an anatomy of magnificence

Angkor Wat is comparable to Parthenon and the Coliseum. With it’s rich culture and history you would feel its soul haunting every block of stone of its temples. After several youtube clips and books I have read prior to our trip to Cambodia, I felt that every inch of Angkor Wat’s ornate wall got a story to tell.

So here’s a walk through on the first temple that we visited.

Angkorian temples follow an architectural model. Based on a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard design for the empire’s state temples, the later plan of concentric galleries, and influences from Orissa and the Chola of Tamil Nadu, India. The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.

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Upon crossing the Moat through a royal causeway, you need to enter a gate, the outer concentric gallery. Angkor Wat is the first one that we visited. And we spent an hour drooling in front of the structure. It was a “choir of angels” moment for us.

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Outside the complex, myriads of hawkers and kids selling all sorts of knick knacks ranging from guide books to souvenir photos to framed artworks to bottled water… “ALL IN A PRICE THAT YOU CAN AFFORD! One Dollar.” Seriously, almost everything there is being sold at USD1.

TIP: Never buy water from the kids selling outside the temples. Make sure you buy them from the convenient stores or groceries near your hotel.

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We were so amazed by the place, and mind you, we are still in the outer galleries, we haven’t even entered the temple complex yet. Angkor Wat is the most popular temple in Cambodia Indochina. It is the only man made structure that is featured in a national flag.

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One prominent theme of Angkorian design is the “Apsaras”. As Rusalkis to Slavic, Valkyries to Norse, Muses and Nymphs to Greek mythology, Apsaras are female spirits of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Descriptions of the temples often distinguish between two types of depictions of female celestials: depictions of figures who are dancing or are poised to dance, which are called “Apsaras;” and depictions of figures who are standing still, facing forward, in the manner of temple guardians or custodians, which are called “Devatas.” which could be the origin of the word “Diwata” of the Filipino folklore.

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Upon entering the first Gopura (Gate) of the the outer gallery, you will be welcomed by the breathtaking view of the causeway leading to the Prasat of the temple. It was dark under the Gopura, making every entrance a “hallelujah” moment.

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Walking across the causeway felt like we are on a ritual parade which is pretty much an everyday activity during the glorious days of Angkor. It’s 100,000 sqm complex housed around 20,000 people who worked as ministers, servants and dancers, so a presence of other stone structures is not a surprise. Midway across the procession road are the “Libraries,”  no one knows if it really houses books nor what it’s real purpose are. But each of more than a hundred temples got these bilateral identical structures.

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Stone guardians resembling those of Egyptian sphinx and French Gargoyles are stationed in the cruciform bridge before entering the temple flat form.

Every temple also got a signature window colonnettes. It serves as an identity of the architectural period and a signature of the complex.

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The inner gallery is where you will find more than 1,000 square meters of bas relief depicting the great Mahabharata epic. A continues story is carved in the gallery wall around the temple, from the churning of the sea of milk to the Judgment of the dead. So we advise to brush-up on this Indian Literature before booking a flight to Siem Reap.

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Climbing up the temple flatform is not as easy as it may seem. Steps are small and piddly, less than a half of a normal stair steps and the sharp incline of around 45 degrees made climbing for people with vertigo NOT a good idea.  Oh well, they said it’s hard to climb the stairs to heaven, but the way to hell us just a slip away. Made sense.

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A ceremonial cloister of what appears to be a swimming pool can be found inside the temple. Buddhist statues are displayed inside, which made this a popular destination among pilgrims. It’s sad to see though, that the old statues are all headless, tourists in the past beheaded them to sell the artifacts to the black market. tsk tsk tsk…

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This temple served as a mausoleum of King Suryavarman II. The vast span of this complex and the grandiosity of the temple is ironically exclamated by the fact that the center of it all is just a small enclosed room right under the central prasat.

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Again, Angkor Wat is just one of more than a hundred structures in a complex as big as Los Angeles. I can’t comprehend how a strong civilization capable of building these magnificent buildings suddenly disappeared and abandoned this city that is larger than life.

Amazing, isn’t it?

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