The ancestry of Cambodia is traced back to the legendary Indian Kaundinya and Soma, a Khmer princess, and this lineage was called Somavamsa. It was in the 7th century that Kambu and Mera, another legendary couple established a different lineage, the Suryavamsa. Amidst several warring kings, King Jayavarman II declared himself a universal ruler in 802.
The Khmer empire in those days covered much more than Cambodia of today, and included Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Burma and other places. The region of the Empire later came to be known as Angkor, with hundreds of beautiful temples. These enchanting structures were once part of a larger social structure that consisted of wooden houses, palaces and other places.
The Khmer Emperor Suryavarman II, who reigned during AD 1113-50 built the Angkor Wat temple. It was one of the many temples that came up when the Khmer civilization was enjoying the height of its power. This temple has earned the distinction of being one of mankind’s most impressive and enduring architectural achievements.
Angkor Wat faces West and many believe this is because it is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is associated with the West. However, there are several beautiful sculptures on the temple walls of Shiva and other gods and goddesses. Some rumors say that that the temple was initially an observatory and the West entrance was to align with the rising sun and many sun and moon sighting lines have been revealed.
Angkor Wat is based on the temple mountain idea. It has five big towers rising out of a larger pyramid shaped temple that represents the whole mountain. The same shapes appear over and over again throughout the temple indicating the perfect symmetry and repetition. It is not just a temple, but a small city in itself. There are four galleries surrounding the main temple area and are famous for their detailed art work. The temple architecture leaves many modern architects speechless.
At one point, there was a controversy regarding the art in Angkor Wat. Some Europeans brought out the theory that the temple was built much later than the–th century. The reasoning behind this claim is that the temple’s motifs look very similar to motifs from the Italian Renaissance, suggesting that they were copied from the Europeans. However, it was later proved that these allegations are completely wrong and have no basis. In fact, it was said that the Europeans may have taken the oriental art from Angkor Wat to Europe.
Inscriptions on the walls of Angkor Wat reveal that Divakara Pandit, a priest who lived around 1050-1135 was highly respected. These inscriptions and his image talk of his achievements with great love. He was said to be the chief architect for this temple. Through the carved writings found in the region that show royalty as well as the common people, archeologists get a lot of information. Everything about Angkor Wat reveals a story that helps us visualize the temple and the Khmer Empire in all its glory.