displays of which Angkor Wat is so necessarily flourishing in.
The flair of this extravagance has over time been threatened of disruption though owing to neglect and natural factors. But with multiple efforts made to restore and preserve this heritage monument, both before and after its attaining the UNESCO status has ensured that the modern world does not lose out on any detail of what this structure of massive symbolism has always been. Cambodia might indeed be the most rightful entity claiming pride in its treasure of the Angkor Wat but such is the charm of its multifaceted ruling that inspires awe from all sects of people even in its much popularised religious basis.