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October 09, 2004

Angk or Wot?


Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking, a stunning symbol of man's devotion to his gods. We had purposely left it till last having heard stories of people who had seen it first and found the rest of the temples a little disappointing. It was worth the wait.

Angkor Wat is the largest monument in the region (Angkor Thom being a city rather than a monument) and is also the best preserved having never been abandoned to the elements. When the French explorer Henri Mouhot "discovered" it in 1868 it was "a prosperous monastery ... tended by more than 1000 heredity slaves". It differs from the rest of the monuments in that it is oriented to the west (symbolically the direction of death) rather than the east and may have functioned as both a temple and a mausoleum for it's builder, Suryavarman II (reigned 1112-52). Angkor Wat is a massive three tiered pyramid, crowned by five bee-hive like towers rising 65m from ground level. It is surrounded by an exterior wall and 190m wide moat measuring 1.5 x 1.3 kilometres. Symbolically it represents the mythical Mount Meru (home of Shiva) and the spatial dimensions of the temple parallel the length of the four ages of classical Hindu thought, meaning as you walk from the entrance to the the final central peak you are metaphorically travelling back to the creation of the universe. The first approach as you enter the causeway is a spine-tingling moment as the imposing 2 dimensional silhouette gradually takes a three dimensional appearance revealing it's startling scale (check out the dress and heels). The walls of the temple are covered inside and out with with the finest bas reliefs and carvings in the area. Over 2000 Apsara (heavenly nymphs), historical battles and Hindu myths are rendered on a grand scale in intricate detail, the most famous being the amazing "Churning of the Ocean of Milk" (see below).
We walked around the temple marvelling at the skill of the stone masons, the sheer size of the temple (even the minor temples are big) and the atmosphere, before heading towards the centre. The stairs to the final level are immensely steep (to emphasise the difficulty of reaching heaven) and watching nimble monks bound up and down them in sandals was certainly impressive. I spent about a hour and a half at the summit watching the clouds float by and soaking up the energy of this undeniably holy place. When I finally came down (from the tower) I had found a profound sense of peace that would stay with me for days as well as a feeling that somehow, part of me had been there before and would always remain.

Posted by Zach & Emily on October 9, 2004 01:31 AM
Category: CAMBODIA
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