Angkor Wat, Sanskrit for city of temples, is both the largest religious complex and one of the oldest continually used religious sites in the world. Built in the early 12th century, the entire complex is a microcosm of the Hindu universe and is considered to be the pinnacle of both Khmer construction and art work.
The moat represents the mythical oceans that surround the earth. The moat provided security from both the rising swamp water and invading armies and a source of water during the dry season. The moat construction provided the main building material, laterite. This clay-like substance can be easily carved until it dries in the sun at which point it becomes brick. Unfortunately it is very porous and not suitable for the intricate carvings for which Angkor Wat is famous. Sandstone carved from the Kulen hills 25 miles to the north east covered the laterite base giving the artisans of Angkor the perfect material for their craft. The construction of Angkor Wat required five million of tons of sand stone. It is estimated that it took three to four hundred blocks a day weighing between up to 12 tons each to meet the ambitious schedule. The stone blocks were floated on rafts and pulled to the construction site with elephants through a series of canals and rivers.
Masterful sandstone carvings decorate almost every square inch of the complex. The entrances are guarded by stone lions who’s precious metal tails were looted long ago. According to Hindu mythology Brahama, the creator, had lions as palace guards. Most of the other temples in Angkor are also guarded by stone lions. Behind the stone cats are seven headed Nagas, an underworld God and bringer of rain. The body of the snakes create the massive railings lining the walk ways.
After walking across the naga lined walkways you enter the outer galleries. The walls are adorned with thousands of square meters of carved bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs detail Hindu mythology, with the most famous scene being the creation myth, the churning the sea of milk to create the elixir of life.
Representing the sacred mountains, the home of the Asparas is the central galleries. Within this area Apsaras dance as celestial rewards, muses, and escorts to the souls lost in battle. While the Devatas serve as guardian spirits for both the temple and the sacred mountains. The four outer “mountain” peaks surround a larger central peak - this is Mount Meru, the home of the Gods.
Angkor Wat is unique in its westerly orientation, most Angkor temples face east, but the Hindu god Vishnu, for whom the temple is dedicated to, is associated with the west. The west is also the direction of death, so one of the theories is that it was meant to be a burial chamber for the builder King Suryavarman II.
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