Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat overview

This section as intended as a guide for visiting the monuments at Angkor. It can be either read in advance of a visit or afterwards to reinforce the experience, or used at the sites to enable the visitor to be an active spectator (Angkor Wat). Historical quotes from early visitors to Angkor are included where appropriate to try to capture the spirit of its past glory (Angkor Wat).

Legends and symbolism are also included whenever feasible to give the visitor additional background for a better appreciation of Angkor (Angkor Wat).


Angkor Wat, the largest monument of the Angkor group and the best preserved, is an architectural masterpiece. Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world (Angkor Wat).

Wat is the Khmer name for temple (the French spelling is “vat “), which was probably added to “Angkor “when it became a Theravada Buddhist monument, most likely in the sixteenth century (Angkor Wat). After 1432 when the capital moved to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat was cared for by Buddhist monks (Angkor Wat).

It is generally accepted that Angkor Wat was a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II and oriented to the west to conform to the symbolism between the setting sun and death (Angkor Wat). The bas-reliefs, designed for viewing from left to right in the order of Hindu funereal ritual, support this function (Angkor Wat).


The plan of Angkor Wat is difficult to grasp when walking through the monument because of the vastness. Its complexity and beauty both attract and distract one’s attention (Angkor Wat). From a distance Angkor Wat appears to be a colossal mass of stone on one level with a long causeway leading to the center but close up it is a series of elevated towers, covered galleries, chambers, porches and courtyards on different levels linked by stairways (Angkor Wat).

The height of Angkor Wat from the ground to the top of the central tower is greater than it might appear: 213 meters (699 feet), achieved with three rectangular or square levels (1-3) Each one is progressively smaller and higher than the one below starting from the outer limits of the temple (Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat – Outside with a lake under the water season

Covered galleries with columns define the boundaries of the first and second levels. The third level supports five towers –four in the corners and one in the middle and these is the most prominent architectural feature of Angkor Wat (Angkor Wat). This arrangement is sometimes called a quincunx (Angkor Wat). Graduated tiers, one rising above the other, give the towers a conical shape and, near the top, rows of lotuses taper to a point (Angkor Wat).

Apsara Statue at Angkor Wat

The overall profile imitates a lotus bud, Several architectural lines stand out in the profile of the monument. The eye is drawn left and right to the horizontal aspect of the levels and upward to the soaring height of the towers (Angkor Wat). The ingenious plan of Angkor Wat only allows a view of all five towers from certain angles (Angkor Wat). They are not visible, for example, from the entrance (Angkor Wat). Many of the structures and courtyards are in the shape of a cross (Angkor Wat). The. Visitor should study the plan on page 86 and become familiar with this dominant layout (Angkor Wat). A curved sloping roof on galleries, chambers and aisles is a hallmark of Angkor Wat. From a distance it looks like a series of long narrow ridges but close up from identifies itself (Angkor Wat). It is a roof made of gracefully arched stone rectangles placed end to end (Angkor Wat). Each row of tiles is capped with an end tile at right angles the ridge of the roof (Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat – The main entry gate

The scheme culminates in decorated tympanums with elaborate frames. Steps provide access to the various levels. Helen Churchill Candee, who visited Angkor in the 1920s, thought their usefulness surpassed their architectural purpose (Angkor Wat).

The steps to Angkor Wat are made to force a halt at beauteous obstruction that the mind may be prepared for the atmosphere of sanctity, she wrote In order to become familiar with the composition of Angkor Wat the visitor should learn to recognize the repetitive elements in the architecture (Angkor Wat). Galleries with columns, towers, curved roofs, tympanums, steps and the cross-shaped plan occur again and again (Angkor Wat).

It was by combining two or more of these aspects that a sense of height was achieved. This arrangement was used to link one part of the monument to another. Roofs were frequently layered to add height, length or dimension (Angkor Wat). A smaller replica of the central towers was repeated at the limits of two prominent areas-the galleries and the entry pavilions (Angkor Wat). The long causeway at the entrance reappears on the other side of the entry pavilion (Angkor Wat).


By their beauty they first attract, by their strangeness they hold attention, Helen Churchill Candee wrote of the bas-reliefs in the 1920 .The Gallery of Bas-reliefs, surrounding the first level of Angkor Wat, contains 1,200 square meters (12,917 square feet) of sandstone carvings. The relief covers most of the inner wall of all four sides of the gallery and extend for two meters (seven feet) from top to bottom (Angkor Wat).

The detail, quality composition and execution give them an unequalled status in world art. Columns along the outer wall of the gallery create an intriguing interplay of light and shadow on the relief. The effect is one of textured wallpaper that looks like the work of painters rather than sculptors’ The bas-reliefs are of dazzling rich decoration-always kept in check, never allowed to run unbridled over wall and ceiling possess strength and repose, imagination and power of fantasy, wherever one looks [the] main effect is one of “supreme dignity “wrote a visitor 50 years ago (Angkor Wat).

The bas-reliefs are divided into eight sections, two on each wall of the square gallery each section depicts a specific theme. In addition the two pavilions at the corners of the west Gallery have a variety of scenes (Angkor Wat). The book does not include description of badly damaged relief (Angkor Wat).

Those who like to linger in this wonderful gallery of bas-reliefs will always be made happy by new discoveries will return as other joys of Angkor will allow (Angkor Wat).

Tip: As the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat were designed for viewing from to lefts the visitor should, follow this convention for maximum appreciation. Enter at the west entrance, turn right into the gallery and continue walking counterclockwise (Angkor Wat). If you start from another point always keep the monument on your left (Angkor Wat). If one’s time at Angkor is limited, the following bas-recommended (Angkor Wat).


Description of the bas-reliefs in this guidebook follows the normal route for viewing Angkor Wat. They begin in the middle of the West Gallery and continue counter clockwise (Angkor Wat). The other half of the West Gallery is at the end of the section (Angkor Wat). Identifying characteristics are in parenthesis and the locations of scenes on the bas-reliefs are in bold type (Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Carvings


This battle scene is the main subject of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. It recalls the historic was wars in Kurukshetra, a province in India, and depicts the last battle between rival enemies who are cousins (see page 54 for a description of this legend). The armies of the Kauravas and the Pandavas march from opposite ends towards the center of the panel where they meet in combat (Angkor Wat). Headpieces differentiate the warriors of the two armies (Angkor Wat). The scene begins with infantry marching into battle and musicians playing a rhythmic cadence. The battlefield is the scene of hand-to-hand combat and many dead soldiers (Angkor Wat).

Chief officers and generals (represented on a larger scale) oversee the battle in chariots and on elephants and horses. The scene builds up gradually and climaxes in a melée. Bisma (near the beginning of the pane), one of the heroes of the Mahabharata and commander of the Kauravas, pierced with arrow, is dying and his men surround him (Angkor Wat). Arjuna (holding a shield decorated with the face of the demon rahu) shoots an arrow at Krsna, his half-brother, and kills him. After death, Krisna (four arms) becomes the charioteer of Arjuna (Angkor Wat).

Corner pavilion (southwest)

Enter the pavilion and view the scenes facing you. Then continue clockwise around the pavilion. The bas-reliefs in this pavilion depict scenes from epic the Ramayana (Angkor Wat).


A- Left, Water festival; two ships (superimposed) with Apsaras, chess players (top ship)
B- Center, above the door: A god receiving offerings (Angkor Wat).


C- Left, top to bottom. A fight between Vali and Sugriva, the monkey king; Rama shoots Vali with an arrow who lies in the arms of his wife (three pointed headdress); monkeys mourn his death
D- Center, above the door: Murder of a demon; Krsna extinguishes a fire west.
E- Left: Siva sits with his wife Paravati on Mount Kailasa
F- Center, above the door: Krisna uproots trees with a stone he is tied to.
G- Right: Ravana, disguised as a chameleon, presents himself at the palace of Indra (Angkor Wat).


H- Left: The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
I – Center, above the door: Rama kills Marica, who, disguised as a golden stag, helped in the abduction of Sita.
J- Right: Krisna lifts Mount Govardhana to shelter their shepherds and their herds from the storm ignited by the anger of Indra (Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat

Steps go to the top of Angkor Wat

This gallery depicts a splendid triumphal procession from a battle between the Khmers and their enemies. The relief’s show methods used in warfare, mainly hand-to-hand combat, as they no machinery and no knowledge of firearms (Angkor Wat).

The naturalistic depiction of trees and animals in the background of this panel is unusual. The central figure of this gallery is King Suryavarman II, the builder of Angkor Wat, who appears twice. An inscription on the panel identifies him by his posthumous name, suggesting it may have been done after his death (Angkor Wat). The rectangular holes randomly cut n this gallery may have contained precious objects of the temple. On the upper tier the king (seated with traces of gilt on his body) holds an audience on a mountain. Below of the place walk down a mountain in the forest (Angkor Wat).

The army gathers for inspection and the commander mounted on elephants join their troops who are marching towards the enemy. The commander’s rank is identified by a small inscription near the figure. King Suryavarman II stands on an elephant (conical headdress, sword with the blade across his shoulder) and servants around him hold 15 ceremonial umbrellas (Angkor Wat). Visnu stands on a Garuda on a Garuda on a flagpole in front of the king’s elephant (Angkor Wat). The lively and loud procession of the Sacred Fire (carried in an ark) follows with standard bearers, musicians and jesters. Brahmans chant to the accompaniment of cymbals. The royal sacrifice in a palanquin (Angkor Wat).

Towards the end of the panel: The military procession resumes with a troop of Thai soldiers (pleated skirts with floral pattern; belts with long pendants; plaited hair; headdresses with plumes; short moustaches) led by their commander who is mounted on an elephant. The Thai troops were probably either mercenaries of a contingent from the province of Louvo (today called Lopburi) conscripted to the Khmer army (Angkor Wat). A number of the Khmer warriors wear helmets with horns of animal heads (deer, horse, bird) and some of their shields are embellished with monsters for the same purpose (Angkor Wat).

Three tiers recount the judgment of mankind by Yama and two tiers depict Heaven and Hell. Inscriptions have identified 37 heavens where one sees leisurely pursuits in palaces and 32 hells with scenes of punishment and suffering. Draperies and Apsaras separate the two and a row of Garudas borders the tier in the bottom (Angkor Wat). The roof was destroyed by lightning in 1947 and subsequently the ceiling of this gallery was restored by the French (Angkor Wat). Traces of gilt can be on riders on horses at the beginning of the panel. The lower section of the panel was badly damaged and liter filled with cement (Angkor Wat).

Lower tier: Yama, the Supreme Judge (multiple arms, wields a staff and rides a buffalo), points out to his scribes the upper road representing heaven and the lower one of hell. Departed spirits a wait judgment. Assistants to Yama shove the wicked through a trap door to the lower regions where torturers deliver punishments such as sawing a body in half for those who overeat (Angkor Wat). Lawbreakers have their bones broken (Angkor Wat). Some of the punished wear iron shackles or have nails pierced through their heads. Upper tier: A celestial palace is supported by a frieze of Garudas with Apsaras in the skies (Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat

Apsaras of Angkor Wat Wallpaper

This is the most famous panel of bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat and derives from the Indian epic Bagavata-Pourana. The Ocean of Milk is churned by gods and demons to generate Amrta, the elixir of life. the purpose of the churning is to recover lost treasures such as the sourer of immortality, Laksmi the goddess of good fortune, the milk white elephant of Indra, and the nymph of loveliness (Angkor Wat). The retrieval of these objects symbolizes prosperity (Angkor Wat). It takes place during the second ascent of Visnu, when he is incarnated as a tortoise (Angkor Wat).

The scene is decided into three tiers. The lower tier comprises various aquatic animals, real and mythical, and is bordered by a serpent. The middle tier has, on one side, a row of 92 demons (round bulging eyes, crested helmets) and, on the other side, a row of 88 gods (almond-shaped eyes, conical headdresses). They work together by holding and churning the serpent. Hanuman, the monkey god, assists. Visnu, in his reincarnation as a tortoise, offers the back of his shell as a base for the mountain Mandara, and as a pivot for the churning (Angkor Wat). He sits on the bottom of the Ocean. A huge cord in the form of the body of the serpent Vasuki acts as a stirring instrument to churn the sea (Angkor Wat).

To begin the motion the gods and demons twist the serpent’s body; the demons hold the head and the gods hold the tail of the serpent. Then by pulling it rhythmically back and for th they cause the pivot to rotate and churn the water (Angkor Wat).

The gods and demons are directed by three persons (identified by their larger size). Indra is on top of Visnu. On the extreme right Hanuman, ally of the gods, tickles the serpent. Upper tier: During the churning various female spirits emerge (Angkor Wat). Visnu appears in this scene again in yet another reincarnation-as a human being-to preside over the “churning “which, according to legend, lasted more than 1,000 years (Angkor Wat).

Numerous other beings are depicted such as the three-headed elephant mount of Indra, Apsaras and Laksmmi, the goddess of beauty. They churning provoke the serpent to vomit the mortal venom, which covers the waves. Afraid the venom may destroy the gods and demons, Brahma intervenes and requests Siva to devour and drink the venom, which will leave an indelible trace on Siva’s throat. He complies and, as a result, he Amtrak pours forth (Angkor Wat). The demon rush to capture all the liquid. Visnu hurries to the rescue and assumes yet another reincarnation in the form of Maya, a bewitching beauty, and is able to restore much of the coveted liquid (Angkor Wat).

Churning of the Ocean of Milk Bas Relief

Just past the middle of the East Gallery there is an interesting inscription of the early eighteenth century when Angkor Wat was a Buddhist monastery. It tells of a provincial governor who built a small tomb where he deposited the bones of his wife and children. The structure is in poor condition but recognizable in its original location, directly in front of the inscription in the gallery (Angkor Wat).

VICTORY OF VISNU OVER THE DEMONS The bas-reliefs in this section of the Wast Gallery and the south part of the North Gallery were probably completed at a later date, perhaps the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The stiffness of the figures and the cursory workmanship reveal this change. An army of demons marches towards the center of the panel. Center: Visnu (four arms) sits on the shoulders of a Garuda (Angkor Wat).

A scene of carnage follows. Visnu slaughters the enemies on both sides and disperses the bodies. The leaders of the demons (mounted on animals or riding or riding in chariots drawn by monsters) are surrounded by marching soldiers. Another group of warriors (bows and arrows) with their chiefs (in chariest of mounted on huge peacocks) follows (Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat

Angkor Temple with the face status complex


At the beginning of the panel Visnu in his incarnation as Krsna (framed by two heroes) sits on the shoulders of a Gruda. Agni, the god of Fire (multiple arms), sits on a rhinoceros behind him. This scene appears several times.  A wall surrounding the city is on fire and prevents the advance of Krsna (mounted of a Garuda) and his army of gods (Angkor Wat). This Krsna scene also appears several times in the panel (Angkor Wat). The Garuda extinguishes the fire with water from the sacred river Ganges. The demon Bana (multiple arms, mounted on a rhinoceros) approaches from the opposite direction (Angkor Wat). Extreme right: Krsna (1,000 heads, hands across his chest) kneels in front of Siva who sits enthroned on Mount Kailasa with his wife Parvati and their son ganesa (head of an elephant) as they demand that Siva spare the life of Bana.

A procession of 21 gods of the Brahmanic pantheon march in procession carrying classic attributes and riding traditional mounts. One-god battles against a demon while warriors on both sides battle in the background. A series of adversaries follow, the Kubera, God of riches (with bow and arrow), Appears on the shoulders of a Yaksa; followed by Skanda, Goe of war (multiple heads and arms), mounded on a peacock; Indra stands on his mount the elephant; Visnu (four arms) sits on his mount (Angkor Wat), a Guard; a demon (tiered heads) shaking swords; Yama, God of Death and. Justice   (sword and shield), stands in a chariot pulled by horses; and Varian, God of the Water, stands on a five-headed serpent harnessed like a beast of burden (Angkor Wat).

Enter the pavilion and walk counter-clockwise. Several of the scenes are in good condition.

A- Right: The women’s quarters of a palace.
B- Center, above the door: An attempt to abduct site in the forest.
C- Left, badly damaged: A scene from the Ramayana.
Above: Tiers of monkeys and a pyre

D- Right: rama in his chariot (drawn by geese) returns victorious to Ayodhya
E- Center, above the door: Rama and Laksmana surrounded by monkeys.
F- Left: A conversation between Sita and Hanuman in the forest; Hanuman gives Rama’s ring to Sota (Angkor Wat).

G- Right Visni (seated, four arms) surrounded by Apsaras.

H- Center, above the door: Rama and Laksmana battle a monster (headless, face on stomach)
I-   Left: Rama wins an archery competition; Rama and Sita sitting together (Angkor Wat).

J- Right: Visnu (four arms) on a Garuda; Krsna (mounted on a Garuda) bring back Mount Maniparvata which he took from a demon he killed; his army carries the remains of the demon.

K-  Center, above the door: Discussions on an alliance (Angkor Wat).
Left: Rama and his brother Laksmana.
Right: Suryva, the monkey king L- Left: Visnu reclines on the serpent Anen (Angkor Wat)t.

Angkor Wat

Cambodia children play outside Angkor Wat

Below: A group of nine gods with their mounts
(1) Surya in a chariot pulled by horses
(2) Kubera standing on the shoulders of a Yaksa
(3) Brahma riding a goose
(4) Skanda on a peacock
(5) An unidentified god on a horse
(6) Indra on a three-headed elephant
(7) Yama riding a buffalo
(8)Siva on a bull
(9) An unidentified god on a lion (Angkor Wat)

This scene from the Ramayana is a long and fierce struggle between Rama and the demon king Ravana (10 heads and 20 arms), near the center. It is among the finest of the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat. The battle takes place in Lanka (Sri Lanka) and ends with the defeat of Ravana, captor of Sita, the beautiful wife of Rama. The central figures are the monkey warriors who fight against the raksasas on Rama’s side (Angkor Wat).

The brutality of war is juxtaposed with a graceful rendition of lithesome monkeys. Past the center: Rama stands on the shoulders of Sugriva surrounded by arrows; Laksmana, his brother, and an old demon, stand by Rama. Nearby, the demon king Ravana (10 heads and 20 arms) rides in a chariot drawn by mythical lions (Angkor Wat).

Further on, Nala, the monkey who built Rama’s bridge to Lanka, is between them leaning on the heads of two lions. He throws the body of one he has just beaten over his shoulder. A monkey prince tears out the tusk of an elephant, which is capped with a three-pointed headdress and throws him and the demon to the ground (Angkor Wat).


It is based on the amount of time the visitor has to spend at Angkor and take into consideration the roads, proximity of the temples, and favorable light conditions (Angkor Wat).

For some temples it is important to begin at the principal entrance to perceive the space and decoration as the builder intended, and entrances are indicated in the text. The monuments are oriented according to the four points of a compass which can be used as a point of reference. the temple of Angkor Wat is covered in detail in this book because of its importance, complexity and size (Angkor Wat).

Angkor provides wonderful photographic opportunities. the monuments and the surrounding jungle afford unlimited textural and lighting opportunities for composing a picture (Angkor Wat).

Clouds are common and tend to diffuse the light which is somewhat flat even though it is intense. As most of the temples face east the best lighting conditions are in the morning except for Angkor Wat where the best light is in the afternoon because it faces west. the temples surrounded by jungle such as Ta Prohm and Prah Khan can be photographed with good results when the sun is directly overhead and shining through the foliage. Just as one is never prepared for the enormous size and overwhelming beauty of Angkor, one is never ready to leave it (Angkor Wat). With photographs and visions etched in memory, one need never say good-by to Angkor, for its magic will go with you wherever fate and the gods may take you to colour your thoughts and dreams to life’s very end. The name of the monuments at Angkor are often modern ones designated by Cambodians or early European travellers. In publications by the French the enclosures of a temple are numbered starting from the central sanctuary and progressing towards the enclosing walls. The system used in this book reverses the order for the convenience of the visitor (Angkor Wat). Thus the first enclosing wall the visitor encounters when entering a temple is number one. the numbers ascend from the exterior to the interior of the monument. In many distances, though, only traces of the enclosing walls, particularly the outer one, remain (Angkor Wat).


You must possess an admission pass (an ‘Angkor Pass’) to visit the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Passes may be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. One-day tickets only can be purchased at the secondary tollgate on airport road entrance near Angkor Wat and at Banteay Srey.(Angkor Wat)

Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. Photo taken on the spot with free of charge is required at time of purchase (Angkor Wat).

Visiting hours are 5:00AM – 6:00PM. Angkor Wat closes at 6:00PM, Banteay Srey closes at 5:00PM and Kbal Spean at 3:00PM. Always carry your ticket. It will be checked upon each park entry and at major temples (Angkor Wat). There is a significant fine for not possessing a valid ticket inside the park (Angkor Wat). A regular admission ticket is not required to visit Phnom Kulen, Koh Ker or Beng Melea, but there is a separate entrance fee of $20, $10 and $5, respectively (Angkor Wat)

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