Let us endeavor to open your eyes wider to appreciate even more some of the special sights you’ll see at Angkor Wat.
The Hindu Deities
The Khmers install Hindu deities in their temples to be worshiped there and carve their legends on bas-relief illustrations with exquisite skill. Bas-reliefs are sculptures in which the figures project slightly from the background. Knowing the deities provides you with interesting and deep insights into the temples that tourists don’t normally have.
Vishnu is the protector. He preserves universal order and restores the cosmic balance between good and evil. When the world is threatened by destructive forces, he takes on an earthly form to intervene. Angkor Wat is dedicated to him.
Rama is the 7th incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver who descends to Earth to abolish Ravana’s tyrannical rule. He defeats the forces of evil and rescues his wife Sita in the Battle of Lanka. This scene is the climax of the epic Ramayana and is carved on the northern section of the west gallery.
Hanuman is a devotee of Rama and participates in the battle of Lanka against the demon Ravana. He is easy to identify as a monkey.
Ravana is the primary antagonist in the Hindu epic Ramayana. He is described as having ten heads and as being a maestro of the veena (a plucked stringed instrument). He kidnaps Sita, Rama’s wife, which incurs the vengeance of Rama.
Krishna is the 8th incarnation of Vishnu. He spends his childhood disguised as a cowherd, to avoid discovery by Kamsa, a demon; so he is often portrayed as a young boy playing a flute in relaxed pose.
Another common portrayal of Krishna is as a charioteer on the Kurukshetra battlefield of the epic Mahabharata, when he helped the Pandavas defeat the Kauravas. A scene depicting the battle is carved on the southern section of the west gallery.
Another scene on the eastern section of the north gallery shows Krishna riding the bird Garuda, and defeating the asura Bana.
Asuras are a type of supernatural being. They are often malevolent and compete against the benevolent gods.
In Hindu mythology, apsaras are female spirits of the clouds and waters; celestial maidens. They appear in great numbers on the bas-relief of Churning of the Sea of Milk.
The detailed carvings of nearly 2,000 sensual apsaras, lining the walls in alluring poses, are highlights at Angkor Wat. Each is unique, wearing ornate jewelry and different headgear.
The intricate carving in Khmer art reaches its zenith during the Angkor Wat period. The immense carved area of the temple approaches 600m in length and 2m in height. The images mainly come from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
If you are a first-time visitor, we recommend you first take in the west gallery and the south gallery. The following are of the highest order.
Battle of Kurukshetra (West Gallery, Southern Section)
The central epic, Mahabharata, is the account of a war that took place in Kurukshetra between two rival families. The southern section of the west gallery relates a furious battle, in which the Kauravas advancing from the north meet the Pandavas coming from the south.
Two armies march in and the fighting is intense. On the 10th day, Bhishma, the chief commander of the Kurukshetra, lies dying on a pile of arrows, surrounded by grieving troops. The battle ends after 18 days with victory for Pandavas.
Procession of Suryavarman II (South Gallery, Western Section)
In contrast to other bas-reliefs, the western section of the south gallery depicts a grand procession of King Suryavarman II, the builder of Angkor Wat. In the largest image, the king seated on his throne is shaded by 15 parasols and fanned by servants.
Further on, the army marches in single file with commanders riding elephants and officers on horseback. More troops armed with spears are at the head of the procession.
Heaven and Hell (South Gallery, Eastern Section)
This 66m section shows the judgment of souls and their consignment to 37 heavens or 32 hells. The central tier shows souls being judged by the 18-armed Yama, god of the underworld, seated on a buffalo.
After the judgment, good people go directly to heaven carried on thrones or palanquins, to enjoy themselves, while sinners are thrown down into hell, where the tortures are extremely terrible.
Churning of the Sea of Milk (East Gallery, Southern Section)
Turn the corner, and the next 49m section is the great creation myth. In order to obtain the elixir of immortality, 92 gods and 88 asuras are churning up the sea of milk by pulling on the body of a giant serpent.
The four-armed Vishnu directs operations in the middle and his turtle incarnation Kurma supports the rotating mountain below. Many apsaras fly in the sky, while a variety of marine life swims in the sea.
Battle of Lanka (West Gallery, Northern Section)
If you have a little more time, visit the marvelously vital depiction of the epic Ramayana. In the battle of Lanka, Rama stands on the shoulders of Hanuman, and along with his allies including the monkey troops, rescues his wife Sita and defeats the demon Ravana.
Watch Sunrise or Sunset at Angkor Wat
Rise before dawn to see the silhouette of the central sanctuary from the west entrance, reflecting on the ponds; or simply watch the sunset in the evening. Either will surely be a memorable experience.
The most popular spot for watching the sunrise is the west entrance, on either side of the lotus ponds. It can be crowded, but when the show starts the crowds become quiet, captivated by the breath-taking moments. Your guide will arrange early pick-up and breakfast for you, so no need to worry about that.
The sunset is also beautiful. Walk around the west galleries from the causeway at sunset, after the lights come on. Or climb to the summit of Phnom Bakheng to see spectacular panoramic views.
If you like photography, these will be good times for you.
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