Sunday, July 21, 2024

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Temples

Written By Shraddha NS (Grade 10)

Once upon a time, nestled deep within the lush jungles of present-day Cambodia, there stood an awe-inspiring marvel of architecture and devotion – the Angkor Wat temples. While it may seem like an Indian story, its history is intricately linked to India through cultural and religious connections.

The tale begins in the early 9th century, during the reign of King Jayavarman II. He ascended the throne of the Khmer Empire, an ancient civilisation that covered parts of modern-day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Jayavarman II sought to establish a centralised capital and proclaim himself as the “Devaraja” or the divine king, with close ties to Hindu deities.

Inspired by the grand Hindu temples in India, particularly the magnificent temples of the Cholas and Pallavas in Tamil Nadu, Jayavarman II envisioned a temple that would reflect his divine sovereignty. Thus, the construction of Angkor Wat commenced, with the primary dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu, considered the preserver of the universe in Hinduism.

The construction of Angkor Wat spanned several decades, and it was only during the reign of King Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150 AD) that the temple reached its ultimate grandeur. The king expanded the temple complex, adding various galleries, libraries, and enclosures. Angkor Wat’s layout was designed to represent the cosmic universe as described in Hindu mythology, with its central tower symbolising Mount Meru, the mythical home of the gods.

At the heart of Angkor Wat, the main temple stood surrounded by a massive moat that represented the cosmic ocean. Intricate bas-reliefs adorned the temple walls, narrating episodes from Hindu epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as scenes depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk – a significant event from Hindu mythology.

Angkor Wat was not merely a place of worship but also served as the royal palace for the Khmer kings. It was a centre of political power, religious devotion, and cultural expression. Despite its Hindu origins, the temple complex later became a Buddhist site, reflecting the shift in religious beliefs within the Khmer Empire over time.

The decline of the Khmer Empire began in the 13th century, as it faced internal strife, external invasions, and changing political dynamics. The once-mighty empire fell into obscurity, and the once-glorious Angkor Wat was gradually reclaimed by the jungle, its existence hidden from the outside world.

Fast forward to the 19th century, French explorer Henri Mouhot stumbled upon the overgrown ruins of Angkor Wat during his travels. His accounts of the temple’s grandeur and the subsequent efforts of French archaeologists to restore it brought Angkor Wat back into the limelight.

Today, Angkor Wat stands as one of the most iconic and well-preserved archaeological sites in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site drawing millions of visitors from across the globe. Its architectural brilliance and its connection to Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions serve as a reminder of the rich cultural history that once thrived in the region. The gripping tale of the Angkor Wat temples stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of human creativity, spirituality, and devotion.

Featured Image Courtesy – Wikipedia


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