ANGKOR, CAMBODIA


ANGKOR, CAMBODIA
    In the early ninth century, the powerful Khmer rulers began the construction of a massive ceremonial and administrative center in Angkor, Cambodia, located near the Siem Reap River and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. This center was realized with over 100 temples and other buildings, originally surrounded by wood housing and other timber structures long gone today. The Khmer rulers (AD 802-1220) governed a vast and powerful area that stretched from Vietnam to China to the Bay of Bengal, and Angkor itself was originally located in an agriculturally productive, militarily appropriate crossroads of their territory.
   Begun in the ninth century by Jayavarman II, the main structures date from the 12th century during the reign of the Khmer King Suryavaram II. Many scholars have argued that the selection of this particular site for such a vast complex was dictated by Hindu cosmology. Certainly, the buildings and intricate sculptural decoration confirm its astrological significance. Additionally, the main temple complex, Angkor Wat ( wat, meaning temple), is oriented west, which could mean that it was built as a funerary temple for Suryavaram II. Unlike the larger and more highly visible complex of stupas built in Bagan, located on a vast plain in Myanmar (Burma) and completed in the 11th through the 13th centuries, Angkor was swallowed up by jungle, used intermittently over the years by Buddhist monks, and rediscovered by the western world only in the 19th century.
   Angkor Wat consists of a series of structures meant to symbolize the mythic Mount Meru and is surrounded by walls that recall parts of a chain of mountains. A square moat symbolizing the cosmic ocean surrounds the entire temple complex. The complex is arrived at via an earthen bridge at the eastern, or back, entrance, or a stone bridge across the moat at the western, or front, entrance. The temple consists of a series of covered galleries that link five lotus-shaped towers arranged in a domino pattern, with the central tower rising up above the rest of the complex. The galleries reveal Hindu narratives in the form of the longest continuous bas-reliefs in the world. Hindu temples at this time were either built to recall mountains or else were in the form of galleries, and Angkor Wat demonstrates both types. Aligned on a north-south axis, the east-west coordinates are set 0.75 degrees south of a correct alignment, giving a three-day warning of the spring equinox. A cross-shaped platform is located in front of this main temple and confirms these coordinates.
   Most of the structures are made from sandstone with an unidentified mortar, and remains of gilded stucco have been found on some of the towers. Other structures include the Phnom Bakheng Temple, which is surrounded by 108 towers, a number sacred to Hindu and then Buddhist beliefs. The equally impressive and larger Angkor Thom Temple was constructed to the south of the Angkor Wat complex by Suryavaram's successor, Jayavarman VII, and this temple remained the main administrative seat of Angkor until the city was abandoned after it was sacked by the indigenous Thailandese in 1431. While much of Angkor was renovated in the 20th century, the Temple of Ta Prohm was left covered by thick tree trunks and intertwined jungle branches, the way Angkor appeared when it was rediscovered in 1860 by the French explorer Henri Mouhot.
   See also INDIAN ARCHITECTURE.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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