The legendary Angkor Wat tends to stand out among all of Cambodia’s treasures for visitors embarking on Cambodia tours. In addition to belonging to the Angkor World Heritage Site, this 12th century Hindu temple complex is one of the most instantly recognizable symbols of Cambodia, featuring on its flag. Despite being visited daily, it retains its ancient aura of otherworldly grandeur and spiritual awe. Here is an overview of its history and cultural significance.
A whole era of Southeast Asian history has been named after the city of Angkor, one of the most magnificent and powerful civilizations in the region. Although in modern times the temple is the most intact part of the ancient city, it was only a small part of the great urban centre. Designed as a state temple for all citizens and an unmistakable symbol of wealth and power, it was commissioned by King Suryavarman II as an integral part of his capital. In addition to Vishnu, the temple incorporates many other Hindu gods and figures. Among his impressive iconography are statues of Vishnu and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Ramkear (the Cambodian version of the Ramayana).
Through the Centuries
The temple of Angkor Wat has always been considered sacred despite interruptions from wars and political upheavals throughout history. Although the ancient Hindu Khmer kingdom has become the modern Buddhist Cambodia, this great temple retains its religious significance. As a result of the multilayered relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism, including their general cosmology, this transition has been made easier. Angkor’s original architecture and iconography, still on display during Cambodia tours, were easily adapted to an increasingly Buddhist nation, which Cambodia became in centuries following the temple’s construction.
Modern Cambodia and Angkor Wat
There have been few structural changes to Angkor Wat since it was constructed, other than those caused by the elements or human conflict, and the restoration work that followed. The once-open central shrine, which was converted to a walled Buddhist shrine in the 13th century, is an important exception. While the temple is popular on Cambodia tours, it is more important as a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Today’s visitors will see orange-robed monks and Buddhist devotees.