Angkor Wat, the largest temple, now the 8th Wonder of the World

Angkor Wat's expansive architectural marvel, which spreads across nearly 500 acres, is characterized by a remarkable degree of symmetry. Photo: Shutterstock/saiko3p

Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument on Earth located in Cambodia, has now been recognized as the 8th Wonder of the World, surpassing Italy’s Pompeii. The unofficial title is typically bestowed upon exceptional new constructions, projects, or designs. The awe-inspiring temple complex earned the esteemed designation due to its architectural marvel. The timeless masterpiece is located in the northern part of Cambodia, near the town of Siem Reap. The name ‘Angkor Wat’, has linguistic and historical roots. Angkor refers to the Cambodian term used to refer to ‘city’ while ‘Wat’ is of Khmer origin and translates to ‘temple’. Hence, Angkor Wat can be interpreted to mean ‘City of temple’.

Awe-inspiring Architectural Grandeur
The sheer scale and intricate design of Angkor Wat, leave visitors spellbound. The expansive architectural marvel, that spreads across nearly 500 acres, is characterized by a remarkable degree of symmetry. The five towers of the majestic temple complex are tiered and have a unique profile, resembling a lotus bud. The central tower, which is the most prominent, symbolizes the mythical Mount Meru and is surrounded by four smaller towers, creating a quincunx pattern. The ones located on the western side, though, are in a dilapidated condition.

The features of the temple complex give it a fortress-like appearance and is surrounded by an expansive, deep moat, which is approximately 200 meters wide. It is enclosed by a rectangular wall, nearly five metres in height and one meter wide, providing a sense of enclosure and security.

The temple can be accessed only via small bridges spanning across the moat from the eastern and western sides. Visitors can reach the main tower through a causeway constructed with massive sandstone blocks. Indeed, the construction of the temple complex primarily utilized sandstone blocks only, rather than bricks or boulders. The precision in carving and the fitting together of stones without the use of mortar is a testament to the engineering skills of the Khymer builders and the technique used is yet to be ascertained correctly, though a section claims it to be wooden paste or a lime plaster mix.

Fairies and gods dance on temple walls
Angkor Wat’s construction shares some similarities with the architectural and artistic styles of the Chola dynasty in South India. Built during the 12th century, the temple was initially dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu. But later, towards the end of the 14th century, it became a Buddhist temple. While almost all the Hindu temples face the eastern direction, the Angkor Wat temple is aligned to the west. Some argue that the western orientation of Angkor Wat symbolizes the path of the afterlife (direction of the setting sun) and the role of Lord Vishnu in the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution.

Angkor Wat features numerous bas-reliefs and carvings that depict dancing fairies or celestial nymphs, often referred to as ‘apsaras’. The temple walls are depicted with the mythological scenes from the epic Rama-Ravana battle, Kurukshetra battle, Palazhi madanam (churning of the ocean), and the Krishna-Baana battle, etc. The temple grounds and immediate surroundings include well-maintained lawns and open spaces that are decorated artistically. The interior and exterior of the temple are adorned with an incredible array of carvings, sculptures, and images depicting various Hindu deities, and symbolic elements like Lotus and Garuda.

The connection between Giza pyramid and the Earth’s location
Angkor Wat is said to have certain specialities that even perplex the scientific community. A section believes that the temple is modelled on an image in the atmosphere before Christ. Phnom Bakheng, one of the temples, has 108 towers surrounding it. The number 108 and its multiples have cultural and religious significance in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The number ‘72’ is connected with the position of Earth’s rotational axis. The Earth undergoes a cyclic change of roughly 1 degree Celsius every 72 years, based on its position and that of constellations.

A favourite destination of travellers
The enduring appeal of Angkor Wat, often considered the hallmark of Cambodia, transcends national borders, drawing visitors and admirers from around the world. Almost half of those arriving in the country visit the temple, say official figures. The temple is even prominently featured on the national flag of Cambodia, underscoring its symbolic importance to the country.

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