Cambodia is treasure trove for people looking for a vacation that offers not mesmerizing sights, a long rich history along with monuments that have stood the ravages of time. One of the prominent names we think of when we hear Cambodia is unmistakably the Angkor Wat- one of the greatest grandeur’s of the country. Apart from this, Cambodia is a typical Southeast Asian country with common sights of crammed up cities with rickshaws, strange but exotic delicacies, enchanting beaches, jungles with wildlife etc. Despite its turbulent history, Cambodia has emerged as one of the most welcoming nations in Southeast Asia.
Angkor Wat, one of the architectural marvels in Cambodia has come a long since its discovery. A temple complex in Cambodia and one of the largest religious monuments in the world, the famed Angkor Wat deserves all the attention. Traversing into the discovery of the temple, Henri Mouhot’s name is the most striking.
During the mid 19th century, the temple was visited by the French explorer, Henri Mouhot who made extensive notes of his exploration in his travel notes in 1863. Thus the discovery of the temple was credited to him. However, fact was that he was not the first to neither discover nor document the ‘lost city’. One of the earliest and most descriptive accounts of the temple city is from the mid 16th century that came from a Portuguese writer, Diego de Couto. He has mentioned about a Cambodian king who came across the ruins during his hunting binge. Spanish missionaries have traveled to the site during the 15th and 16th centuries, documenting their visits. The 17th century gives us accounts of Japanese settlements at Angkor Wat, evident from an inscription with Japanese characters found on a pillar on the second floor of the temple, dating back to 1632. A detailed map of the temple city dated between 1632 and 1636, drawn by Kenryo Shimano who has also authored the oldest known Angkor Wat plan.
The puzzle of Angkor Wat was put together with the help of epigraphic evidence found during the following restoration work of the entire site. The site excluded any signs indicating settlement- dwellings, houses, vessels, clothing etc. The restoration work was huge that included removal of earth and vegetation. The process of restoration and clearing was interrupted by the civil war and the country went under the control of Khmer Rouge during 1970 and 1980, however the site was minimally damaged. There was more damage that took place post the war which involved stealing art. Angkor Wat was neglected after the 16th century however was never completely abandoned,
As is observed, it was originally built as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, however, gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. The temple was built by Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, in Yashodharpura (Angkor Wat) which was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which also became the state temple. The initial phase of construction took place during his reign; however work seems to have halted for a short time after the king’s death, evident from unfinished relief work. The temple was sacked by the Chams, enemies of the Khmers in 1177 after which the empire was restored by Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple- Ankor Thom and Bayon respectively.
The temple was dedicated to Vishnu moving away from the earlier Shaiva tradition. The architecture is seen as a combination of two basic plans of Khmer style- the temple mountain and the later galleried temple which represents Mount Meru- the home of gods. The central quincunx of towers represents five peaks of the mountain, the walls and moat symbolize the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean. The extensive bas reliefs and the number of the sculptures adorning the walls of the temple speak of the grandeur of the temple and the architecture. The inner walls depict scenes from Hindu mythology of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Legend speaks of Indra ordering the construction of Angkor Wat which would be a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea.
Unlike most other Khmer temples, the orientation of Angkor Wat is to the west rather than to the east which has created different theories regarding the significance of the same. Some theories point towards it being served as a funerary temple, which was supported by further evidence of the bas reliefs which move in a counter clockwise direction. Since funerary rituals take place in a reverse order, this could have been the conclusion. Charles Highman, an archaeologist speaks about a container from the central tower that may have been the funerary jar.
Angkor Wat gradually transformed into a center of Buddhism towards the end of 12th century which continues until the present day. The temple showcases the zenith of classical style of Khmer architecture and has now become a symbol of Cambodia and a source of national pride which is evident from the national flag of the country that depicts Angkor Wat. However, others are of the opinion that many other temples have moved away from the eastern orientation of temples and have suggested that Angkor Wat’s orientation is due to the dedication of the temple to Vishnu.
Built by Jayavarman VII, Bayon, the state temple stood at the center of Angkor Thom, the capital. Unlike other temples, this is a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to Buddha. After the death of Jayavarman, few changes were made to the temple features thereby containing Hindu and Thervada Buddhist elements. The faces on the temple are towards a cardinal direction and the presence of these on most of the towers indicates omnipresence. According to some scholars this is the face of Avalokiteshwara, whereas according to some this is the face of Jayavarman. It is to left to you to witness the tranquility of the place!
The Tonle Sap Lake is a prominent feature on the map of Cambodia- one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. The Lake is an important commercial resource for half of the fish consumed in the country. Along with specialized ecosystems, the human occupation has evolved in distinctive manner-floating villages, huge fish traps, towering stilted houses. The lifestyle of the people is intertwined with the lake that has become a part of their everyday life.
Get closer with the Cambodian culture
The culture and traditions of Cambodia have evolved from the syncretism of Buddhism and Hinduism. The Cambodians exchange friendly greetings like Chumreap Suor. Culture for Cambodians is held highly and they take pride in following their traditions. Of special mention apart from the Cambodian dances and martial arts is the Cambodian wedding that consists of rituals that last for three days and three nights. Cambodian food is exotic with various flavors that are largely delectable.
All in all, Cambodia is a country rich in every form of art, heritage, cuisine, sights and resources. Friendly people and a welcoming country is all that tourists can ask for in a foreign country. So plan your trip and take a walk through the history of Cambodia and live the culture of the country.