Exploring Angkor Archaeological Park - Part 5: A Closer Look at Angkor Wat

Explorer

John Maurizi

Grandest of all the temple in Angkor, Angkor Wat will not disappoint even at first glance. This is a closer look at Angkor Wat, the things you may not notice or think much of but are of great importance to the history and religion of the Khmer people.

The first causeway to the west entrance of Angkor Wat crosses a large moat.  Interesting fact is this moat is 13 feet deep.  You may think the moat was constructed to thwart attacks against the kingdom. However the real reason was to provide a location for water runoff during the rainy season and also to maintain a stable water table level to prevent Angkor Wat from sinking into the ground.


(Moat around Angkor Wat) Photo by: John Maurizi

Once over the moat you pass through the west gate and onto the inner causeway.  Flanked on both sides of the causeway are what archeologist refer to as "Libraries."  Past these libraries and the reflecting pools is another grand entrance.


(inner gate into Angkor Wat) Photo by: John Maurizi

Inside this next gate, before passing to the inner area, turn right through several small halls to see the eight armed statue of Vishnu.  Impressive, especially late in the afternoon because the sun will be shining through doorways and columns.  Late in the afternoon, the reflection of the sun off the surrounding stone gives the statue a blue hue.


(Both Hindu and Buddhist come to worship Vishnu) Photo by: John Maurizi


Photo by: John Maurizi

Inside Angkor Wat are a number of other small libraries, halls and portico's.  You can spend hours just looking around at the different variations of Apsara's adorning the walls and columns of Angkor Wat.


(Apsara's) Photo by: John Maurizi


Photo by: John Maurizi


(Apsara's) Photo by: John Maurizi

Bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat

Photo by: John Maurizi

Probably the most intriguing part of Angkor Wat is the bas-relief's carved in the outer portico around the inner temple wall.  There are 8 galleries, two for each side of the inner wall.  The galleries should be viewed in a counter-clockwise direction starting from the west entrance. 

Battle of Kurukshetra

Photo by: John Maurizi

On the south wing of the west gallery, the Battle of Kurukshetra is seen in good detail. The battle was between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. They were from the Kingdom of Kuru located in India. The epic battle is described in the transcript of the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is really a poem and said to be the longest poem ever written with over 100,000 2-line stanzas. This makes the Mahabharata 8 times as long as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey together, and over 3 times as long as the Bible. Most of this tells the story of the Kurukshetra war. The gallery shows the army's marching toward each other and a fierce battle ensues. The weapons of choice seem to be arrows and spears. Many are trampled by horses and dead soldiers are seen throughout.

Army of King Soryavaman II

Photo by: John Maurizi

Located on the west wing of the south gallery, is the procession of King Soryavaman II. King Soryavaman is responsible for the construction of Angkor Wat. The bas relief shows the army marching through the jungle with commanders mounted on elephants. The King, standing on an elephant over sees the procession. Toward the end of the relief, you can notice the clothes of the army changes from that at the beginning of the procession. They are wearing pleated skirts with a floral design. They are Thai soldiers conscripted to fight for the Khmer.

Gallery of Heaven and Hell

Photo by: John Maurizi

Located in the east wing of the south gallery is the depiction of the judgement of man by the the god Yama. Yama stands on the lower tier passing judgement and directing minions to Heaven or Hell. The next tier shows the suffering endured in Hell. Men are torn apart, chopped up, eaten by serpents or gored by horned animals. The scene is graphic.  The upper level shows heaven. Those who reach this tier live in large homes and have servants to take care of all their needs. The reliefs on all levels are detailed with intricate carvings. The exception in the far east corner that has a lot of erosion damage. It is a shame that this part has been lost. This gallery also has a very detailed ceiling. It has been restored to show what it was like in the 12th century.

Churning of the Ocean of Milk


Photo by: John Maurizi

This bas relief is probably the best known throughout Angkor. It is in the South wing of the East gallery. The relief is 12 feet high and 159 feet long. It depicts 88 asuras (demons) pulling the King Serpent, Vasuki in one direction as they hold the head of the serpent and 92 devas (deities/gods) are pulling Vasuki in the opposite direction. At the center, Vasuki is coiled around Mount Mandala. In mythology, the ocean of milk surrounds Mount Mandala. By pulling the serpent in each direction, Mount Mandala churns the Ocean of Milk. The cause for this action is to release an elixir that grants the asuras and devas immortality.  This plan was devised by Vishnu who stands in the middle as if over seeing the action. Above the devas and asuras you can see many dancing Apsaras singing and dancing for encouragement.  This scene can be found at each gate entrance to Angkor Thom as well. As the road crosses over the moat, it is lined with large figures pulling on a serpent, many time seen as a naga (multi headed serpent).

Vishnu Conquers the Asuras


Photo by: John Maurizi

There is not a lot of information about this gallery. It shows a fierce battle between Vishnu and a great number of Asuras (demons). Vishnu is known as the protector of the world and the restorer of moral order. Vishnu is also seen riding atop a Garuda.

Krishna's Victory over Bana


Photo by: John Maurizi

The east wing of the north gallery shows the battle between Krishna (the supreme deity in Hinduism) and the Asura, Bana. Asuras are mythilogical lords who battle for power. Some for good, some for bad. Bana, was on the evil side. The bas relief is well done and preserved. Krishna appears with eight arms riding Garuda (a garuda is a bird like creature is human form). He battles along with his minions against Bana who is on a chariot pulled but a mythical lion. Bana is in the form of a human with 1000 arms. The Garuda plays an important role here as it faces a wall of flames disbursed by Agni, the God of Fire. The Garuda protects the minions allowing the battle to continue. Finally, Krishna cuts off all but two of Bana's hands and wins the battle.

Battle of Devas and Asuras


Photo by: John Maurizi

In Hindu mythology, Devas or deity's and gods where as Asuras or demons. The two are set against each other although they do work together in the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Located on the west wing of the north gallery a battle between the gods and the demon warriors is portrayed. The bas relief does not tell the story of a specific battle that I could find. I believe it is just a demonstration of the war that will always exist between good and evil.

I found this wall to be very well preserved with the least amount of erosion. The carvings are deep and pronounced. Some gilt can still be seen throughout. This is my second favorite behind Churning of the Ocean of Milk.

Battle of Lanka


Photo by: John Maurizi

The Battle of Lanka is located on the north wing of the west gallery. It depicts the fierce struggle and war between Rama and the Demon King, Ravana who was King of Lanka (what is now Sri Lanka). Rama was a lord-deity and King of Ayodhya. His wife, Sita was captured and taken prisoner by Ravana. Lord Rama and his three brothers made an alliance with Sugriva, King of the Monkeys. They are clearly depicted in the bas relief throughout the battle. They declared war on Ravana and his demon army.

Rama eventually kills Ravana and vanquishes his demon army. This event is still commemorated by Hindus during the "Festival of Lights" Diwali.

CONCLUSION

While much is spelled out here on what to do and see in Angkor Archaeological Park, you will also be spending your evening is Siem Reap.  for good or bad, the city has become quite the party scene.  Bar trucks now line the infamous "Pub Street" with aggressive Tuk Tuk drivers pushing to take you to a brothel as well as equally aggressive "massage girls" grabbing hold of your arm and pulling you into their establishment.  They literally latch on to you and will not let go.  I learned they let go pretty quick if you point your camera at them for a phone.  Also, keep this party scene in mind when booking a hotel near Pub Street.  The music doesn't stop pumping until about 4am.  Staying 5 minutes away from the center is only a $2-$3 Tuk Tuk ride and worth the peace and quick when your done with dinner or after adventure drinks.

Some restaurants I recommend include:

  • The Sun - While the pizza has slipped last year to a pre-made pie, it's still great for an after adventure drink.
  • Haven - This restaurant has a focus on teaching local youth the food service industry. Make reservations!
  • Dakshin's - Great Indian food!
  • The Purple Mangosteen - Excellent place for lunch and really inexpensive.
  • Khmer Touch Cuisine - Must try the Lok Lak, a traditional Cambodian dish.  Awesome!
  • Nest Angkor Cafe - This is more of a romantic setting restaurant and a little more pricey but great Lok Lak!
  • Gelato Lab - Great dark chocolate gelato. I even had it for breakfast one day!

ENJOY!

Published: January 3, 2018

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