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Lintel, Kapilapura in Angkor, Cambodia, 11th century CE, sandstone. Made with CapturingReality.
Indra, god of the storm and guardian of the East, is riding his horse, the three-headed elephant Airavata.
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Angkor Wat ( / ˌ æ ŋ k ɔːr ˈ w ɒ t / Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត , lit. 'temple city / city of temples'  ), located in northwest Cambodia, is the largest religious structure (temple complex) in the world by land area,  measuring 162.6 hectares (1.626 km 2 402 acres).  At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of four towers surrounding a central spire that rises to a height of 65 m (213 ft) above the ground.  The temple has three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. It lies within an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long and a moat more than 5 kilometres (3 mi) long 
The temple was built at the behest of King Suryavarman II  in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura ( យសោធរបុរៈ , present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as the state temple for the empire.   Originally constructed as a personal mausoleum for Suryaman, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu in the early 12th century, it was converted to a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.  
Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west. Scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of its architecture, extensive bas-reliefs, and statues of Buddhas and Devas that adorn its walls.
As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in Cambodia and around the world.  It has become a symbol of Cambodia,  appearing on its national flag, and it is the country's main tourist attraction.  Angkor Wat played a major role in converting Cambodia into a Buddhist nation. 
Kulen Style (825 - 875)
The Khmer Empire was not born at Angkor, but on top of the mountain of Kulen, when Jayavarman II declared independence from the Javanese. Today, many of these original structures are little more than piles of bricks hidden deep in the mountain jungles. Thanks to LIDAR laser technology, however, scientists have been learning a lot about these early settlements in recent years.
For now, there’s not a whole lot to see of these original structures on Kulen. Generally speaking, though, the temples from this period typically consisted of simple layouts of a single prasat. The ‘colonettes’ of the doors (more below) started to transition from their circular to octagonal shape that would be common throughout most periods of Angkorian architecture. Meanwhile, the ‘lintel’ carvings showed strong Javanese influence.
The mysterious carvings of Kbal Spean, located on Mt. Kulen
Indra, Kapilapura Lintel, Angkor - History
A lintel piece from the temples of Kapilapura is aclue to the vast puzzle to be pieced together as part of an ongoing task of identifying and preserving the origins of the Ankorean history.
SIEM REAP - At first there is not much to see the dirt road is one of many that
snakes through Angkor. Only a slight rise in the surface of the road hints at what
Christophe Pottier already knew was there.
"This is a temple," he exclaims almost jokingly while gesturing toward
The side of the road holds proof of the ancient structure's existence as Pottier,
an architect from the French Institute for Far Eastern Studies (EFEO), picks up a
fist-sized chunk of rock and examines it. On its corner are the unmistakable curves
Pottier first saw this previously uncharted temple, and hundreds more, from the air.
A specialist in monumental structures, he identifies buried temples using aerial
photographs that reveal remains not easily seen from the ground.
The most common feature he looks for in the photos is a trapeang, a rectangular man-made
water reservoir that is similar to the giant barays constructed on the west and east
sides of Angkor that were the center of an astoundingly advanced irrigation system.
It is unclear whether trapeangs were also used for irrigation, but it is quite certain
that they were almost always built next to temples, which were often surrounded by
moats. To the west of many of the trapeangs are the horseshoe-shaped remains of the
moats. At their centers lie hidden temples.
While charting about 400 previously known sites of ruins, the EFEO team in Siem Reap
has identified 200 new sites along the way. The work grabbed international attention
earlier this year when NASA promoted its radar-imaging systems at a February press
conference by showcasing the space agency's assistance to archeologists surveying
NASA first took radar images of Angkor from the space shuttle in 1996. A year later,
more detailed images were taken by plane.
NASA's radar imaging technology bounces radar waves off the planet from above to
measure changes in elevation. The end results are extremely precise topographical
maps. With the help of the images several sites of ruins near Siem Reap have been
located by Elizabeth Moore, head of the Department of Art and Archeology at London's
School of Oriental and African Studies, including a football-field site 30km away
Radar images taken by the US space agency NASA brought this 10th century temple to the attention of archeologist Elizabeth Moore. Statues found at the site have led her to believe that the Hindu deity Vishnu was of particular importance in early Angkorian religious rituals.
But unfortunately for the EFEO office in Siem Reap, no computers exist in Cambodia
that are advanced enough to process the radar images. Instead the team has done the
majority of its work using old-fashioned aerial photography taken in 1992.
Moore and EFEO have nonetheless worked together to explore the less-obvious structures
of Angkor. Most of the buried temples are older and smaller than the intact structures
that draw thousands of tourists to Cambodia every year. The large site discovered
by Moore is the exception rather than the rule.
Yet the sites should not be discounted for their size. One almost forgotten temple,
Kapilapura, caught the eye of Moore as she studied the radar images. The 10th century
structure, first seen by Westerners nearly a century ago, is the home of the misnomered
"Inscription of Angkor Wat", which revealed a wealth of information about
the builders of Angkor after it was discovered. Angkor Wat itself was built about
200 years after the inscription was written.
Archeologists date the beginning of the Angkor period at 802AD, when King Jayavarman
II first unified a large number of settlements and held an extravagant ceremony at
Phnom Kulen. Even older pre-Angkorian sites have been found but not thoroughly explored
because current research funding is earmarked for the Angkor period.
Kapilapura dates to the first of three Angkorian cities. The ancient metropolis was
believed to be centered around Phnom Bakheng, best known for the view of the sunset
it offers to modern-day tourists.
The renewed interest in Kapilapura may also have shed more light on the religious
practices of ancient Khmers.
Several statues of the Hindu god Vishnu were found on the site in the 1920s when
it was first excavated. Their presence suggests to Moore that the deity may have
had special significance in early Angkorian rituals.
"In this particular case, an existing feature that was highlighted to an incredible
degree by the radar has yielded what are, for me, really exciting archaeological
implications about the evolution of the city," Moore said at the NASA press
From the ground the only hint of this buried temple is a few laterite blocks poking through the earth.
Kapilapura is now being recleared with the help of the International Labor Organization
(ILO) for further study. About 20 Cambodians were removing vegetation from the site
Sept 8. The temple will then be maintained to halt the damage the growth, and regrowth
since it was first found, has wrought.
Pottier explained that letting the site be reclaimed by mother nature only to clear
it again accelerates its slow decomposition.
"Clearing is fine, but you must take care," he said. "Each time you
clear you lose some elements. It's like a bass relief, every time you brush it, you
Famous Quotes About Angkor Wat Architecture
One of the first Western visitors to the temple was António da Madalena, a Portuguese friar who visited in 1586 and said that it
“is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”
In 1860, the temple was effectively rediscovered by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot, who popularised the site in the West through the publication of travel notes, in which he wrote:
One of these temples, a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo, might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.
Angkor Wat is part of a representation of the constellation Draco.
Researcher Eleanor Mannikka argues that the structure represents a claimed new era of peace under King Suryavarman II:
“as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king’s power and to honour and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above.”
Aerial view of the central structure in front of the central structure lies the cruciform terrace.
The modern name, Angkor Wat (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត alternative name: នគរវត្ត ),  means "Temple City" or "City of Temples" in Khmer. Angkor ( អង្គរ ) meaning "city" or "capital city", is a vernacular form of the word nokor ( នគរ ), which comes from the Sanskrit/Pali word nagara (Devanāgarī: नगर).  Wat ( វត្ត ) is the Khmer word for "temple grounds", also derived from Sanskrit/Pali vāṭa (Devanāgarī: वाट), meaning "enclosure". 
The original name of the temple was Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka means god palce which comes from the Sanskrit/Pali , Vishnu one of the three supreme god in hindus , which was the posthumous name of its royal founder.  
Angkor Wat lies 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred at Baphuon. In an area of Cambodia where there is an essential group of ancient structures, it is the southernmost of Angkor's main sites. [ citation needed ]
According to a myth, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to serve as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea.  According to the 13th-century Chinese traveller Zhou Daguan, some believed that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect. 
The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150 ). Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. It was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as "Varah Vishnu-lok" after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished.  The term Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka literally means "The king who has gone to the supreme world of Vishnu", which refer to Suryavarman II posthumously and intend to venerate his glory and memory. 
In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer.  Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon, respectively), a few kilometers north, dedicated to Buddhism, because the king believed that the Hindu gods had failed him. Angkor Wat was therefore also gradually converted into a Buddhist site, and many Hindu sculptures were replaced by Buddhist art. 
Towards the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed from a Hindu centre of worship to Buddhism, which continues to the present day.  Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was largely neglected after the 16th century, it was never completely abandoned.  Fourteen inscriptions dated from the 17th century, discovered in the Angkor area, testify to Japanese Buddhist pilgrims that had established small settlements alongside Khmer locals.  At that time, the temple was thought by the Japanese visitors to be the famed Jetavana garden of the Buddha, which was originally located in the kingdom of Magadha, India.  The best-known inscription tells of Ukondayu Kazufusa, who celebrated the Khmer New Year at Angkor Wat in 1632. 
One of the first Western visitors to the temple was António da Madalena, a Portuguese friar who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of." 
In 1860, the temple was effectively rediscovered by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot, who popularised the site in the West through the publication of travel notes, in which he wrote:
One of these temples, a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo, might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged. 
There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement, including cooking utensils, weapons, or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Instead, there is only evidence of the monuments themselves. 
The artistic legacy of Angkor Wat and other Khmer monuments in the Angkor region led directly to France adopting Cambodia as a protectorate on 11 August 1863 and invading Siam to take control of the ruins. This quickly led to Cambodia reclaiming lands in the northwestern corner of the country that had been under Siamese (Thai) control since AD 1351 (Manich Jumsai 2001), or by some accounts, AD 1431. 
Angkor Wat's aesthetics were on display in the plaster cast museum of Louis Delaporte called musée Indo-chinois which existed in the Parisian Trocadero Palace from c.1880 to the mid-1920s. 
The 20th century saw a considerable restoration of Angkor Wat.  Gradually teams of laborers and archeologists pushed back the jungle and exposed the expanses of stone, permitting the sun to once again illuminate the dark corners of the temple. Angkor Wat caught the attention and imagination of a wider audience in Europe when the pavilion of French protectorate of Cambodia, as part of French Indochina, recreated the life-size replica of Angkor Wat during Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931. 
Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat since that time. It is safe to say that from the colonial period onwards until the site's nomination as UNESCO World Heritage in 1992, this specific temple of Angkor Wat was instrumental in the formation of the modern and gradually globalised concept of built cultural heritage. 
Restoration work was interrupted by the Cambodian Civil War and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period. Camping Khmer Rouge forces used whatever wood remained in the building structures for firewood, and a shoot-out between Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces put a few bullet holes in a bas relief. Far more damage was done after the wars, by art thieves working out of Thailand, which, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, claimed almost every head that could be lopped off the structures, including reconstructions. 
The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride that has factored into Cambodia's diplomatic relations with France, the United States, and its neighbour Thailand. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863.  From a larger historical and even transcultural perspective, however, the temple of Angkor Wat did not become a symbol of national pride sui generis but had been inscribed into a larger politico-cultural process of French-colonial heritage production in which the original temple site was presented in French colonial and universal exhibitions in Paris and Marseille between 1889 and 1937. 
In December 2015, it was announced that a research team from University of Sydney had found a previously unseen ensemble of buried towers built and demolished during the construction of Angkor Wat, as well as a massive structure of unknown purpose on its south side and wooden fortifications. The findings also include evidence of low-density residential occupation in the region, with a road grid, ponds, and mounds. These indicate that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been used exclusively by the priestly elite, as was previously thought. The team used LiDAR, ground-penetrating radar and targeted excavation to map Angkor Wat. 
Site and plan Edit
Angkor Wat is a unique combination of the temple mountain (the standard design for the empire's state temples) and the later plan of concentric galleries. The construction of Angkor Wat also suggests that there was a celestial significance with certain features of the temple. This is observed in the temple's east–west orientation, and lines of sight from terraces within the temple that show specific towers to be at the precise location of the sunrise on a solstice.  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 symbolize the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.  Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level. 
The Angkor Wat temple's main tower aligns to the morning sun of the spring equinox.   Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. This has led many (including Maurice Glaize and George Coedès) to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple.   Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction—prasavya in Hindu terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services.  The archaeologist Charles Higham also describes a container which may have been a funerary jar which was recovered from the central tower.  It has been nominated by some as the greatest expenditure of energy on the disposal of a corpse.  Freeman and Jacques, however, note that several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat's alignment was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west. 
Drawing on the temple's alignment and dimensions, and on the content and arrangement of the bas-reliefs, researcher Eleanor Mannikka argues that the structure represents a claimed new era of peace under King Suryavarman II: "as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king's power and to honour and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above."   Mannikka's suggestions have been received with a mixture of interest and scepticism in academic circles.  She distances herself from the speculations of others, such as Graham Hancock, that Angkor Wat is part of a representation of the constellation Draco. 
Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime has been suggested. 
The temple has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity, and style." 
Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival, redented towers shaped like lotus buds half-galleries to broaden passageways axial galleries connecting enclosures and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple. Typical decorative elements are devatas (or apsaras), bas-reliefs, and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes. The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work.  Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors. 
Outer enclosure Edit
The outer wall, 1,024 m (3,360 ft) by 802 m (2,631 ft) and 4.5 m (15 ft) high, is surrounded by a 30 m (98 ft) apron of open ground and a moat 190 m (620 ft) wide and over 5 kilometres (3 mi) in perimeter.  The moat extends 1.5 kilometres from east to west and 1.3 kilometres from north to south.  Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly replacing a wooden bridge.  There are gopuras at each of the cardinal points the western is by far the largest and has three ruined towers. Glaize notes that this gopura both hides and echoes the form of the temple proper.  Under the southern tower is a statue known as Ta Reach, originally an eight-armed statue of Vishnu may have occupied the temple's central shrine.  Galleries run between the towers and as far as two further entrances on either side of the gopura often referred to as "elephant gates", as they are large enough to admit those animals. These galleries have square pillars on the outer (west) side and a closed wall on the inner (east) side. The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes the west face of the wall with dancing figures and the east face of the wall with balustered windows, dancing male figures on prancing animals, and devatas, including (south of the entrance) the only one in the temple to be showing her teeth.
The outer wall encloses a space of 820,000 square metres (203 acres), which besides the temple proper was originally occupied by the city and, to the north of the temple, the royal palace. Like all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except the outlines of some of the streets.  Most of the area is now covered by forest. A 350 m (1,150 ft) causeway connects the western gopura to the temple proper, with naga balustrades and six sets of steps leading down to the city on either side. Each side also features a library with entrances at each cardinal point, in front of the third set of stairs from the entrance, and a pond between the library and the temple itself. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is the cruciform terrace guarded by lions connecting the causeway to the central structure. 
Central structure Edit
The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is made of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower, each level higher than the last. The two inner galleries each have four large towers at their ordinal corners (that is, NW, NE, SE and SW) surrounding a higher fifth tower. This pattern is sometimes called a quincunx and represents the mountains of Meru. Because the temple faces west, the features are all set back towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure and gallery on the west side for the same reason the west-facing steps are shallower than those on the other sides.
Mannikka interprets the galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma, the moon, and Vishnu.  Each gallery has a gopura at each of the points. The outer gallery measures 187 m (614 ft) by 215 m (705 ft), with pavilions rather than towers at the corners. The gallery is open to the outside of the temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the structure. Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (meaning "The Thousand Buddhas" Gallery).  Buddha images were left in the cloister by pilgrims over the centuries, although most have now been removed. This area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of pilgrims, most written in Khmer but others in Burmese and Japanese. The four small courtyards marked out by the cloister may originally have been filled with water.  North and south of the cloister are libraries.
Beyond, the second and inner galleries are connected to each other and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas abound on the walls, singly or in groups of up to four. The second-level enclosure is 100 m (330 ft) by 115 m (377 ft), and may originally have been flooded to represent the ocean around Mount Meru.  Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery. The very steep stairways represent the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods.  This inner gallery, called the Bakan, is a 60 m (200 ft) square with axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine, and subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers.
The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Carved lintels and pediments decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the shrines. The tower above the central shrine rises 43 m (141 ft) to a height of 65 m (213 ft) above the ground unlike those of previous temple mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four.  The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhism, the new walls featuring standing Buddhas. In 1934, the conservator George Trouvé excavated the pit beneath the central shrine: filled with sand and water it had already been robbed of its treasure, but he did find a sacred foundation deposit of gold leaf two metres above ground level. 
Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the causes for its fame is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which predominantly takes the form of bas-relief friezes. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Higham has called these "the greatest known linear arrangement of stone carving".  From the north-west corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans). On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hinduism. 
Visiting Roi Et’s Prang Ku (Prasat Nong Ku)
The Khmer ruins of Roi Et were the reason I had come to the province which is as much on the frontiers of modern Thailand as it was for ancient Angkor. Little-known among travellers and often even overlooked by Thais in lieu of the growing & blossoming cities of Khon Kaen and Khorat, Roi Et sits among the northeastern flatlands of Thailand collectively known as the Khorat Plateau or Isan. After renting a motorbike from the One-O-One-Pizzeria, I was off to see the ancient sites of Roi Et Province.
Ban Yang Ku Village
- A home in Ban Yang Ku.
- The local school.
Located in Ban Yang Ku, a small village, if it could even be called a village, Prang Ku sits in the courtyard of this quiet street’s modest, modern temple and school. Otherwise devoid of much activity, the peaceful grouping of buildings lies just off a rather busy intercity Highway 2044 to the province’s airport.
The Prang Ku ruins have been integrated into the temple grounds of Wat Si Rattanaram, the main temple of Ban Yang Ku village.
The Prang Ku Arogayasala
The first view when approaching Prang Ku.
As an arogayasala, the Prang Ku temple itself is very small by Khmer construction standards, holding only the basic structures uniform to most Angkorian temples. The most obvious of these is the characteristic Angkor-style prang, for which the temple is named.
Prangs are, in essence, the Khmer variation of the stupa — a pointed-dome structure meant to represent the cosmic Mount Meru in Hindu-Buddhist mythology. As might be expected, the prang of Prang Ku (and other arogayasalas) is not quite the monumental structure of those at Angkor Wat and other grander Angkorian temples.
The center prang of Prang Ku. The center prang of Prang Ku.
The other thing that you’ll notice when approaching Prang Ku is the difference in colors on both the prang and the enclosure wall surrounding the temple. The bricks of different colors are due to reconstruction efforts to make the temple as it once appeared. I do have mixed feelings about this practice, given that it oftentimes ends up doing damage to the original structure. However, I was surprised to find such extensive reconstruction at this temple considering Prang Ku is not promoted as a tourist attraction.
The reconstructed library within the temple walls. The baray at Prang Ku.
The reconstructed portions of Prang Ku — while they certainly are noticeable with their sharp colors and edges — do make the structure complete once more.
The meditating Buddha or monk inside the prang.
Prang Ku’s location on the Wat Si Rattanaram temple grounds is likely the reason for its reconstruction., As an extension of the modern Buddhist temple, it is also maintained by the abbot of the temple. Within the ancient monument’s prang is an active Buddha shrine that locals still worship and leave offerings.
During the Ayutthaya period, the prang structure was adopted by the Thais. Since then, the architectural feature has become commonly used in Thai religious architecture, which is uniformly Buddhist. Likewise, many Khmer prangs all over the country (including the Hindu ones) have been made into active Buddhist shrines,
In most of these formerly Hindu shrines, the traditional yoni and lingam were replaced with meditating Buddha statues (although another source said one of these statues represents the monk Phra Sangkatchai).
The gopura, main entrance of a Khmer temple. Lintel carving atop the entrance depicting Indra and Erawan. The yoni and lingam, traditional symbols of Shiva in Khmer temples.
In the Prang Ku ruins, there is curiously a lingam and yoni just inside the eastern-facing gopura, the traditional entrance enclosure to most Khmer temples, regardless of the era. Considering that the arogayasala was a Mahayana Buddhist temple, it is likely that the lingam and yoni came from the ruined temple base ruins nearby. Above the entrance to the gopura is a lintel carving depicting, among other things, Indra and his mount, the 3-headed elephant Erawan.
Ruined Temple Base
Not far from the very obvious ruined temple is something I personally found more interesting: the remains of what seems to have been a larger temple. However, all that was left was a platform overgrown with tall grass as it had been left alone for many years.
An abandoned temple reduced to only a platform. Stairs at the larger, abandoned temple.
When I climbed the few dark and faded stairs to the top of the platform, all that was left was the intact yoni where the interior of the temple’s prang would have presumably been. Otherwise, there was only grass and weeds everywhere over the flat-topped platform.
Such a raised laterite base is commonly found in many of the older Khmer temples found all over Isaan. These usually hold a collection of prangs, In provinces with even higher concentrations of Khmer ruins, these platforms often have 3 prangs, symbolizing the Hindu Trimurti.
Prasat Ku Suan Taeng in Buriram Province on a raised laterite platform. The yoni standing atop the abandoned temple.
This begs the question: what happened to all the large stones that had made up this larger temple? They didn’t appear to have been used in any other local construction or to construct the other intact temple. Paving stones on the ground in front of the east-facing entrance show that was the smaller temple’s original location.
It didn’t seem I would be getting any answers to this question this day as the already sleepy village of Ban Yang Ku was losing whatever commotion it had as the sun was going down in the west. Getting back on the bike in the direction of the setting sun, I was soon back at the Roi Et city moat, staring down the large golden Buddha of Wat Burapapiram welcoming those entering the city from the east.
The standing Buddha of Wat Burapapiram
Baksei Chamkrong – Hindu temple located in the Angkor complex
Baksei Chamkrong (Khmer: ប្រាសាទបក្សីចាំក្រុង) is a small Hindu temple located in the Angkor complex (Siem Reap, Cambodia). It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and used to hold a golden image of him. The temple can be seen on the left side when entering Angkor Thom at the southern gate. It was dedicated to Yasovarman by his son, King Harshavarman I. The temple was completed by Rajendravarman II (944-968).
The name Baksei Chamkrong means “The Bird Who Shelters Under Its Wings” and comes from a legend. In it, the king tried to flee Angkor during a siege and then a huge bird landed and sheltered him under its wings.
This temple is one of the first temples constructed of durable material such as bricks and laterite and with decoration in sandstone. A brick enclosure originally surrounded the pyramid with a stone gopura on the east side is now almost completely disappeared. Much of the stucco on the surface of the temple has vanished. The main sandstone lintel is decorated with a fine carving of Indra standing on his three-headed elephant Airavata. Garlands emanate from either side of Indra in the style current to the monument. There is an inscription on either side of the small doorway which detail the dedication and praises the early Khmer kings from Jayavarman II onward as well as earlier legendary kings, including the ancestor of the nation, the hermit Kambu.
The pyramid measures 27 metres across at the base and 15 at the summit for an overall height of 13 metres. Four stairway reach the summit at the cardinal points. The brick sanctuary tower, eight meters square on a sandstone base open to the east with the usual blind doors on the other sides.
The Art of Stone Carvings of Cambodia
Behind the success of stone carving in Cambodia is the stone itself. The most popular stone used for carving is 400-million-year-old sandstone found in Banteay Meanchey, as well as Kompong Thom and Pursat. This type of stone is perfect for carving and has been used for all kinds of sculptures ranging from simple little stone sculptures to giant Buddhas.
Stone from Phnom Kulen is used for some of the more elaborate carvings, such as the temple carvings at Angkor Wat, but the Cambodian government has restricted usage of this stone for restoration purposes only.
The Beginnings of Khmer Stone Sculpture
The art of stone carving in Cambodia has roots that predate the foundation of the Angkor kingdom by many centuries. Some of Cambodia's oldest known stone sculptures were made in the Funan kingdom (located in the modern-day south of the country), which existed in the 1st or 2nd century AD until the 6th century AD, as well as in the pre-Angkor kingdom of Chenla.
During this period of time, Cambodia was exposed to a heavy amount of Indian culture due to the opening of trade routes between the Middle East and China which passed through the kingdom. This influence came primarily in the Sanskrit language, which was used in inscriptions, and in the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
Hinduism became Cambodia's official religion during this period of time and remained the official religion until the 12th century AD. Many of the sculptures from this period of time were made of the three principal deities in the Hindu religion. That is, Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the preserver).
Buddhism was introduced sometime in the 1st century AD and gradually flourished in the Cambodian kingdoms along with Hinduism. Sculptors were carving sculptures of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva some 500 years later.
Both Hindu and Buddhist-themed sculptures from this period of time had a strong Indian influence in their delicately-carved and detailed body features, a princely disposition that still manages to remain benevolent, and body postures that feature a slight hip sway. Also, both Hindu and Buddhist sculptures were placed around temples and were often created for this purpose.
A new and unique Khmer style of sculpture began to appear in the 7th century AD. This style was more frontal in nature, extremely accurate and life-like in details, and often featured a prominent, amiable smile (i.e. the smiling Buddha statues from the period).
Stone Carvings and Sculptures of the Early Angkor Period
The Angkor period began in 802 AD when Jayavarman II was proclaimed a "god-king" and "universal monarch", declared independence from Java, and proclaimed a unified Khmer kingdom.
The massive stone sculptures became popular during the reign of Indravarman I, one of Jayavarman II's successors, who ruled from 877-886 AD. It was during his reign that the capital city of Hariharalaya (16 miles south of Angkor) was established and with it a number of temples in or around the city. These temples were - and still are - very luxurious and the sculptures of the period reflect the splendor of the era. The statues and sculptures are massive, imposing, and somber.
Statues from the early Angkor period were typically Hindu gods and goddesses such as Vishnu and Shiva built on a massive, grand scale.
The Glory and Splendor of Angkor
At the end of the ninth century AD, Indravarman's son Yasovarman I relocated the capital of the kingdom to Angkor. For most of the next 400 or so years, Angkor would remain the capital of the Kambujadesha (or Kambuja) kingdom and a vast number of temples, including the famed Angkor Wat, were built around the capital city.
Angkor Wat, one of the world's most magnificent religious sites and Cambodia's national treasure, was built in the 12th century AD during the reign of Suryavarman II (1113?-about 1145 AD). Angkor Wat features some of the most magnificent and famous stone carvings and murals found in Cambodia.
Built at first as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple over time. Statues of both Vishnu and the Buddha can be found across much of the temple complex. However, much of the temple's fame stems from the murals that can be found on the inner walls of the outer gallery. Intricately carved murals of scenes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as of Suryavarman II can be found on these walls.
The Fall of Angkor
The Khmer empire fell in the year 1431 when Thai forces from the kingdom of Ayutthaya (modern-day Ayutthaya province, Thailand) launched a number of raids on Kambujadesha and eventually captured Angkor. The Khmer dynasty moved its seat of power south to Phnom Penh, which is now the capital of the modern-day Cambodian nation.
After the fall of Angkor and the Khmer empire, Khmer carving in general became limited to the handicraft-type projects we know today. That is, small Buddha sculptures and statues, deity carvings, and so on.
The Decline of Khmer Stone Carving
During the turbulent years of the war raging next door in South Vietnam, civil war, and totalitarian rule by the Khmer Rouge, the art of stone carving in Cambodia was almost completely lost. Many of the country's artists were either killed in war or murdered by the Khmer Rouge during the period of their rule from 1975-1979. A few artists managed to flee abroad and some of these artists have returned home to help teach the precious traditional arts to a whole new generation.
Stone Carving in Today's Cambodia
Since the 1980s a new generation of artists in Cambodia have begun learning the traditional arts and crafts of the country including stone carving and have kept those traditions alive.
During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of Cambodian art students went to various Communist bloc nations in eastern Europe such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the USSR to learn the art of stone carving. These art students are today's artists and teachers in Cambodia.
In addition, a number of foreign and domestic NGOs and art organizations have been set up in or have gone to Cambodia to teach the arts, preserve the existing historical pieces, restore the decaying ancient temples, and help Cambodian artists turn their passion for art into businesses. One of the most prominent of these groups is Artisans d' Angkor, which was set up by the Cambodian government organization Chantiers-Écoles de Formation Professionelle (CEFP). Not only has this group done all of the above but has set up a number of shops around Cambodia where their students can sell their crafts! Some of their shops can be found in Phnom Penh (both in the city and at the airport) and in Siem Reap, near Angkor.
Through the centuries, the religion of the reigning monarchs changed many times. The existing structures were adapted to the changed religion with internal changes and changing the deities without damaging the overall structures.
Visiting Angkor Thom is a beautiful and memorable experience. It is not just the temples and structures that are captivating but even the journey that takes one to the gates and beyond. The lush green verdant foliage on both sides of the road is so refreshing that the journey can go on and on. The ride on the Remorque (tuk-tuk), motorized open vehicle is an amazing experience as it allows the traveler to feel the freshness of the air and a view of the entire expanse of the ancient surroundings.
About Author: Ruchi Pritam
Ruchi is a History and Law Graduate from Delhi University with an MBA from Madras University. She is a Bank-empaneled lawyer and has taught at several MBA institutions as a visiting faculty. She has always had a fascination for Indian art, temples and culture that has led her to travel and write on the various architectural wonders of India. She has authored the book - Journey Through India’s Heritage. She can be followed on @RuchiPritam.