December 31, 2015

The Ruins of Angkor - 3 - Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat, that we have described in the previous post, was primarily a temple complex measuring 1.2 km x 1.2 km. Angkor Thom on the other hand, was a city, the capital city of the Angkor empire with a walled area of approximately 3 km x 3 km.  This city was built in the 12th century by Suryavarman VII and his successors who lived there till the eventual collapse of the Angkor empire. As a city it had multiple palaces, numerous temples and many other structures.

Like all Angkor structures, Angkor Thom is surrounded by a moat, walls and four gates (plus one funeral gate for dead bodies)

This is where we enter the city through the South Gate. [ Please click on the images to enlarge them]

These large faces are characteristic of Angkor Thom

The moat is crossed over a causeway that has a row of Gods on one side and a row of Demons, Asuras, on the other

At the centre of the city is the temple of Bayon, that is a similar to Angkor Wat but smaller. Also the most interesting feature of the Bayon Temple is the large Chaturanan, Four Faced, Brahma statues.

Inside the temple there are many beautifully sculptured panels depicting the lives of the Khmer people and a few well preserved statues of the Buddha

But the really interesting part of the Bayon temple are the large faces of Brahma that are everywhere

There are hundreds of temples and structures within the city limits of Angkor Thom and one such structure is the Elephant Terrace, a kind of amphitheatre, used by the king to review his soldiers, celebrate festivals and for any large public gathering.

Most of the carvings are that of elephants except the one below, where we see Garuda

ropes stretched between towers like this were used by tightrope walkers, and below we see the three headed elephant, Airawat, used by Indra

and finally we have the Royal Crematorium, used by the King and his family. All other corpses were cremated outside the city limits

December 29, 2015

The Ruins of Angkor - 2 - Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of the architectural monuments built by the Vaishnav kings of Angkor in what is now Cambodia. In the previous post we have seen how the ruins looked like when they were first "discovered" by Europeans in the 19th century and here we see how the great temple looks like today.

Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II in the 12th century, between 1113 and 1150 AD, and it represents the Hindu world view. At the centre is the main temple, 65 metres high, and represents Mount Meru, the centre of the Universe. This is where the main Vishnu idol was installed but it was subsequently moved, though not destroyed, by subsequent Buddhist kings.

 Surrounding this temple are two layers of terraces containing bas relief panels depicting the story of Ramayana, Mahabharat, tales from the Puraanas and stories from the life of the king. The outer wall of the temple spans an area of 1 km x 1 km square and then you have a huge moat, filled with water, that represents the Ocean that surrounds the world.

the moat

the moat is crossed over a causeway decorated with the lion, the symbol of India, and the snake, the symbol of the Naaga dynasty of the ancient Khmers

most of the Serpent icons are destroyed. Here is one that is quite intact

this is the outer wall, just inside the moat. 

approaching the temple, the five spires are now visible clearly

the bas-relief figures are in the terraces seen above

These are scenes from the Ramayana

Next we cross over to the Mahabharata side of the terrace

and we spotted Bhisma on his bed of arrows

and possibly Arjun, piloted by Lord Krishna

this shows the three worlds -- Heaven, Earth and Hell

images of the king Suryavarman - II

and Samudra Manthan -- a recurring theme in these areas

then the steep climb to the top of Mount Meru! 

view from level 3, looking down at the courtyard of level 2

this is where the Vishnu idol stood, now displaced by a Buddha statue

view from the top, looking out to the front gate, 500m away

The Nat Mandir

one of the Apsara in close up. Most of these have been extensively vandalised and stolen during the years of chaos following the Vietnam war and the Pol Pot regime

climbing up and down Mount Meru

One of the few surviving Buddha statues

One last look as we depart.

Angkor Wat, being the largest and most well known temple of the Angkor kings has been vandalised the most. In a subsequent post, there will be pictures of smaller, lesser known temples (Bantaey Samre or Shyam Rai) where many of the idols are well preserved.