Reconstruction: Religion

 

Statue of Vishnu in the Angkor Wat temple

Statue of Vishnu in the Angkor Wat temple

The city of Angkor includes many different religious temples, but none quite as large and significant as Angkor Wat.  Its initial construction was ordered by Suryavarman II in 1113 A.D. as a Hindu temple which was dedicated to the god, Vishnu.  Vishnu is the protector and preserver of the world, while Brahma and Shiva are the creator and destroyer (in that order).  The temple’s direction also honors Vishnu by representing renewal and preservation in accordance with the sun.  The layout of the temple is supposed to resemble Mount Meru and the Hindu’s depiction of the universe.  It is believed that the temple might have also been built as a burial spot for the original constructor, Suryavarman II.

At the end of the 12th Century, many Buddhists started moving into the city and surrounding area.  They had a large influence on the culture, and the temple was converted to a Buddhist temple.  The Buddhists did not destroy the temple, but instead added to it and built their own statues and structures right in among the Hindu ones.  Khmer ruler, Jayavarman VIII, tried to reinstate Hinduism as the dominant religion during his rule in the middle of the 13th Century.  He was successful for about half a century and even destroyed some of the Buddhist statues in the temple.  By the end of the century, Buddhism was reinstated as the main religion, but not the only one.  The temple was transformed back to a predominantly Buddhist temple, but some Hindus still worship there.  Even after the city was abandoned in the 15th Century, and the Thais took over the area, people still continued to take pilgrimages to the temple.  Today, local Buddhist monks continue to make daily visits to the temple and can be seen among the visitors and tourists in their distinct orange robes.

Buddhist monks in the temple.

Buddhist monks in the temple.

Apsara dancers carved into the temple walls. An apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters that is significant to both Hinduism and Buddhism.

Apsara dancers carved into the temple walls. An apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters that is significant to both Hinduism and Buddhism.