The grand entrances to Angkor Thom are adorned by the four sided Bayon-style buddha head and depict the ‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ by demons and gods. In hinduism, the tale of ‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ also called Samudra Manthan in sanskrit, is one of the most famous episodes from the Vishnu Purana. The demons and gods on either side of the gate are churning the rope-like Vasuki, the king of serpents, to get the elixir of life – the heavenly nectar of immortality. The Bayon head on the gate as if guarding all directions, is said to be a combination of the smiling face of Jayavarmana and the meditative face of Buddha. The reflecting water from the moat in the background, like the ocean being churned, makes the whole mythological scene come alive. There are elephant ride for tourists through the ancient city, the way Kings at those times would go about the streets of Angkor.
The Khmer Empire, one of the most powerful empires in Southeast Asia flourished from around the 9th to 15th century AD. Founded by King Jayavarmana II, the whole empire covered parts of modern-day Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Malaysia. It’s greatest legacy Angkor, was the capital city during the empire’s zenith. Angkor Thom, translating to Angkor city, was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII’s empire in the late twelfth century. This ancient city was surrounded by huge walls & a moat and was one of the largest cities in its times, housing a million people! There are gates at each of the cardinal points on the city’s boundary, which lead to the center, to Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon.