Visitors walking on main causeway towards Angkor Wat central tower

Angkor Wat Temple: Sacred Temple for Spirituality

Angkor Wat is a majestic sacred Buddhist temple complex located in Angkor Archaeological Park, northern Cambodia. Sitting on a site of over 400 acres, Angkor Wat is considered one of the largest religious monuments in the world.

Among hundreds of Cambodia’s ancient temples, Angkor Wat is the most famous one because of its high classical style of Khmer architecture. It also represents the pride of the Kingdom of Cambodia and appears on the national flag.

Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a spiritual temple for the Hindu god Vishnu in the first half of the 12th century by Emperor Suryavarman II from 1113 to 1150. Later it became a spiritual Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century because the Khmer’s Hinduism was gradually replaced by Theravada Buddhism.

While planning Angkor Wat, the temple was highly spiritually designed with the concept of the universe and the greatest architecture, including arts, astrology, religious beliefs, and mythology.

Angkor Wat’s Spiritual Significances

Angkor Wat is Mount Meru

Angkor Wat is a temple-mountain replicating the spatial universe in miniature. It represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods, according to the tenets of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. It has five peaks among which the central highest one is Mount Meru and other surrounding smaller ones are continents, while outer walls and moat simulate the surrounding mountain ranges and the ocean.

Angkor Wat's five peaks representing Mount Meru.
Angkor Wat’s five peaks representing Mount Meru. Photo credit: James Wheeler on Unsplash

As Angkor Wat occupies a huge rectangular area, it is explained that the spatial dimensions of Angkor Wat are equivalent to the length of a four-age cycle of Yuga in Hinduism. Then, walking the western causeway to the main entrance and through the courtyards to the central tower, where the statue of Vishnu stands, is metaphorically on the spiritual path traveling back to the early age of the creation of the universe.

Angkor Wat is a Highest Spiritual Energy Point on Earth

Like other sacred ancient monuments all over the world, Angkor Wat is one of the highest intersecting points of energy on Ley Lines.

Ley Lines are energy waves running around the entire earth directly below and above the earth’s surface, which convey energy between the vibrational focuses at their intersections.

The intersecting points are considered as high points of energy; an even more energetic area where more than one Ley Lines meet.

Ley Lines use energy from these higher vibrational points to enforce life current flow, which energetically animates and supplies the plant, animal and human world.

As such, Angkor Wat is a powerful point of energy on earth that can enable you to transmit and transform its energy through your veins and spirits. Then, you can feel spiritually re-energized and relieved within while visiting it.

Angkor Wat Solar Spectacle

Spring equinox at Angkor Wat
Spring equinox at Angkor Wat. Photo credit: Gabe Taviano, 500px

There is also scientific proof explaining that Angkor Wat is connected to the sun. It is based on a concise paper entitled Archaeoastronomy in the Khmer Heartland published in 2016 by an Italian Professor Giulio Magli of the School of Architecture, Urban Planning and Construction Engineering, Politecnico di Milano.

He consolidated Google Earth satellite data and geographic information system (GIS) data from the Greater Angkor Project and used Stellarium software to reconstruct the ancient Khmer sky; he investigated the relationships of astronomy with orientation and topography through the methods of modern Archaeoastronomy.

As a result, he discovered the phenomenon of the sun rising just above the central tower of Angkor Wat, “crowning” it almost vertically at equinoxes commonly in March and September while looking from the west gate toward the temple at dawn.

The reason is that Angkor Wat has the perfect orientation with the western main entrance, and was originally dedicated to God Vishnu, a God tightly connected to the west.

On the other hand, another interesting phenomenon from observation in a temple whose main access to the east happens at sunset. The equinoctial sun disappears just above the temple.

In the meaning of hierophanies—a manifestation of the divine, he addressed that such a phenomenon was intended as a connection between the temple itself with the heavens.

Indeed, watching equinox sunrise at Angkor Wat in the early morning may symbolically make you feel connected to heaven, which inspires you to live in spiritual life.

Angkor Wat Buddhist Worship

Till today, there are two Buddhist pagodas on either side, north, and south inside the temple area.

Every year, Visak Bochea Day also known as Buddha Day and Buddha’s Birthday is traditionally celebrated in Angkor Wat. The hundreds of monks gather at the pagodas and parade around the Angkor Wat area and inside this largest Buddhist temple for a very special moment.

Other Buddhist ceremonies are also seen to celebrate in Angkor Wat including monk food offerings, spiritual blessing journey, and as well as a Buddhist monk ordaining ceremony.

As the most famed and ancient sacred temple in Cambodia and the world, people come to visit the temple to witness its holiness and pray for happiness, prosperity, and fulfilled spirituality in their lives. And Buddhist pilgrims from all over the globe also come to worship every year.

Buddhist monk blessing at Angkor Wat
Buddhist monk blessing at Angkor Wat. Photo credit: Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

To reach an even higher level of spirituality in Angkor Wat, you may want to learn some incredible experiences of Buddhist monk blessing, Buddhist meditation and dharma talks with Buddhist monks often seen around the temple or at the pagodas.

Where is Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is located about 7 kilometers from the city of Siem Reap, northern Cambodia. Deep in the dense forest of the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park spanning over some 400 km2, Angkor Wat appears among the different magnificent capital temples of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century, including the famous Angkor Thom—Bayon Temple—with its beautiful countless sculptural decoration.

Angkor Wat translated from the Khmer language literally means “City Temple”. It has become the official name as the way it may sound based on its enormous sandstone structural building and a role as the capital of the Khmer empire.

Regarding its original name during the ancient period of its use, however, there is no trace at all in texts or inscriptions that refer to the temple by name. 

Angkor Wat’s History

Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II who ruled the Khmer empire from 1113 to 1150. It was served as a spiritual temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.

Also, it was believed that King Suryavarman II had planned Angkor Wat as his funerary temple or mausoleum; however he was never buried in the temple as he died in the battle.

Originally designed as a spiritual temple for god Vishnu, Angkor Wat was considered as a spiritual Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century. It was the time that Theravada Buddhism arose in the Khmer Empire.

It was during the reign of the new rising King, Jayavarman VII (1181-1218). After he beat a rival tribe who sacked Angkor Wat, he established a new state capital at Angkor Thom and built Bayon temple to serve as a state temple which is a few kilometers to the north of Angkor Wat.

King Jayavarman VII was the only one prior devoting Buddhist Khmer king, and his Bayon temple is a monument dedicated to Buddhism.

Nonetheless, Angkor Wat, unlike the other Angkorian temples, was never completely abandoned while many others in Angkor Archaeological Park were abandoned and overtaken by the jungle. Fortunately, the large moat served as a shield protecting the forest from destroying the temple.

Despite the neglection of the temple from the 16th century onwards, it was never deserted. The inscriptions dating from the 17th century reveal that Japanese Buddhist pilgrims lived in the temple area and celebrated traditional Khmer New Year with the Khmer locals.

However, while the Khmer’s Buddhism grew significantly at the time, many Buddhists believe Angkor Wat was a plan by the god Indra, and that the construction was accomplished in just overnight. 

In fact, it took several decades, hundreds of thousands of workers, and as well as several thousands of elephants to build Angkor Wat, from the design phase to completion, according to scholars’ research.

Unfortunately, when Cambodia fell into a brutal civil war ruled by the autocratic and barbarous Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, Angkor Wat was used as a shelter for refugees. Also, a battle between Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops caused damage to the temple, which marked bullet holes in the bas-reliefs of the walls as a result.

Since it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, the restoration efforts have been ongoing from the government and the international community, including representatives of India, Germany, and France.

Angkor Wat’s Architectural Design

Intentionally built to honor the god and the power of the King Surayavaraman II in his reign, perfect plan and design were conducted which resulted in using astrological alignment for orientation and geography—which created a link between the temple and heaven—and majestic architectural style of brilliant artistic decoration.

Looking from a distance, Angkor Wat’s tower peaks and structures appear just from the heart of the forest likely floating in the sky which creates an enormous facade looking magically amazing more than ever imagined.

Angkor Wat facade at dawn.
Angkor Wat facade at dawn. Photo credit: Florian Hahn on Unsplash

As such, Antonio da Madalena, a Portuguese Capuchin friar, who was the first western visitor to see Angkor Wat, expressed his impressions the historian Diogo do Couto in 1589 as saying that “It is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”

Similarly, when the French explorer Henri Mouhot, a young French naturalist and explorer, rediscovered Angkor Wat in 1586 he was so much impressed by its grand building and he also described in his writings that the temple was grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome. 

Indeed, Angkor Wat was almost entirely built from blocks of sandstone carried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen in which a discovery of Khmer architecture had been developed. Khmer architects had become profoundly skilled in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material.

Crossing the long sandstone causeway (250-meter length and 12-meter width) from the west, there is a 190m-wide moat surrounding the temple which creates a large rectangle area for the site.

The 4.5-meter high rectangular outer wall (1024m by 802m) contains a gate on each side but the western side decorated with beautiful carvings and sculptures serves as a main access point for the temple. Under the southern tower (the right-hand tower) is a statue of Vishnu made of a single block of sandstone, known as Ta Reach, which may originally have served as the temple’s central shrine.

Today it still remains so sacred that visitors and pilgrims pay offerings and give thanks for their good fortune.

Inside the outer wall, Angkor Wat spans across more than 200 acres, which besides the temple proper was originally inclusive of the temple structure, the city, the buildings, and the royal palace that was just north of the temple.

However, those secular buildings (non-religious buildings) were completely lost because they were constructed of wood and other perishable materials rather than stone. Still, the outlines of some of the streets remain.

From the outer wall, the main causeway heading to the central tower is lined with naga balustrades and six stairways leading down to the city on either side. Each side also features a library, and then a pond between the library and the temple itself–the northern one is a popular spot from which to watch the sunrise.

Within the central temple structure, it is designed on three storeys which enclose a square surrounded by interlinked galleries.

Angkor Wat’s astonishing bas-reliefs. Photo credit: Graphic Node on Unsplash

The galleries are decorated with thousands of bas-reliefs representing important tales, deities, apsaras, other figures in the Hindu and Buddhist religions, and as well as key traditional events. There is also a bas-relief depicting King Suryavarman II standing on an elephant escorted by his soldiers and commanders marched toward the battle.


The third level is the most impressive, and it was believed that only the King and the high priest could access. The central tower above the main shrine rises 31m above the third level and 43m above the ground, and it is raised above the surrounding four towers, which symbolizes a path to reach the kingdom of the gods.

Conclusion

Today, Angkor Wat is a large sacred, spiritual Buddhist temple in the world and attracts over three million visitors every year. Because the temple embodies many secrets while it was built, which was planned to honor the Hindu god Vishnu and power of the King in his reign. Thus, it was spiritually designed in mind following the high classical style of Khmer architecture combined with astonishing arts.

To respect its Buddhism, it is not allowed to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat—central shrine—without proper clothes like shorts for example.

Regarding additional restrictions, Apsara authorities create ‘code of conduct’ rules and a video to encourage appropriate dress, and to inform not to touch, sit or climb on the ancient structures, and as well as to pay attention to the restricted areas.

Lastly, those who truly want to find way more spirituality around the temple of Angkor Wat, yoga and meditation practice in the temple area and the forest might be the best choice.

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