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One of the largest religious monuments in the world is the Angkor Way in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The translation in Khmer, Angkor Was means “City Temple.” This was not the original name given to the temple, there are no text or inscriptions as to what the temple use to be referred as.
This temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, who was one of the three main gods in the Hindu pantheon. Vishnu is known as the “Protector.” King Suryavarman II is the main patron of Angkor Was, his name translates to “protector of the sun.” Aside for being dedicated to Vishnu, the temple was built to also serve as the king’s mausoleum during his death. In 1116 C.E. the construction of the temple started, and was finished in 1150. By building the temples by the, this assured that the Khmer kings were head of the political office and claimed the protection and powers of the gods. The Hindu temples were not considered as a place of religious congregation, but a home for the gods. The kings had to provide evidence that the gods didn’t support their predecessors or enemies in order to claim the political office. There was a total of 300,000 workers in building the temple. It took 30 years to complete the construction of the temple.
There are 8 different Hindu stories that are carved in a 1,2000-square meter relief in the Angkor Wast. One of the most important story is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. It tells the story of the beginning of time and the creation of the universe, as well as the victory of good and evil. In the story, the gods are fighting the demons in order to claim order and power for the gods who lost it. The elixir of life has to be released from earth so that peace and order could be reclaimed. But in order to do that the gods and demons have to work together.
In an aerial view, you can see that the Angkor Was shows the temple is made up of enclosure wall, this separates the temple grounds from the protective moat surrounding. The proper is made up of three galleries with a central sanctuary and has five stone towers. The stone towers are supposed to represent the five mountain ranges of Mt. Meru, which is the mythical home of the gods for both Hindus and Buddhists. Architects from Southeast Asia imagined the temples being dedicated to the Hindu gods in representation of Mt. Meru. The spaces and galleries created between them and the moat are supposing represent the mountain ranges and the oceans that surrounding it. Aside from it being the home to the gods it’s also considered as the axis-mundi. Which means it is an axis that connects earth and heaven.
In some Sanskrit and Khmer texts, the religious monuments and temples especially have to be organized in a way that they are in harmony with the universe, which means that the temple should be planned in accordance to the rising sun and moon. As well as symbolizing the recurring time sequence of days, months and years. The central axis inside the temples should be aligned with the planet as well. The Angkor Was temple continues to be an important role in Cambodia, though most of the population is Buddhist. Since the 15th century, Buddhists use the temple, and many visitors will see Buddhist monks and nuns worshiping at the site. In the Cambodian flag the silhouette of the Angkor Was has been emblazoned.
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