About 1,500 years ago, the east winds brought Indian merchants to Cambodia. Through centuries of trading, Indian culture mixed with Khmer native ideals, influencing Cambodian language, religion, foods, and arts. The major contributions include the Hindu religion, in the beginning of the period, and then Buddhism, later on. These religions were expressed in the architectural art of the Angkor temples starting in 802 AD.
Khmer Empire : City of Angkor
The city of Angkor or “Royal City” emerged as one of the most glorious and creative ancient civilization in the history of Southeast Asia. From 802-1431 AD, 80 temples were built by a series of Khmer Kings, starting with Jayavarman II, that ruled across what is modern day Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, with Cambodia at its center.
Today, the ancient city has only 40 temples in ruins that remain standing. And the crown jewel of the Angkorian art and architecture is Angkor Wat temple. Because of its breathtaking beauty and magnificent size, Angkor Wat is now one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Banteay Srei: The Citadel of the Women
The sandstone walls of Banteay Srei display the most extraordinary intricate decorations of all the temples. The carved decorations are of female gods, and not apsaras, and male temple guards. This enchanting small temple was built before Angkor Wat in 967 and was dedicated to the Shiva, a Hindu god that embodied contradictory qualities such as destroyer and restorer, benevolent and wrathful, and ascetic and sensuality.
Angkor Wat: Reflection of Hinduism in Cambodia
Angkor Wat was built in dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu “The Preserver” by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century. For the first 300 years of the Angkor period, the temples were erected for Hindu gods. The temples and the artwork reflected the faith of the Kings that ordered the construction of these temples.
The Khmer temples
These temples were built either on natural hills or constructed as tiered pyramids to resemble a mountain. They became known as temple-mountains. Some believe this symbolized Mount Meru, the heavenly center of the universe and home of the gods. Angkor Wat has a series of rectangular walls with lotus-shaped towers that surround a central, interior temple, symbolizing the sacred Mount Meru. Angkor Wat is unique amongst the temples for its west facing façade.
Along the walls of the temples are beautiful bas-reliefs of apsaras or “celestial dancers” and epic stories like military victories were sculpted from the surrounding stone. Each of Angkor Wat's apsaras is unique. Elaborate headwear, jewelry, body posture and facial expressions define each one, whether they appear in twos or threes or on their own.
There's a total of 800 meters of relief altogether in Angkor Wat.King Jayavarman VII’s greatest construction was Angkor Thom (Big Angkor), a Royal Palace city built after Angkor Wat at the end of the 12th century. It was the last capital of the Khmer Empire. Angkor Thom had large pools with terraces decorated with bas-reliefs. The pools seem to have been intended for recreation.
King Jayavarman VII
King Jayavarman VII
During the second half of the 12th century, King Jayarvarman VII changed god worship from Vishnu to Buddha and became one of the most powerful and productive kings of the Khmer Empire. Through fierce military victories, King Jayarvaman VII expanded the Khmer Empire to its greatest territorial extent. He is considered the most powerful ruler and the greatest builder of the Khmer Empire. He constructed more temples than all of the Kings before him combined.
A devout Buddhist, he expressed the concepts of wisdom and compassion in his Angkor art and architecture. He built 102 hospitals throughout the Khmer Empire during his 30-year reign; an indication of his concern for human suffering.
Watch video clips about the Great Khmer King Jayavarman VII (Khmer Language)- Performed by Khmer Cultural Village, Siem Reap Angkor
Exactly in the heart of the Royal Palace city of Angkor Thom is the Bayon temple. The temple is best known today for the gigantic face sculptures on its thirty-seven surviving towers. Facing in four directions on each tower, the mysterious frozen faces are believed to represent Lokeshvara, a Buddhist god that expressed benevolence in all directions
Fall of the Khmer Empire
During the 13th century, the Khmer kingdom began to decline from incessant fighting with the neighboring Thais of Siam. By 1431, Thai forces captured Angkor and Khmer abandoned the city, ending the great Angkor period. Over the centuries, ancient jungle trees and roots overtook Angkor Wat and the other temples. In 1860, Frenchman Henri Mouhout discovered the buried ancient Angkor Wat temple. Today, Angkor Wat is a symbol of pride for Cambodians all over the world.