Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Ancient Temple Of Angkor Wat

There are two great complexes of ancient temples in Southeast Asia, one at Bagan in Burma, the other at Angkor in Cambodia.
The temples of Angkor, crafted by the Khmer civilization between 802 and 1220 AD, represent one of humankind's most astonishing architectural achievements.
From Angkor the Khmer kings ruled over a vast domain, which reached from Vietnam to China to the Bay of Bengal. The structures one sees at Angkor today, more than 100 stone temples, are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings - palaces, public buildings, and houses - were built of wood and are long since decayed and gone.
Conventional theories presume the lands where Angkor stands were chosen as a settlement site because of their strategic military position and agricultural potential. Other scholars however, believe the geographical location of the Angkor complex and the arrangement of its temples was based on a planet-spanning sacred geography from archaic times.
Using computer simulations it has been shown that the ground plan of the Angkor complex – the terrestrial placement of its principal temples - mirrors the stars in the constellation of Draco at the time of spring equinox in 10,500 BC. While the date of this astronomical alignment is far earlier than any known construction at Angkor, it appears that its purpose was to architecturally mirror the heavens in order to assist in the harmonization of the earth and the stars.
Both the layout of the Angkor temples and iconographic nature of much its sculpture are also intended to indicate the celestial phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes and the slow transition from one astrological age to another.
Angkor Wat on the Cambodian Flag
At the temple of Phnom Bakheng there are 108 surrounding towers. The number 108, considered sacred in both Hindu and Buddhist cosmologies, is the sum of 72 plus 36 (36 being ½ of 72). The number 72 is a primary number in the sequence of numbers linked to the earth's axial precession, which causes the apparent alteration in the position of the constellations over the period of 25,920 years, or one degree every 72 years. Another mysterious fact about the Angkor complex is its location 72 degrees of longitude east of the Pyramids of Giza. The temples of Bakong, Prah Ko and Prei Monli at Roluos, south of the main Angkor complex, are situated in relation to each other in such a way that they mirror the three stars in the Corona Borealis as they appeared at dawn on the spring equinox in 10,500 BC. It is interesting to note that the Corona Borealis would not have been visible from these temples during the 10th and 11th centuries when they were constructed.
Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century by Suryavaram II, honors the Hindu god Vishnu and is a symbolic representation of Hindu cosmology. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its five inter-nested rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and the cosmic ocean. The short dimensions of the vast compound are precisely aligned along a north-south axis, while the east-west axis has been deliberately diverted 0.75 degrees south of east and north of west, seemingly in order to give observers a three day anticipation of the spring equinox.
Unlike other temples at Angkor, Ta Prohm has been left as it was found, preserved as an example of what a tropical forest will do to an architectural monument when the protective hands of humans are withdrawn. Ta Prohm's walls, roofs, chambers and courtyards have been sufficiently repaired to stop further deterioration and the inner sanctuary has been cleared of bushes and thick undergrowth. But the temple itself has been left in the stranglehold of trees. Having planted themselves centuries ago, the tree's serpentine roots pry apart the ancient stones and their immense trunks straddle the once bustling Buddhist temple. Built in the later part of the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, Ta Prohm is the terrestrial counterpart of the star Eta Draconis the Draco constellation.
During half-millennia of Khmer occupation, the city of Angkor became a pilgrimage destination of importance throughout Southeastern Asia. Sacked by the Thais in 1431 and abandoned in 1432, Angkor was forgotten for a few centuries. Wandering Buddhist monks passing through the dense jungles occasionally came upon the awesome ruins. Recognizing the sacred nature of the temples but ignorant of their origins they invented fables about the mysterious sanctuaries, saying they had been built by the gods in a far ancient time. Centuries passed, these fables became legends, and pilgrims from the distant reaches of Asia sought out the mystic city of the gods. A few adventurous European travelers knew of the ruins and stories circulated in antiquarian circles of a strange city lost in the jungles. Most people believed the stories to be nothing more than legend however, until the French explorer Henri Mouhot brought Angkor to the world's attention in 1860. The French people were enchanted with the ancient city and beginning in 1908 conducted an extensive restoration project. The restoration has continued to the present day, excepting periods in the 70's and 80's when military fighting prevented archaeologists from living near the ruins.
Orthodox archaeologists sometimes interpret the temples of the Angkor complex as tombs of megalomaniacal kings yet in reality those kings designed and constructed the temples as a form of service to both god and their own subjects. The temples were places not for the worship of the kings but rather for the worship of god. Precisely aligned with the stars, constructed as vast three dimensional meditational forms and adorned with stunningly beautiful religious art, the Angkor temples were instruments for assisting humans in their realization of the divine.
Jayavaram VII, spoke of his intentions in erecting temples as being "full of deep sympathy for the good of the world, so as to bestow on men the ambrosia of remedies to win them immortality…. By virtue of these good works would that I might rescue all those who are struggling in the ocean of existence."
An Entrance At Angkot Wat
Built between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, and encompassing an area of about 500 acres (200 hectares), Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed. Its name means “temple city.”
Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, it was converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and statues of Buddha were added to its already rich artwork. 
Its 213-foot-tall (65 meters) central tower is surrounded by four smaller towers and a series of enclosure walls, a layout that recreates the image of Mount Meru, a legendary place in Hindu mythology that is said to lie beyond the Himalayas and be the home of the gods. 
The city where the temple was built, Angkor, is located in modern-day Cambodia and was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. This city contains hundreds of temples. The population may have been over 1 million people. It was easily the largest city in the world until the Industrial Revolution. 

Recent research using airborne laser scanning (lidar) has shown that Angkor contains an urban core that could have held 500,000 people and a vast hinterland that could have held many more inhabitants. Researchers have also identified a ‘lost’ city called Mahendraparvata, which is located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Angkor Wat.  
Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a 650-foot-wide (200 m) moat that encompasses a perimeter of more than 3 miles (5 km). This moat is 13 feet deep (4 m) and would have helped stabilize the temple’s foundation, preventing groundwater from rising too high or falling too low.
Angkor Wat’s main entrance was to the west (a direction associated with Vishnu) across a stone causeway, with guardian lions marking the way. To the east of the temple was a second, more modest, entrance.  
The heart of the temple was the central tower, entered by way of a steep staircase, a statue of Vishnu at top. This tower “was at once the symbolic center of the nation and the actual center where secular and sacred power joined forces,” writes researcher Eleanor Mannikka in the book "Angkor: Celestial Temples of the Khmer Empire" (Abbeville Press, 2002). “From that unparalleled space, Vishnu and the king ruled over the Khmer people.”

Hidden paintings have recently been discovered in the central tower. One chamber in the tower has a scene showing a traditional Khmer musical ensemble known as the pinpeat, which is made up of different gongs, xylophones, wind instruments and other percussion instruments. In the same chamber, there's also an intricate scene featuring people riding horses between two structures, which might be temples. These two paintings are among 200 that have been recently been discovered in Angkor Wat.  

The builder of Angkor Wat was a king named Suryavarman II. A usurper, he came to power in his teenage years by killing his great uncle, Dharanindravarman I, while he was riding an elephant. An inscription says that Suryavarman killed the man “as Garuda [a mythical bird] on a mountain ledge would kill a serpent.”
Suryavarman’s bloodlust would continue into his rule; he launched attacks into Vietnam in an effort to gain control over the territory. He also made peaceful diplomatic advances, re-opening relations which China.
He venerated the god Vishnu, a deity often depicted as a protector, and installed a statue of the god in Angkor Wat’s central tower. This devotion can also be seen in one of the most remarkable reliefs at Angkor Wat, located in the southeast of the temple. The relief shows a chapter in the Hindu story of creation known as the “churning of the sea of milk.”
As archaeologist Michael Coe writes, the relief “describes how the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) churned the ocean under the aegis of Vishnu, to produce the divine elixir of immortality,” ("Angkor and the Khmer Civilization," Thames & Hudson, 2003). Scholars consider this relief to be one of the finest art pieces at Angkor Wat.

Suryavarman’s devotion to Vishnu is also shown in the posthumous name he was given, “Paramavishnuloka” which, according to researcher Hélène Legendre-De Koninck, means “he who is in the supreme abode of Vishnu.” ("Angkor Wat: A Royal Temple," VDG, 2001). 
Building Angkor Wat was an enormous undertaking that involved quarrying, careful artistic work and lots of digging. To create the moat around the temple, 1.5 million cubic meters (53 million cubic feet) of sand and silt were moved, a task that would have required thousands of people working at one time.
The buildings at Angkor Wat posed their own challenges. To support them a tough material called laterite was used, which in turn was encased with softer sandstone that was used for carving the reliefs. These sandstone blocks were quarried at the Kulen Hills, about 18 miles (30 km) to the north. Recent research proves that they were transported to the site by a series of canals.
Beneath the central tower was a shaft that leads to a chamber where, in 1934, archaeologists found “two pieces of crystal and two gold leaves far beneath where the Vishnu statue must have been,” Coe writes, adding that deposits like these “spiritually ‘energized’ a temple, much as a battery will provide power to a portable electronic device.”
Although Angkor Wat is dedicated to Vishnu, the full purpose of the temple is still debated. One question is whether the ashes of Suryavarman II were interred in the monument, perhaps in the same chamber where the deposits were found. If that were the case it would give the temple a funerary meaning.
Eleanor Mannikka has noted that Angkor Wat is located at 13.41 degrees north in latitude and that the north-south axis of the central tower’s chamber is 13.43 cubits long. This, Mannikka believes, is not an accident. “In the central sanctuary, Vishnu is not only placed at the latitude of Angkor Wat, he is also placed along the axis of the earth,” she writes, pointing out that the Khmer knew the Earth was round.

In addition, in her writing, Mannikka notes a dozen lunar alignments with Angkor Wat’s towers, suggesting that it served an important astronomical role. “During the long and clear Cambodian nights, when the stars filled every inch of the black sky, the astronomer-priests stood on the long western causeway ...  and recorded the movements of the moon against the towers in the top two galleries of the temple.”  
Pictures of Angkor Wat

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