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The 12th-century temple of Angkor Wat is the masterpiece of

Angkorian architecture. Constructed under the direction of the


Khmer king Suryavarman II, it was to serve as the monarch's
personal mausoleum and as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu.
Based on Dravidian architecture, it was designed as a pyramid
representing the structure of the universe: the highest level at the
center of the temple represented Mount Meru, the home of the
Hindu gods, with the five towers on the highest level representing
the five peaks of the mountain. The broad moat around the
complex represented the oceans that surround the world.

The period of Angkor is the period in the history of the Khmer Empire from approximately the
later half of the 8th century AD to the first half of the 15th century CE.

In any study of Angkorian architecture, the emphasis is necessarily on religious architecture,


since all the remaining Angkorian buildings are religious in nature. During the period of
Angkor, only temples and other religious buildings were constructed of stone. Non-religious
buildings such as dwellings were constructed of perishable materials such as wood, and so
have not survived.

The religious architecture of Angkor has characteristic structures, elements, and motifs,
which are identified in the glossary below. Since a number of different architectural styles
succeeded one another during the Angkorean period, not all of these features were equally in
evidence throughout the period. Indeed, scholars have referred to the presence or absence of
such features as one source of evidence for dating the remains.

Periodization
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Many temples had been built before Cambodia became a powerful Kingdom of Khmer
Empire which dominated most of the Indochina region. At that time, Cambodia was known as
Chenla kingdom, the predecessor state of Khmer empire. There are three pre-Angkorean
architectural styles : [1]

Sambor Prei Kuk style (610-650 AD): Sambor Prei Kuk also known as Isanapura where was
the capital of Chenla Kingdom. Temples of Sambor Prei Kuk were built in round shape, plain
colonettes with capitals that include a bulb.

Prei Khmeng style (635-700 AD): Structures reveal masterpieces of sculpture but
architecture scarce. Colonettes are larger than previous style. Buildings were more heavily
decorated but they had general decline of standards.

Kompong Preah style (700-800 AD): Temples with more decorative rings on colonettes
which remain cylindrical. Brick constructions were being continued.

Khmer style architecture.

Scholars have worked to develop a periodization of Angkorean architectural styles. The


following periods and styles may be distinguished. Each is named for a particular temple
regarded as paradigmatic for the style.[2]

Kulen style (825-875 AD): Continuation of pre-Angkorean style but it was a period of
innovation and borrowing such as from Cham temples. Tower is mainly square and relatively
high as well as brick with laterite walls and stone door surrounds but square and octagonal
colonettes begin to appear.

Preah Ko style (877-886 AD): Hariharalaya was the first capital city of the Khmer empire
located in the area of Angkor; its ruins are in the area now called Roluos some fifteen
kilometers southeast of the modern city of Siem Reap. The earliest surviving temple of
Hariharalaya is Preah Ko; the others are Bakong and Lolei. The temples of the Preah Ko style
are known for their small brick towers and for the great beauty and delicacy of their lintels.

Bakheng Style (889-923): Bakheng was the first temple mountain constructed in the area of
Angkor proper north of Siem Reap. It was the state temple of King Yasovarman, who built his
capital of Yasodharapura around it. Located on a hill (phnom), it is currently one of the most
endangered of the monuments, having become a favorite perch for tourists eager to witness
a glorious sundown at Angkor.

Koh Ker Style (921-944): During the reign of King Jayavarman IV, capital of Khmer empire
was removed from Angkor region through the north which is called Koh Ker. The architectural
style of temples in Koh Ker, scale of buildings diminishes toward center. Brick still main
material but sandstone also used.

Pre Rup Style (944-968): Under King Rajendravarman, the Angkorian Khmer built the
temples of Pre Rup, East Mebon and Phimeanakas. Their common style is named after the
state temple mountain of Pre Rup.

Banteay Srei Style (967-1000): Banteay Srei is the only major Angkorian temple constructed
not by a monarch, but by a courtier. It is known for its small scale and the extreme refinement
of its decorative carvings, including several famous narrative bas-reliefs dealing with scenes
from Indian mythology.

Khleang Style (968-1010): The Khleang temples, first use of galleries. Cruciform gopuras.
Octagonal colonettes. Restrained decorative carving. A few temples that were built in this
style are Takeo, Phimeanakas.

Baphuon Style (1050–1080): Baphuon, the massive temple mountain of King


Udayadityavarman II was apparently the temple that most impressed the Chinese traveller
Zhou Daguan, who visited Angkor toward the end of the 13th century. Its unique relief
carvings have a naive dynamic quality that contrast with the rigidity of the figures typical of
some other periods. As of 2008, Baphuon is under restoration and cannot currently be
appreciated in its full magnificence.

Classical or Angkor Wat Style (1080–1175): Angkor Wat, the temple and perhaps the
mausoleum of King Suryavarman II, is the greatest of the Angkorian temples and defines
what has come to be known as the classical style of Angkorian architecture. Other temples in
this style are Banteay Samre and Thommanon in the area of Angkor, and Phimai in modern
Thailand.

Baroque or Bayon Style (1181–1243): In the final quarter of the 12th century, King
Jayavarman VII freed the country of Angkor from occupation by an invasionary force from
Champa. Thereafter, he began a massive program of monumental construction,
paradigmatic for which was the state temple called the Bayon. The king's other foundations
participated in the style of the Bayon, and included Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Angkor Thom, and
Banteay Chmar. Though grandiose in plan and elaborately decorated, the temples exhibit a
hurriedness of construction that contrasts with the perfection of Angkor Wat.

Post Bayon Style (1243–1431): Following the period of frantic construction under
Jayavarman VII, Angkorian architecture entered the period of its decline. The 13th century
Terrace of the Leper King is known for its dynamic relief sculptures of demon kings, dancers,
and nāgas.

Materials

Angkorian builders used brick, sandstone, laterite and wood as their materials. The ruins that
remain are of brick, sandstone and laterite, the wood elements having been lost to decay and
other destructive processes.

Brick

The earliest Angkorian temples were made mainly of brick. Good examples are the temple
towers of Preah Ko, Lolei and Bakong at Hariharalaya. Decorations were usually carved into a
stucco applied to the brick, rather than into the brick itself.[3]

Angkor's neighbor state of Champa was also the home to numerous brick temples that are
similar in style to those of Angkor. The most extensive ruins are at Mỹ Sơn in Vietnam. A
Cham story tells of the time that the two countries settled an armed conflict by means of a
tower-building contest proposed by the Cham King Po Klaung Garai. While the Khmer built a
standard brick tower, Po Klaung Garai directed his people to build an impressive replica of
paper and wood. In the end, the Cham replica was more impressive than the real brick tower
of the Khmer, and the Cham won the contest.[4]
Sandstone

The only stone used by Angkorian builders was sandstone, obtained from the Kulen
mountains. Since its obtainment was considerably more expensive than that of brick,
sandstone only gradually came into use, and at first was used for particular elements such as
door frames. The 10th-century temple of Ta Keo is the first Angkorian temple to be
constructed more or less entirely from Sandstone.[5]

Laterite

Angkorian builders used laterite, a clay that is soft when taken from the ground but that
hardens when exposed to the sun, for foundations and other hidden parts of buildings.
Because the surface of laterite is uneven, it was not suitable for decorative carvings, unless
first dressed with stucco. Laterite was more commonly used in the Khmer provinces than at
Angkor itself.[6]

Structures

Central sanctuary

The central sanctuary of an Angkorian temple was home to the temple's primary deity, the
one to whom the site was dedicated: typically Shiva or Vishnu in the case of a Hindu temple,
Buddha or a bodhisattva in the case of a Buddhist temple. The deity was represented by a
statue (or in the case of Shiva, most commonly by a linga). Since the temple was not
considered a place of worship for use by the population at large, but rather a home for the
deity, the sanctuary needed only to be large enough to hold the statue or linga; it was never
more than a few metres across.[7] Its importance was instead conveyed by the height of the
tower (prasat) rising above it, by its location at the centre of the temple, and by the greater
decoration on its walls. Symbolically, the sanctuary represented Mount Meru, the legendary
home of the Hindu gods.[8]

Prang

The prang is the tall finger-like spire, usually richly carved, common to much Khmer religious
architecture.
Enclosure

Khmer temples were typically enclosed by a concentric series of walls, with the central
sanctuary in the middle; this arrangement represented the mountain ranges surrounding
Mount Meru, the mythical home of the gods. Enclosures are the spaces between these walls,
and between the innermost wall and the temple itself. By modern convention, enclosures are
numbered from the centre outwards. The walls defining the enclosures of Khmer temples are
frequently lined by galleries, while passage through the walls is by way of gopuras located at
the cardinal points.[9]

Gallery

A cruciform gallery separates the


courtyards at Angkor Wat.

A gallery is a passageway running along the wall of an enclosure or along the axis of a
temple, often open to one or both sides. Historically, the form of the gallery evolved during
the 10th century from the increasingly long hallways which had earlier been used to surround
the central sanctuary of a temple. During the period of Angkor Wat in the first half of the 12th
century, additional half galleries on one side were introduced to buttress the structure of the
temple.

Gopura

A gopura leads into the 12th-century


temple compound at Ta Prohm.
Many of the gopuras constructed
under Jayavarman VII toward the end
of the 12th century, such as this one
at Angkor Thom, are adorned with
gigantic stone faces of
Avalokiteshvara.

A gopura is an entrance building. At Angkor, passage through the enclosure walls


surrounding a temple compound is frequently accomplished by means of an impressive
gopura, rather than just an aperture in the wall or a doorway. Enclosures surrounding a
temple are often constructed with a gopura at each of the four cardinal points. In plan,
gopuras are usually cross-shaped and elongated along the axis of the enclosure wall; if the
wall is constructed with an accompanying gallery, the gallery is sometimes connected to the
arms of the gopura. Many Angkorian gopuras have a tower at the centre of the cross. The
lintels and pediments are often decorated, and guardian figures (dvarapalas) are often
placed or carved on either side of the doorways.

Hall of Dancers

A Hall of Dancers is a structure of a type found in certain late 12th-century temples


constructed under King Jayavarman VII: Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei and Banteay
Chhmar. It is a rectangular building elongated along the temple's east axis and divided into
four courtyards by galleries. Formerly it had a roof made of perishable materials; now only
the stone walls remain. The pillars of the galleries are decorated with carved designs of
dancing apsaras; hence scholars have suggested that the hall itself may have been used for
dancing.

House of Fire

House of Fire, or Dharmasala, is the name given to a type of building found only in temples
constructed during the reign of late 12th-century monarch Jayavarman VII: Preah Khan, Ta
Prohm and Banteay Chhmar. A House of Fire has thick walls, a tower at the west end and
south-facing windows.[10]

Scholars theorize that the House of Fire functioned as a "rest house with fire" for travellers.
An inscription at Preah Khan tells of 121 such rest houses lining the highways into Angkor.
The Chinese traveller Zhou Daguan expressed his admiration for these rest houses when he
visited Angkor in 1296 AD.[11] Another theory is that the House of Fire had a religious function
as the repository the sacred flame used in sacred ceremonies.

Unusually, the libraries at Angkor Wat


open to both the East and the West.

Library

Structures conventionally known as "libraries" are a common feature of Khmer temple


architecture, but their true purpose remains unknown. Most likely they functioned broadly as
religious shrines rather than strictly as repositories of manuscripts. Freestanding buildings,
they were normally placed in pairs on either side of the entrance to an enclosure, opening to
the west.[12]

Srah and baray

Srahs and barays were reservoirs, generally created by excavation and embankment,
respectively. It is not clear whether the significance of these reservoirs was religious,
agricultural, or a combination of the two.

The two largest reservoirs at Angkor were the West Baray and the East Baray located on
either side of Angkor Thom. The East Baray is now dry. The West Mebon is an 11th-century
temple standing at the center of the West Baray and the East Mebon is a 10th-century temple
standing at the center of the East Baray.[13]

The baray associated with Preah Khan is the Jayataka, in the middle of which stands the
12th-century temple of Neak Pean. Scholars have speculated that the Jayataka represents
the Himalayan lake of Anavatapta, known for its miraculous healing powers.[14]

Temple mountain

The Bakong is the earliest surviving


Temple Mountain at Angkor.

The dominant scheme for the construction of state temples in the Angkorian period was that
of the Temple Mountain, an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the home of the
gods in Hinduism.[15] The style was influenced by Indian temple architecture. Enclosures
represented the mountain chains surrounding Mount Meru, while a moat represented the
ocean. The temple itself took shape as a pyramid of several levels, and the home of the gods
was represented by the elevated sanctuary at the center of the temple.

The first great temple mountain was the Bakong, a five-level pyramid dedicated in 881 by
King Indravarman I.[16] The structure of Bakong took shape of stepped pyramid, popularly
identified as temple mountain of early Khmer temple architecture. The striking similarity of
the Bakong and Borobudur in Java, going into architectural details such as the gateways and
stairs to the upper terraces, strongly suggests that Borobudur might served as the prototype
of Bakong. There must have been exchanges of travelers, if not mission, between Khmer
kingdom and the Sailendras in Java. Transmitting to Cambodia not only ideas, but also
technical and architectural details of Borobudur, including arched gateways in corbelling
method.[17]
Other Khmer temple mountains include Baphuon, Pre Rup, Ta Keo, Koh Ker, the Phimeanakas,
and most notably the Phnom Bakheng at Angkor.[18]:103,119

According to Charles Higham, "A temple was built for the worship of the ruler, whose
essence, if a Saivite, was embodied in a linga... housed in the central sanctuary which served
as a temple-mausoleum for the ruler after his death...these central temples also contained
shrines dedicated to the royal ancestors and thus became centres of ancestor
worship."[19]:351

Elements

Bas-relief

Bas-reliefs are individual figures, groups of figures, or entire scenes cut into stone walls, not
as drawings but as sculpted images projecting from a background. Sculpture in bas-relief is
distinguished from sculpture in haut-relief, in that the latter projects farther from the
background, in some cases almost detaching itself from it. The Angkorian Khmer preferred
to work in bas-relief, while their neighbors the Cham were partial to haut-relief.

Narrative bas-reliefs are bas-reliefs depicting stories from mythology or history. Until about
the 11th century AD, the Angkorian Khmer confined their narrative bas-reliefs to the space on
the tympana above doorways. The most famous early narrative bas-reliefs are those on the
tympana at the 10th-century temple of Banteay Srei, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology
as well as scenes from the great works of Indian literature, the Ramayana and the
Mahabharata. By the 12th century, however, the Angkorian artists were covering entire walls
with narrative scenes in bas-relief. At Angkor Wat, the external gallery wall is covered with
some 12,000 or 13,000 square meters of such scenes, some of them historical, some
mythological. Similarly, the outer gallery at the Bayon contains extensive bas-reliefs
documenting the everyday life of the medieval Khmer as well as historical events from the
reign of King Jayavarman VII.[20]
A bas-relief in a tympanum at Banteay
Srei shows Indra releasing the rains in
an attempt to extinguish the fire
created by Agni.

The Battle of Kurukshetra is the


subject of this bas-relief at Angkor
Wat.

This scene from the outer gallery at


the Bayon shows Chinese expats
negotiating with Khmer merchants at
an Angkorean market.

The following is a listing of the motifs illustrated in some of the more famous Angkorian
narrative bas-reliefs:

bas-reliefs in the tympana at Banteay Srei (10th century)


the duel of the monkey princes Vali and Sugriva, and the intervention of the human hero
Rama on behalf of the latter

the duel of Bhima and Duryodhana at the Battle of Kurukshetra

the Rakshasa king Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa, upon which sit Shiva and his shakti

Kama firing an arrow at Shiva as the latter sits on Mount Kailasa

the burning of Khandava Forest by Agni and Indra's attempt to extinguish the flames

bas-reliefs on the walls of the outer gallery at Angkor Wat (mid-12th century)
the Battle of Lanka between the Rakshasas and the vanaras or monkeys

the court and procession of King Suryavarman II, the builder of Angkor Wat

the Battle of Kurukshetra between Pandavas and Kauravas

the judgment of Yama and the tortures of Hell

the Churning of the Ocean of Milk

a battle between devas and asuras

a battle between Vishnu and a force of asuras

the conflict between Krishna and the asura Bana

the story of the monkey princes Vali and Sugriva

bas-reliefs on the walls of the outer and inner galleries at the Bayon (late 12th century)
battles on land and sea between Khmer and Cham troops

scenes from the everyday life of Angkor

civil strife among the Khmer

the legend of the Leper King

the worship of Shiva

groups of dancing apsaras

This blind door at Banteay Srei is


flanked by colonettes. Above the door
is a lintel, above which is a tympanum
is a lintel, above which is a tympanum
with a scene from the Mahabharata.

Blind door and window

Angkorean shrines frequently opened in only one direction, typically to the East. The other
three sides featured fake or blind doors to maintain symmetry. Blind windows were often
used along otherwise blank walls.[21]

Colonette

Colonettes were narrow decorative columns that served as supports for the beams and
lintels above doorways or windows. Depending on the period, they were round, rectangular, or
octagonal in shape. Colonettes were often circled with molded rings and decorated with
carved leaves.[22]

Corbelling

Corbelled arch at
the south gate of
Angkor Thom.

Corbelled hallway
at Ta Prohm.

Angkorian engineers tended to use the corbel arch in order to construct rooms, passageways
and openings in buildings. A corbel arch is constructed by adding layers of stones to the
walls on either side of an opening, with each successive layer projecting further towards the
centre than the one supporting it from below, until the two sides meet in the middle. The
corbel arch is structurally weaker than the true arch. The use of corbelling prevented the
Angkorian engineers from constructing large openings or spaces in buildings roofed with
stone, and made such buildings particularly prone to collapse once they were no longer
maintained. These difficulties did not, of course, exist for buildings constructed with stone
walls surmounted by a light wooden roof. The problem of preventing the collapse of
corbelled structures at Angkor remains a serious one for modern conservation.[23]

Lintel, pediment, and tympanum

A lintel is a horizontal beam connecting two vertical columns between which runs a door or
passageway. Because the Angkorean Khmer lacked the ability to construct a true arch, they
constructed their passageways using lintels or corbelling. A pediment is a roughly triangular
structure above a lintel. A tympanum is the decorated surface of a pediment.

Lintel and pediment at Banteay Srei;


the motif on the pediment is Shiva
Nataraja.

The styles employed by Angkorean artists in the decoration of lintels evolved over time, as a
result, the study of lintels has proven a useful guide to the dating of temples. Some scholars
have endeavored to develop a periodization of lintel styles.[24] The most beautiful Angkorean
lintels are thought to be those of the Preah Ko style from the late 9th century.[25]

Common motifs in the decoration of lintels include the kala, the nāga and the makara, as well
as various forms of vegetation.[26] Also frequently depicted are the Hindu gods associated
with the four cardinal directions, with the identity of the god depicted on a given lintel or
pediment depending on the direction faced by that element. Indra, the god of the sky, is
associated with East; Yama, the god of judgment and Hell, with South; Varuna, the god of the
ocean, with West; and Kubera, god of wealth, with North.[27]

Stairs

The stairs leading to the inner


enclosure at Ankor Wat are daunting.

Angkorean stairs are notoriously steep. Frequently, the length of the riser exceeds that of the
tread, producing an angle of ascent somewhere between 45 and 70 degrees. The reasons for
this peculiarity appear to be both religious and monumental. From the religious perspective, a
steep stairway can be interpreted as a "stairway to heaven," the realm of the gods. "From the
monumental point of view," according to Angkor-scholar Maurice Glaize, "the advantage is
clear - the square of the base not having to spread in surface area, the entire building rises to
its zenith with a particular thrust."[23]

Motifs

Apsara and devata

 
Apsaras (left) and a devata (right)
grace the walls at Banteay Kdei.

Two apsaras appear on this pillar at


the 12th-century Buddhist temple the
Bayon.

Apsaras, divine nymphs or celestial dancing girls, are characters from Indian mythology.
Their origin is explained in the story of the churning of the Ocean of Milk, or samudra
manthan, found in the Vishnu Purana. Other stories in the Mahabharata detail the exploits of
individual apsaras, who were often used by the gods as agents to persuade or seduce
mythological demons, heroes and ascetics. The widespread use of apsaras as a motif for
decorating the walls and pillars of temples and other religious buildings, however, was a
Khmer innovation. In modern descriptions of Angkorian temples, the term "apsara" is
sometimes used to refer not only to dancers but also to other minor female deities, though
minor female deities who are depicted standing about rather than dancing are more
commonly called "devatas".[28]

Apsaras and devatas are ubiquitous at Angkor, but are most common in the foundations of
the 12th century. Depictions of true (dancing) apsaras are found, for example, in the Hall of
Dancers at Preah Khan, in the pillars that line the passageways through the outer gallery of
the Bayon, and in the famous bas-relief of Angkor Wat depicting the churning of the Ocean of
Milk. The largest population of devatas (around 2,000) is at Angkor Wat, where they appear
individually and in groups.[29]

Dvarapala

 
 

This dvarapala stands guard at


Banteay Kdei.

Dvarapalas are human or demonic temple guardians, generally armed with lances and clubs.
They are presented either as a stone statues or as relief carvings in the walls of temples and
other buildings, generally close to entrances or passageways. Their function is to protect the
temples. Dvarapalas may be seen, for example, at Preah Ko, Lolei, Banteay Srei, Preah Khan
and Banteay Kdei.[30]

Gajasimha and Reachisey

The gajasimha is a mythical animal with the body of a lion and the head of an elephant. At
Angkor, it is portrayed as a guardian of temples and as a mount for some warriors. The
gajasimha may be found at Banteay Srei and at the temples belonging to the Roluos group.

The reachisey is another mythical animal, similar to the gajasimha, with the head of a lion, a
short elephantine trunk, and the scaly body of a dragon. It occurs at Angkor Wat in the epic
bas reliefs of the outer gallery.[31]

Garuda

 
 

In this 9th century lintel now on


display at the Musée Guimet, Garuda
bears Vishnu on his shoulders.

Garuda is a divine being that is part man and part bird. He is the lord of birds, the mythologial
enemy of nāgas, and the battle steed of Vishnu. Depictions of Garuda at Angkor number in
the thousands, and though Indian in inspiration exhibit a style that is uniquely Khmer.[32] They
may be classified as follows:

As part of a narrative bas relief, Garuda is shown as the battle steed of Vishnu or Krishna,
bearing the god on his shoulders, and simultaneously fighting against the god's enemies.
Numerous such images of Garuda may be observed in the outer gallery of Angkor Wat.

Garuda serves as an atlas supporting a superstructure, as in the bas relief at Angkor Wat
that depicts heaven and hell. Garudas and stylized mythological lions are the most common
atlas figures at Angkor.

Garuda is depicted in the pose of a victor, often dominating a nāga, as in the gigantic relief
sculptures on the outer wall of Preah Khan. In this context, Garuda symbolizes the military
power of the Khmer kings and their victories over their enemies. Not coincidentally, the city of
Preah Khan was built on the site of King Jayavarman VII's victory over invaders from
Champa.

In free-standing nāga sculptures, such as in nāga bridges and balustrades, Garuda is often
depicted in relief against the fan of nāga heads. The relationship between Garuda and the
nāga heads is ambiguous in these sculptures: it may be one of cooperation, or it may again
be one of domination of the nāga by Garuda.[32]

Indra

In the ancient religion of the Vedas, Indra the sky-god reigned supreme. In the medieval
Hinduism of Angkor, however, he had no religious status, and served only as a decorative
motif in architecture. Indra is associated with the East; since Angkorian temples typically
open to the East, his image is sometimes encountered on lintels and pediments facing that
direction. Typically, he is mounted on the three-headed elephant Airavata and holds his trusty
weapon, the thunderbolt or vajra. The numerous adventures of Indra documented in Hindu
epic Mahabharata are not depicted at Angkor.[32]

Kala

A kala serves as the base for a deity at


the 10th-century Hindu temple
Banteay Srei.

The kala is a ferocious monster symbolic of time in its all-devouring aspect and associated
with the destructive side of the god Siva.[33] In Khmer temple architecture, the kala serves as
a common decorative element on lintels, tympana and walls, where it is depicted as a
monstrous head with a large upper jaw lined by large carnivorous teeth, but with no lower
jaw. Some kalas are shown disgorging vine-like plants, and some serve as the base for other
figures.

Scholars have speculated that the origin of the kala as a decorative element in Khmer temple
architecture may be found in an earlier period when the skulls of human victims were
incorporated into buildings as a kind of protective magic or apotropaism. Such skulls tended
to lose their lower jaws when the ligaments holding them together dried out. Thus, the kalas
of Angkor may represent the Khmer civilization's adoption into its decorative iconography of
elements derived from long forgotten primitive antecedents.[34]
Krishna

Scenes from the life of Krishna, a hero and Avatar of the god Vishnu, are common in the relief
carvings decorating Angkorian temples, and unknown in Angkorian sculpture in the round.
The literary sources for these scenes are the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, and the
Bhagavata Purana.[35] The following are some of the most important Angkorian depictions of
the life of Krishna:

A series of bas reliefs at the 11th-century temple pyramid called Baphuon depicts scenes
of the birth and childhood of Krishna.[36]

Numerous bas reliefs in various temples show Krishna subduing the nāga Kaliya. In
Angkorian depictions, Krishna is shown effortlessly stepping on and pushing down his
opponent's multiple heads.[37]

Also common is the depiction of Krishna as he lifts Mount Govardhana with one hand in
order to provide the cowherds with shelter from the deluge caused by Indra.[38]

Krishna is frequently depicted killing or subduing various demons, including his evil uncle
Kamsa.[39] An extensive bas relief in the outer gallery of Angkor Wat depicts Krishna's battle
with the asura Bana. In battle, Krishna is shown riding on the shoulders of Garuda, the
traditional mount of Vishnu.

In some scenes, Krishna is depicted in his role as charioteer, advisor and protector of
Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata. A well-known bas relief from the 10th-century temple of
Banteay Srei depicts the Krishna and Arjuna helping Agni to burn down Khandava forest.

Linga

 
This segmented linga from 10th
century Angkor has a square base, an
octagonal middle, and a round tip.

The linga is a phallic post or cylinder symbolic of the god Shiva and of creative power.[40] As
a religious symbol, the function of the linga is primarily that of worship and ritual, and only
secondarily that of decoration. In the Khmer empire, certain lingas were erected as symbols
of the king himself, and were housed in royal temples in order to express the king's
consubstantiality with Siva.[41] The lingas that survive from the Angkorean period are
generally made of polished stone.

The lingas of the Angkorian period are of several different types.

Some lingas are implanted in a flat square base called a yoni, symbolic of the womb.

On the surface of some lingas is engraved the face of Siva. Such lingas are called
mukhalingas.

Some lingas are segmented into three parts: a square base symbolic of Brahma, an
octagonal middle section symbolic of Vishnu, and a round tip symbolic of Shiva.

Makara

The corner of a lintel on one of the


brick towers at Bakong shows a man
riding on the back of a makara that in
turn disgorges another monster.
turn disgorges another monster.

A makara is a mythical sea monster with the body of a serpent, the trunk of an elephant, and
a head that can have features reminiscent of a lion, a crocodile, or a dragon. In Khmer temple
architecture, the motif of the makara is generally part of a decorative carving on a lintel,
tympanum, or wall. Often the makara is depicted with some other creature, such as a lion or
serpent, emerging from its gaping maw. The makara is a central motif in the design of the
famously beautiful lintels of the Roluos group of temples: Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lolei. At
Banteay Srei, carvings of makaras disgorging other monsters may be observed on many of
the corners of the buildings.

Nāga

Mucalinda, the nāga king who


shielded Buddha as he sat in
meditation, was a favorite motif for
Cambodian Buddhist sculptors from
the 11th century. This statue is dated
between 1150 and 1175 A.D.

Mythical serpents, or nāgas, represent an important motif in Khmer architecture as well as in


free-standing sculpture. They are frequently depicted as having multiple heads, always
uneven in number, arranged in a fan. Each head has a flared hood, in the manner of a cobra.

 
This multi-headed nāga is part of a
decorative lintel from the end of the
9th century.

Nāgas are frequently depicted in Angkorian lintels. The composition of such lintels
characteristically consists in a dominant image at the center of a rectangle, from which issue
swirling elements that reach to the far ends of the rectangle. These swirling elements may
take shape as either vinelike vegetation or as the bodies of nāgas. Some such nāgas are
depicted wearing crowns, and others are depicted serving as mounts for human riders.

To the Angkorian Khmer, nāgas were symbols of water and figured in the myths of origin for
the Khmer people, who were said to be descended from the union of an Indian Brahman and
a serpent princess from Cambodia.[42] Nāgas were also characters in other well-known
legends and stories depicted in Khmer art, such as the churning of the Ocean of Milk, the
legend of the Leper King as depicted in the bas-reliefs of the Bayon, and the story of
Mucalinda, the serpent king who protected the Buddha from the elements.[43]

Nāga Bridge

 
Stone Asuras hold the nāga Vasuki on
a bridge leading into the 12th century
city of Angkor Thom.

Nāga bridges are causeways or true bridges lined by stone balustrades shaped as nāgas.

In some Angkorian nāga-bridges, as for example those located at the entrances to 12th
century city of Angkor Thom, the nāga-shaped balustrades are supported not by simple posts
but by stone statues of gigantic warriors. These giants are the devas and asuras who used
the nāga king Vasuki in order to the churn the Ocean of Milk in quest of the amrita or elixir of
immortality. The story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk or samudra manthan has its
source in Indian mythology.

Quincunx

A linga in the form of a quincunx, set


inside a yoni, is carved into the
riverbed at Kbal Spean.

A quincunx is a spatial arrangement of five elements, with four elements placed as the
corners of a square and the fifth placed in the center. The five peaks of Mount Meru were
taken to exhibit this arrangement, and Khmer temples was arranged accordingly in order to
convey a symbolic identification with the sacred mountain. The five brick towers of the 10th-
century temple known as East Mebon, for example, are arranged in the shape of a quincunx.
The quincunx also appears elsewhere in designs of the Angkorian period, as in the riverbed
carvings of Kbal Spean.

Shiva

Most temples at Angkor are dedicated to Shiva. In general, the Angkorian Khmer represented
and worshipped Shiva in the form of a lingam, though they also fashioned anthropomorphic
statues of the god. Anthropomorphic representations are also found in Angkorian bas reliefs.
A famous tympanum from Banteay Srei depicts Shiva sitting on Mount Kailasa with his
consort, while the demon king Ravana shakes the mountain from below. At Angkor Wat and
Bayon, Shiva is depicted as a bearded ascetic. His attributes include the mystical eye in the
middle of his forehead, the trident, and the rosary. His vahana or mount is the bull Nandi.

Vishnu

Angkorian representations of Vishnu include anthropomorphic representations of the god


himself, as well as representations of his incarnations or Avatars, especially Krishna and
Rama. Depictions of Vishnu are prominent at Angkor Wat, the 12th-century temple that was
originally dedicated to Vishnu. Bas reliefs depict Vishna battling with against asura
opponents, or riding on the shoulders of his vahana or mount, the gigantic bird-man Garuda.
Vishnu's attributes include the discus, the conch shell, the baton, and the orb.

Ordinary housing

The nuclear family, in rural Cambodia, typically lives in a rectangular house that may vary in
size from four by six meters to six by ten meters. It is constructed of a wooden frame with
gabled thatch roof and walls of woven bamboo. Khmer houses typically are raised on stilts
as much as three meters for protection from annual floods. Two ladders or wooden
staircases provide access to the house. The steep thatch roof overhanging the house walls
protects the interior from rain. Typically a house contains three rooms separated by
partitions of woven bamboo. The front room serves as a living room used to receive visitors,
the next room is the parents' bedroom, and the third is for unmarried daughters. Sons sleep
anywhere they can find space. Family members and neighbors work together to build the
house, and a house-raising ceremony is held upon its completion. The houses of poorer
persons may contain only a single large room. Food is prepared in a separate kitchen located
near the house but usually behind it. Toilet facilities consist of simple pits in the ground,
located away from the house, that are covered up when filled. Any livestock is kept below the
house.[44]

Chinese and Vietnamese houses in Cambodian town and villages typically are built directly
on the ground and have earthen, cement, or tile floors, depending upon the economic status
of the owner. Urban housing and commercial buildings may be of brick, masonry, or wood.[44]
See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Khmer architecture.

Angkor

Rural Khmer house

"Churning the Sea of Time" Film

New Khmer Architecture

References

Coedès, George. Pour mieux comprendre Angkor. Hanoi: Imprimerie d'Extrême-Orient,


1943.

Forbes, Andrew; Henley, David (2011). Angkor, Eighth Wonder of the World. Chiang Mai:
Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B0085RYW0O

Freeman, Michael and Jacques, Claude. Ancient Angkor. Bangkok: River Books, 1999. ISBN
0-8348-0426-3.

Glaize, Maurice. The Monuments of the Angkor Group. 1944. A translation from the original
French into English is available online at theangkorguide.com .

Jessup, Helen Ibbitson. Art & Architecture of Cambodia. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Ngô Vǎn Doanh, Champa:Ancient Towers. Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2006.

Roveda, Vittorio. Images of the Gods: Khmer Mythology in Cambodia, Laos & Thailand.
Bangkok: River Books, 2005.

Sthapatyakam. The Architecture of Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Department of Media and


Communication, Royal University of Phnom Penh, 2012. Available online at [1] .

Footnotes

1. Ancient Angkor guide book, by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques, p.30, published in
2003.

2. The periodization of Angkorean architecture presented here is based on that of Freeman


and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, pp.30-31.
and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, pp.30-31.

3. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.27.

4. Ngô Vǎn Doanh, Champa: Ancient Towers, p.232.

5. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.26.

6. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.29.

7. Coedès, Pour mieux comprendre Angkor, p.91.

8. See Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, pp.26 ff.

9. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.27.

10. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.172.

11. Coedès, Pour mieux comprendre Angkor, p.197f.

12. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.30.

13. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.161, 188.

14. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.178.

15. Glaize, The Monuments of Angkor, p.24.

16. Jessup, Art & Architecture of Cambodia, pp.73 ff.

17. David G. Marr, Anthony Crothers Milner (1986). Southeast Asia in the 9th to 14th
Centuries . Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. p. 244. ISBN 9971-988-39-9.
Retrieved 23 September 2016.

18. Cœdès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia.
trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.

19. Higham, C., 2014, Early Mainland Southeast Asia, Bangkok: River Books Co., Ltd., ISBN
9786167339443

20. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.36.

21. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.40.

22. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.38.

23. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.32.

24. See, for example, Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, pp.32-35.
25. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, pp.32-33.

26. Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.40.

27. Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.20.

28. See Roveda. Images of the Gods, p.200ff.

29. See Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.37.

30. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.37.

31. Roveda, Images of the Gods, pp.211-212.

32. Roveda, Images of the Gods, p.177.

33. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.39.

34. Roveda, Images of the Gods, p.209.

35. See Roveda, Images of the Gods, pp.76 ff.

36. Roveda, Images of the Gods, p.76.

37. Rovedo, Images of the Gods, p.79

38. Roveda, Images of the Gods, p.80.

39. Roveda, Images of the Gods, p.91.

40. Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.16.

41. Coedès, Pour mieux comprendre Angkor, p.60.

42. Glaize, The Monuments of Angkor, p.1.

43. Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.43.

44. Federal Research Division. Russell R. Ross, ed. "Housing". Cambodia: A Country Study.
Research completed December 1987. This article incorporates text from this source, which is
in the public domain.

Last edited 12 days ago by an anonymous user