It’s an early day, we’re on our way to visit the grand Angkor Wat, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu ( Avatar) – the Preserver. Angkor Wat, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and am excited as its the first time, I’ll experience the spectacular sunrise at the temple. As we cross the bridge over the gigantic Angkor moat which surrounds the temple on all sides, and enter the outer gate, I can see the familiar pagodas far away, against the early morning sun rays. It’s going to be a play of silhouettes & reflections in the early morning colors but mostly against the light!
As we enter, the whole ambience changes…its more special than I imagined! There is Cambodian traditional instrumental music playing in the background and in front of me is a silhouette of Angkor Wat against a blue sky, sun peeking through the trees and its rays as if melting the water. The sun rising behind the pagodas, in the orange sky as if burning, reflecting in the pool of water. It’s a divine sight as the sun shines behind the temple creating a ethereal halo around the pagodas, and the whole scene reflecting in the pool in front. The shadows are long and the balustrades with the naga heads have a yellow glow. I am quite mesmerized by this first encounter as our guide suggests, for another perspective to the magnificent Angkor there is a 20 min ride on the hot air balloon, with over head views of the temple!
It’s a huge complex, with the temple in the center and giant gardens & water reservoirs surrounding it. This structure is so enormous in whole, with the surrounding moat as its distinct feature, that it’s visible from space!
Angkor Wat was built for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It is the best preserved temple at the site, in high classical style Khmer architecture and the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since it’s foundation – first Hindu and then Buddhist. It is the world’s largest religious building, and is an engineering marvel in those times. The documentary Ancient Megastructures : Angkor Wat shows the engineering genius of the temple. It has become a important symbol for Cambodia, appearing on it’s national flag.
The temple structure is like a pyramid shaped mountain, topped with five towers, the five pagodas representing Mount Meru which is surrounded on all sides by a huge water reservoir. Most of the visible temple is made in sandstone. The inner walls however of the main structure are made from laterite, which was covered with beautifully carved and decorated sandstone. The entire temple complex is a metaphor for the world and the universe beyond. The wat is oriented to the west rather than the east, which leads some to believe that it served as a funerary temple. It is divided into levels which become progressively exclusive, with the highest level only for the king and higher priests.
As the sun rises it becomes warmer. After a chilled coconut, we head to the main temple complex, the gates of which are guarded by sculptures of lions. The heads of most of the lion sculptures are missing. The walls with beautifully carved apsara panels are cold. There are stories of Hindu god Rama with his brothers and demon Ravana with his ten heads and the churning of the milky ocean. This is the lowest level, which was open to commoners, and general public. Stairs lead to higher levels and there are statues of deities and apsaras on the walls.
The central pagoda is the largest and highest of the five main pagodas and is at the center of the temple. The stairs to this level are more than 50 degrees steep, and was only for the king and higher priests. The local priests still chant prayers and light incense around the reclining Buddha and other statues at the temple. Walking through the gallery with the bas reliefs, we reach a huge statue of Vishnu carved in black stone.
There is a orange ornamented umbrella above him and the statue with its eight arms looks grand. The face is almost Buddha-like with it’s calm smile and eyes. Long ears and his hair do make him look Cambodian. There are other Buddha statues also at various places in the temple.
As we come out, it’s bright and i see the bluest of the blue skies. There are no clouds and the temple walls in the early morning sun look beautiful against the contrasting blue sky. The glory of Khmer empire, the Angkor Wat, of which not even an inch was left undecorated, is mostly eroded now. But being here made me realize how magnificent it actually is!
|A panorama of the Angkor Wat temple complex from inside