Angkor Wat’s Central Temple

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"Angkor" is a distortion of the Khmer word "nokor" which is derived from the Sanskrit "nagara" (capital). Wat means temple, thus Angkor Wat means the Capital's Temple. However, the temple was originally named Preah Pisnulok, after its founder - King Suryavarman II - title after his death.


Angkor Wat is six kilometers north of Siem Reap, and two kilometers south of Angkor Thom.

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One of the Khmer provinces in those days was within modern Thailand, Phimai features a temple resembling a downscaled Angkor Wat.

Religious Role

King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat between 1113 and 1150AC as his state temple. At first it was Hindu and dedicated to Vishnu, instead of the traditional Shiva of earlier Khmer temples, but afterwards it became a center of Buddhist worshipping. Angkor Wat is the epitome of Khmer architecture and have became Cambodia's symbol, appearing even on its flag.

The temple is in fact an open Hindu encyclopedia, which can be read on several fashions. As a geographical text, the baray represent the oceans surrounding earth, the walls are the mountains enclosing the world, and the four sides of the temple represent the different landmasses and the peak at the center Mount Meru - the gods' abode. The central quincunx of towers symbolizes the mountain five peaks; access to the temple upper areas was progressively more exclusive. On the temporal angle, the baray represents the present, while the central point is the universe creation time. On the social interpretation, the center represents the god-king, while in the Buddhist angle the three steps depicts the different here steps of spiritual development: the center represents the achievement of nirvana.

In 1177AC Angkor was sacked by the Cham, subsequently, King Jayavarman VII established a new capital at Angkor Thom and a new state temple called Bayon. Later, the temple was adapted for Theravada Buddhism use.

Unusual Angles


Angkor Wat is oriented to the west, unlike most other temples in the area. Many scholars think Suryavarman wanted it to be his funerary temple, mainly since a funerary jar was found in the central tower. Moreover, the bas-reliefs proceed in a counter-clockwise direction in reverse of the normal ritual order; this is a supporting evidence of the claim, since in Brahmin practices during funerals some rituals are performed in reverse order. However, the temple was dedicated to Vishnu, who was associated with the west.


Angkor Wat is the only temple within the complex that was never completely abandoned; furthermore, the surrounding forests never managed to cross the moat surrounding it, fact that further helped its survival.

Fake Arches

As the Cham, the Khmer did no know how to construct arches. Thus, all the corridors within the temple - along which the bas-reliefs are - feature triangular fake arches; there is no top stone stabilizing the fake arch.


The dented oval towers of the temple are shaped like lotus buds and define the temples symmetry, creating a pleasant balance parallel in its evocative strength to the one used in ancient Greece. The five towers are arranged so that the central one is higher than the four others on the corners. By the sunrise, their outline against the dark skies created unforgettable views.

The Temple

The surrounding wall measure 1024 by 802m and is 4.5m high, the moat next to it is 190m wide. The main access to the temple is through a sandstone causeway at its west, an earth bank allows access through the east.

Gopura gates are placed at the cardinal points; the western one was the larges and featured three towers, which resemble a downscaled view of the temple behind it from this spot. A 350m walkway with naga handrails connects the western gopura to the temple. Each side also features a library and a pond between the library and the temple. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is the stone-lions guarded cruciform terrace connecting the causeway to the central structure.

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. Each gallery features gopura gates, while the two inner ones have corner towers, forming a quincunx with the central tower.

The outer gallery measures 187 by 215m, with pavilions at the corners, and is connected to the second one on the west side with a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (Thousand Buddhas), referring to the statues left there by pilgrims. North and south of the cloister are libraries. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large bas-reliefs depicting episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata Hindu epics, including the battles of Lanka and Kurukshetra as well as the Hindu 32 hells and 37 heavens. On the southern gallery is the only historical scene, a procession of King Suryavarman II. Small squares were cut out of the scenes after the final fall of the kingdom in order to destroy the site's alleged black magic powers.

From the second level upwards, protecting devata guardian-deities abound on the walls, alone or in groups of up to four. The second-level enclosure is 100 by 115m. Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery.

The square inner gallery is called Bakan, each side measures 60m and features axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central temple and secondary temples located below the corner towers.

The tower above the central shrine rises 43m to a height of 65m above the ground; unlike those of earlier temple-mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four, giving Angkor Wat its unmistakable shape. The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was adapted to Theravada Buddhism by adding standing Buddhas on the new walls.
Temple Complex of Angkor Wat
5.5 Km North of Siem Reap
Angkor, Cambodia

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