Asian History: SE Asia
November 16th, 2013
There are thousands of wonders to be seen across this earth. Not many,
however, can compare to the archeological feat of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the
perfect combination of creative aspiration and religious devotion. Built in Cambodia, this
hydraulic city is one of the oldest, heaviest structures ever to survive almost nine-
hundred years. This great temple is the largest religious temple ever to be built. Walls
etched in culture, towers built in alignment with the stars and mountains, this truly is one
of the most fascinating temples ever to be built.
Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II, to his Hindu god, Vishnu.
Suryavarman came to the throne as King of Cambodia in 1113 after beheading his great
uncle, Dharanindravarman. It is thought that Suryavarman II built this temple as his own
tomb. Angkor Wat was Suryavarman II’s legacy, the greatest of all his accomplishments.
Sadly, he did not see it finished as he died in a campaign against Champa. His ashes
were eventually buried in the heart of Angkor Wat, as he so wished.1
“On the Road to Angkor”, a memoir written by Margret Hargreaves-Allen, tells of
Abdulgaffar Peang-Meth, “Understanding the Khmer: Sociological-Cultural Observations”. Asian Survey Journal 31 (1991): 442-455. JSTOR, www.jstor.org
one woman’s travels along what was once known as the “Royal Way”. This royal way
was a route of Khmer temples from present day Thailand (known as the Khmer Empire
in the 12th century) to Angkor. Although she does not give an exact date of her travels
to Thailand, it would seem that she visited sometime after the Vietnam War, perhaps a
few years after Angkor was open to the public. Margret travels from Bangkok to North
and South Thailand, into Laos and Cambodia, and into India as well.
Arriving at Angkor Wat one crisp December morning, Margret writes, “I am just as
much at a loss for words as Somerset Maugham was in the late 1020’s, when he wrote
The Gentleman in the Parlour and reached Angkor after a tortuous journey, mostly by
boat. . . .To compose a symphony of words to accompany such an architectural
apparition, to reproduce it on a page, is quite beyond my capacity...”.2
Angkor Wat was built by three-hundred Khmer people who used six-thousand
Elephants to erect this five-hundred acre temple. The temple is surrounded by a 656
foot wide moat, the perimeter of which is 3.4 miles. This moat symbolizes the oceans
Margret Hargreaves-Allen, On the Road to Angkor (Nebraska: iUniverse, 2007), 91-92
encircling Mount Meru, the mythical home of Hindu gods. The temple rests on tons
of sand, under which is water. The builders used a high level of water management to
allow the temple to make the moat, as well as local reservoirs and canals to let more or
less water into the area to keep the temple ground steady in the monsoon season.
Essentially being one of the most ancient and original hydraulic temples ever to be built.
Sandstone blocks were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than
thirty-one miles away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts.3
Entering the temple, Margret and her companions are guided to view the famed
Bas-Reliefs carved in the sandstone that cover the walls. Underneath the sandstone
was a tough material called laterite to support the temple itself. Carved in the walls are
the history of the Khmer. The Bas-Reliefs contain everything from Suryavarman II, his
wives, and Hindu gods, to a depiction of men administering massage abortions to
women. There are also scenes from the Ramayana, and Mahabharata, two great Indian
epics. The most famous Bas-Relief of Angkor is known as “The Churning of the Ocean
Robert Stenchel, Fred Gifford and Eleanor Morón. “Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor Wat,” Science Magazine, New Series Vol 193, No.4250...
Bibliography: Hargreaves-Allen, Margret. On the Road to Angkor. Nebraska: iUniverse, 2007.
Kak, Subhash. "The solar numbers in Angkor Wat." arXiv preprint physics/9811040
Roberts, Tyson R. "Fish scenes, symbolism, and kingship in the bas-reliefs of Angkor
Wat and the Bayon." Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society 50 (2002):
Robert Stencel, Fred Gifford and Eleanor Morón. “Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor
Wat.” Science , New Series, Vol. 193, No. 4250 (Jul. 23, 1976), pp. 281-287.
Peang-Meth, Abdulgaffar. “Understanding the Khmer: Sociological-Cultural
Observations” Asian Survey Journal 31 (1991): 442-44.
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