- Henry Miller
Angkor Wat is a breathtaking architectural masterpiece that attracts thousands of visitors each day. The Angkor expert, architect Maurice Glaize wrote in 1944 "If Angkor Wat is the largest and the best preserved of the monuments, it is also the most impressive in the character of its grand architectural composition, being comparable to the finest architectural achievements anywhere". Angkor Wat combines two of the most recurrent features of Khmer architecture, the tiered pyramidal effect and the concentric galleries. The first one is achieved by using three platforms one above each other that become gradually smaller. The first two levels are rectangular platforms delineated by columns and containing concentric galleries, chambers and courtyards. The top platform is square in shape and sustains the five towers which have become the most prominent feature of the temple. The quincunx of towers cannot be seen from everywhere, the design of the temple only allows for the five towers to be visible from certain angles.
Another architectural element repeated along the three levels of the temple is the cross shape of many of its structures. The sandstone terrace on the western entrance follows this pattern, and here you can start your visit after having climbed the short stepsto the causeway. The harmony, balance, symmetry and delicacy that emanates from the facade in front of you is the feature that guides the design of the temple.
The bas-reliefs that adorn the outer wall of the temple (see our Angkor Wat plan for reference) are admirable creations in Khmer art. Delicate carvings cover most of the 1,200 square meter inner wall, and are two meters long from bottom to top. They mainly depict scenes from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, but some of them also show day to day life within the Khmer empire.
In line with the western orientation of the temple the bas-reliefs have been designed for viewing from left to right and thus, it is recommended to follow the bas-reliefs countercloclwise around the temple starting from the middle of the west side, turning right. The most famous scenes are as follows: the Battle of Kurukshetra in the West Gallery, inspired in the Mahabharata, describes the battle between the rival cousins in the the war of the Kurushetra province in India. The Army King Survayaman II in the South Gallery depicts the triumphal procession of the Khmer army after defeating their enemies. Perhaps the most popular of the bas-reliefs, relates the myth from the Hindu epic Bhagavata Purana and focuses on the churning of the ocean of milk by gods and demons in search of an elixir that will grant them immortality. Finally the Battle of Lanka in the West Gallery is a scene from Ramayana describing the fight between Rama and the demon king Ravana.
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