Khmer king Suryavarman II constructed a huge temple complex in the early 12th century and it took about thirty years to complete the construction. The temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was constructed in Yashodharapur which was the capital of the Khmer empire. In today’s date, this temple is the largest religious monument in the world and is known as Angkor Vat which means “temple city.”
Angkor Vat is located in Cambodia which is a South East Asian country bordered by Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Gulf of Thailand. Originally, the temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu but by the 14th century, it was converted to a Theravada Buddhist temple. The temple lies about 6km away from the city of Siem Reap and covers an area of 400 square kilometers which is by far the largest in the case of religious monuments in the whole world. Before the industrial revolution, the city of Angkor replete with temples and with a population of 1 million people was the largest city in the world.
The city of Angkor is surrounded by a moat which is 200m wide and 4m deep. The moat might have been constructed to preserve and stabilize the temple’s foundation. The temple consists of a 65m tall central tower which is surrounded by enclosure walls and four smaller towers. This arrangement of a large tower in the middle surrounded by four smaller towers is known as the quincunx. The main material used for construction is sandstone. Laterite too has been used but only in the hidden portions and the outer wall of the complex. The walls of the temple are carved with various scenes from the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Angkor Vat consists of a series of temples, namely, Bayon, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm etc. The construction and architectural work signify how prosperous the Khmer Empire was under king Suryavarman II. It brings out the social, cultural and religious values that existed during that period.
There are legends that say that the temple was built overnight and another legend says that the temple was built on the instruction of Indra who wanted a house constructed for his son Precha Ket Mealea.
The architectural design of the temple (the towers) seems like Mount Meru which is a mountain in the Himalayas considered as the abode of the Lord. Mount Meru is considered to be the center of the universe and hence the temple complex as a whole is a representation of the universe.
Angkor Vat has faced lots of damage in the hands of nature and war. Hence, in 1992, Angkor Vat was listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage site for protection and restoration of the monument. Till today it remains one of the most beautiful monuments in the whole world.