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Angkor Wat, largest ancient temple of the world

Angkor Wat, transcribed Angkor Vat in French, is the largest historical temple monument in the world. Originally the temple was a Hindu sanctuary dedicated to Vishnu. Most probably is was called Vrah Vishnuloka, "sacred Vishnu-abode", though there is no foundation inscription found confirming this name. In the late 13th century it became a Theravada Buddhist monastery. "Wat" is the Thai name for "monastery", derived from the Pali word "vatta". "Angkor", derived from Sanskrit "Nagara", means "city" or "capital". Though the classical example of colonial myths about rediscovered lost temples in the jungle, Angkor Wat was never completely abandoned, its pretty sound preservation is due to its later function as a Buddhist monastery and in part to protection from encroachment by the jungle provided by the temple moat.

Angkor Wat lies five kilometers north of the modern town of Siem Reap, it is the southernmost of the huge Angkor monuments. Historically it was located in the southeast corner of the first Khmer capital in the Angkor area, it was called Yashodharapura and was founded in the late ninth century.     
Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century, as the new state temple of the Khmer empire, being the first one not dedicated to Shiva. Angkor Wat is regarded as the perfect example of classical Khmer architecture, combining typical elements of earlier Khmer monuments, such as an artificial temple mountain, galleries along the enclosure walls, Gopuram entrance towers, five towers on the upper level in Quincunx order, windows and blind windows with stone colonettes, cruciform terraces along the main axis, lintels and pediments decorated with stone carvings, relief of female celestial beings called Apsaras on temple walls, narrative bas-reliefs, water basins in temple courts, a moat surrounding the enclosure, etc.
Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; the reason for it is still debated. Early scholars like Glaize and Coedes came to the conclusion, that it was planned as Suryavarman's funerary temple right from the beginning. Further evidence for this theory is provided by the order of the bas-reliefs, which should be proceeded counter-clockwise, this is the reverse of the normal order at sanctuaries, but typical for Hindu funeral rites.

Ta Reach west gate of Angkor Wat
A visit to Angkor Wat should begin at the main entrance in the west. The best time for a visit is the afternoon when the sunshine comes from the west.
The whole complex is surrounded by an impressive 200 m wide moat, fed by a canal from the Siem Reap River. The moat forms a rectangle that is 1500 m by 1300 m. There are to axial causeways crossing the moat and giving access to the temple, the one to the east is an earth bank and was a service passage way, the prestigious one in the west is 250 m long and 12 m wide. It is paved with sandstone and flanked by balustrades ending in raised Naga serpent heads. The right half of the causeway is completely restored, whereas the left half remained unchanged.
The outer enclosure wall is made of laterite, but its entrance gate Gopurams to all four cardinal directions are built of sandstone. The main gate from the west is much larger than the others and even larger than many other whole temples. It repeats the design of the frontal perspective of the principal temple, it has three towers connected by galleries. To the south of the main tower there is an eight-armed statue of Vishnu, which may originally have been enshrined in the central temple towers. The statue is known as Ta Reach, it is worshipped by Hindu visitors and Buddhist locals as well, as its head was replaced by that of a Buddha. The name Ta Reach sometimes is used for the whole gate structure. Two entrances flanking the main entrance are called "elephant gates", as they were large enough to be passed by elephants. The east face of the entrance structure is decorated with dancing figures and Apsaras, one of them showing her teeth. There is only one more such smiling Apsara in the cloister of the third level.  
Most parts of the 80 hectares enclosure were covered with wooden structures of the royal palace and service buildings and lodgings of estimate 20,000 inhabitants. Only outlines of some streets of this former city remain. A 350 m long axial causeway connects the western gate to the temple proper, again with Naga balustrades. On both sides there are library buildings built of sandstone. The most popular place for taking pictures of the Angkor Wat mirrored on the water surface is a pond between the northern library and the principal temple. The two ponds and the cruciform lion-guarded terrace connecting the causeway to the main structure are later additions.

Angkor Wat galleries
The temple proper stands on a raised platform. The outer gallery measures 187 by 215 m, with pavilions at the corners. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of eight panels, each of them of record-breaking size, altogether almost 1,000 square metres. Those on the west side depict battlescenes from India's two national epics, the Ramayana to the left and the Mahabharata to the right. Further episodes mainly from the Ramayana are illustrated on the walls of both western corner pavilions. The longest continuous historical stone carvings of the world are those in the southern galleries. The first one depicts King Suryavarman II inspecting a parade of his troups and launching war. The eastern one consists of three bands, the upper one depicting the heavens and the lower one the hells. It illustrates different kinds of punishments for different crimes, these scenes are cruel (but not more sadistic than contemporary European illustrations of punishments), but some of them are remarkably dynamic and expressive works of art, almost modern. The bas relief in the southern half of the eastern gallery is the famous Churning of the Milk Ocean, showing 92 Ashuras  (demons) and 88 Devas (gods) using the serpent Vashuki as a rope. The remaining three panels in the east and north of the temple are later additions from the 16th century. Remarkably they depict Hindu scenes, though Cambodia had already been a Theravada Buddhist country for centuries. Their subjects are Vishnu defeating Ashuras, Krishna's victory over demon Bana, and a battle between the Hindu gods and Asuras. The latter one is the most remarkable of these additions, depicting 21 Hindu gods separately and on their respective mounts.

Angkor Wat temple interior
Behind these outer walls of the temple proper (called third enclosure, counted from the centre of the temple) is a temple court of enormous size, but of simple and plain design. The central west side of this courtyard between second and (outer) third gallery is taken by a raised structure similar to a cloister, it is called Preah Poan ("Hall of a Thousand Gods"), since many Buddha images were left here by pilgrims over the centuries, most have then have been removed, but some statues are still worshipped.  The four small courtyards marked out by the cruciform cloister were filled with water, maybe only temporarily for water and fertility ceremonies. North and south of Preah Poan there are two more library structures in this outer court on the second level of the pyramid.

Angkor Wat Apsaras
Inside the Preah Poan and at the walls of the court on the next (third) level, there is an abundance of those world-famous stone carvings world famous Apsaras. This inner courtyard surrounding the five main towers is 115 m long and 100 m wide. Again, it may have been temporarily flooded, representing the fertility originating from the world centre and the ocean surrounding MountMeru.
Tourists can enter the uppermost platform, which consists of another cruciform cloister formed by galleries linking the five towers, but can only reach it from the northeast corner, using a new wooden stairway protecting the steps of the original sandstone stairway. It is very steep. The uppermost platform with its cloister is called Bakan. It is a square of 60 m. The tower of the central shrine rises 43 m to a total height of 65 m above ground level. The central shrine was occupied by a statue of Vishnu, now Buddha statues are worshipped here.


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