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La Commissione 31.10.2020

The Dragon's Mirror: The Magic of Angkor Wat I

Part 1

Diego Antolini

Angkor or “The Capital Temple” is a large complex of temples structures in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. Angkor Wat was first a Hindu, and then a Buddhist temple, built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II at the beginning of the 12th century in Yasodharapura, the site that is recognized today as Angkor.
Angkor was the old capital of the Khmer empire, it was a State Temple and then a mausoleum.
Detaching from the Shiva traditions of previous kings, Angkor Wat was built in dedication of Vishnu.
Angkor is also the main temple of the whole religious complex, the most preserved and the only one left among the ancient religious centers since its foundation. The temple is built with the classic style of the Khmer architecture at its apogee.
It is, today, the symbol of Cambodia (it is present on its national flag) and the first touristic attraction of the country.

Angkor Wat combines two basic principles of Khmer architecture: the Temple-Mountain style, and the later Gallery Temple style. The general structure is inspired by the earliest Dravidian architecture with some notable elements such as the Jagati.
The temple was designed to represent Mount Meru, the house of the Devas in the Hindu mythology: it is surrounded on the outer perimeter by a large, artificial lake and protected by an outer wall of 3.6 kilometers (2.2 miles). The internal plan features a series of 3 rectangular tunnels, each erected on a higher level than the others; at the center of the temple there is a series of 5 towers arranged in a quincunx. Unlike many Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented westward. Scholars are divided as to the meaning of this orientation. The temple is admired especially for the grandeur and the harmonies of its architecture, for the incredible number of bas-reliefs, and for the numerous figurines of the Devas adorning the walls.
Angkor Wat means "Temple City" or "The City of the Temple." In Khmer language, Angkor means "City" or "Capital City," being a vernacular form of the word nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit nagara. Wat is instead a native Khmer word meaning "Templar Site" (its Sanskrit counterpart would be vata.) During our visit at Angkor Wat, and after observing the complex symbolism of its elements, we feel that the original root of the word Angkor, that is, nagara, takes its roots from Nag- or “Serpent”. Our comparative studies of the Hindu lore (see the Indus Civilization Series on thexgates.com) lead us to believe that a more appropriate translation of Angkor Wat should be “City of Nagas” or “The Nagas’ Temple.”
The Khmer Empire

Angkor Wat is located 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) north of the modern city of Siem Reap, and not far from what was the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, Baphuon. It is an area where there lies an important group of ancient structures that arrive (and cross) the border with Thailand. Angkor Wat is the southernmost among these structures.
According to the legend, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. According to Chinese traveler Daguan Zhou (13th century), some believed that the temple was built in a single night by a divine architect. Our Khmer guide confirms this legend, adding that King Suryavarman II himself, aided by his "Divine Protector", had actually operated the miracle.
The initial design of the temple was laid out in the first half of the 12th century during the reign of Suryavarman II (1113–1150); dedicated to Vishnu The Preserver (in the Shiva-Vishnu-Brahma Trimurti concept), it was conceived as the State Temple and capital of the kingdom.

Since neither foundation stele nor contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is still unknown, but it may have been "Varah Vishnu-lok" in honor of the inspiring deity. Construction works seems to have been completed shortly after the king's death, and some bas-reliefs remain unfinished.
In 1177, 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, traditional enemies of the Khmers.

Later, the temple was renovated by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established the new capital and State temple (Angkor Thom and Bayon respectively) a few kilometers North of Angkor Wat.
In the late 13th century Angkor Wat shifted his cult from Hindu to Theravada Buddhism, a tradition that continues to this day.