The Religious Symbolism and Architecture of Angkor Wat and Borobudur

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  • Topic: Buddhism, Angkor Wat, Temple
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  • Published : November 29, 2010
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Built by the Khmers between 802 and 1220 AD, the ancient temples of Angkor Wat exist as the remaining relics of a historically and religiously rich city. While many other historical and religious structures in Cambodia have disappeared due in part from being constructed out of vulnerable materials like wood, Angkor Wat still remains as a symbol of the divinity of its former kings, as well as for the palace itself. Likewise, Indonesia’s Borodubur temples exist as the single remaining structures of the city. The temples of Angkor Wat and Borodubur hold several similarities within architecture and symbolism, both being heavily based on religious belief. However, different features within both structures, architecturally and symbolically, distinguish and provide insight into the individual cultures.

Significance of Hinduism, Astronomy, and Cosmology In Angkor Wat Architecture With Hinduism serving as the prevailing religion of Cambodia, the temples of Angkor Wat serve as a visual bridge between the terrestrial plane and the spiritual one. The temples of Ankgor Wat uses architectural features in order represent various ideas of Hindu Cosmology; “The walls, moats, central sanctuary, entrances, pyramidal temples and bridges with naga balustrades, and monuments such as the Neak Pean, or Bayon,” all contribute to the re-creation of the heavenly world on Earth. By re-creating this, Earth and the heavenly world are entwined; creating a bond between the two worlds that allows humanity to flourish. In constructing Angkor Wat to represent religious beliefs, the Khmer people literally built heaven on Earth. By creating a tangible representation of what is believed to have happened in the past, the past becomes more real and more concrete to viewers and believers alike. In order to honor the Hindu God Vishnu, Suryavaram II built Angkor Wat during the early years of the 12th century, around 1150 B.C. Structurally, the central building of Angkor Wat is serves as a re-creation of Mount Meru, the mountain that the center of the Jambudvipa within Hindu cosmology as well as being considered the axis of the Earth by the Hindu religion. The central mammoth of a tower represents Mount Meru, and uniquely faces west instead of east towards the sunrise, as all other temples do. Several theories explain why the temple faces west; the first theory being that the west is associated with Vishnu. In facing the temple west, the temple continues to serve as a means of honoring Vishnu. The second theory states that King Suryavarman intended Angkor Wat to serve as his funerary temple while a the third theory explains that the alignment of the central tower with the sun adds another dimension to the divinity of the temple. Ankgor Wat’s architecture does not only exhibit its religious roots, but also displays the importance of astronomy and cosmology. It “contains calendrical, historical, and mythological data encoded into its measurements.” Because solar movement regulates the position of the bas-reliefs, the architecture exhibits the importance of the sun to the Cambodians. The Cambodians built the structure of Angkor Wat to align directly with the sun during the spring equinox, “where the sun can be seen rising over the central tower.” Although no concurrent reason exists as to why the sun is so important to the Cambodians, what can be said is that the sun was so significant to the Cambodians, that they not only based their calendar on the solar and lunar cycles, but they constructed their King’s palace, a place of great importance that connects the heavens with Earth, to align with the sun. The five central towers of Ankgor Wat that stand 77 meters tall hold religious significance as well. These five inter-nested rectangular towers represent five peaks of the mountain Meru. Also, the moat surrounding the central temple that measures 190 meters wide symbolizes the cosmic ocean that existed before the dawn of creation, and the...
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