13 Answers to Angkor Wat’s Mystery

This wonder of the world was one bad ass structure. Running around barefoot for three days made me feel like I was back in the 1100’s – when all of these temples were built. Bamboo forest and dirt roads surround the temples. It’s simply serene.  I was completely fascinated by the Hindu and Buddhist religions, so much so that I may have gone a little overboard. Not only did I buy the book, visit the museum, watch the documentary but also paid for a tour guide.  Here’s 13 things I found pretty interesting about Angkor Wat:angkor watSunrise at Angkor Wat

  • Angkor Wat was built for the worship of Hinduism, because Buddhism didn’t even exist yet.  Once King Jayavarman VII rose to power, the temple converted religions. Just like that. The religions are very similar and the temple still holds treasures of both.  The stone walls depict stories of Hindu gods, but Buddha statues replaced the Shiva’s, Vishnu’s and Devi’s. You kind of get an idea that the two religions are similar enough that they can exist in one big complex.
  • At completion in 1150, Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples created what was at that time the largest city in the world.
  • All of the work was done by volunteers (or as I like to believe, slaves).  Back in the 12th century, the more religious monuments one had, the stronger your religion and land was.  Feeling a threat from other religions, the Hindu’s built quickly.
  • The entrance of Angkor Wat has four bathing pools.  Each represents a different element: fire, air, water and earth.  People that came to meditate at Angkor Wat would have to bathe in each one before entering the place of worship. Sounds pretty luxurious to me…

It’s a numbers game. Here’s how the Hindus/Buddhists play it:

  • 37 is the most important. There are 37 levels of heaven. So how many steps does it take it get to the top of Angkor Wat? 37. Why are the steps so difficult to walk up, I asked. The steps are extremely narrow (which I figured was because Asian’s typically I have small feet). The stairs are so steep, as well, which didn’t make sense to me, since Asian’s are typically not very tall. “It’s not supposed to be easy to reach the top of heaven; to reach enlightenment,”our tour guide said.
  • Angkor Wat was also built, not out of coincidence, in 37 years.  Our tour guide joked that they may have finished earlier and slowed down the process.  Workers could have taken long breaks, taken days off and then eventually put the last stone on at the 37th year. Our tour guide gave us a good laugh.
  • Odd numbers are lucky.  This is exemplified in the “Naga” figures that usually mark the entrance of a temple. Essentially, it’s five snakes that come together and almost resemble a hand.  Naga’s are good, because they are protectors.  They protected the Buddha from the rain when he was finding enlightenment.  The naga arose from the water and covered his head.naga
  • Even numbers are not good. The worst number is four. Why? Because it takes four people to carry a coffin.  I thought, maybe the people were small back then and a coffin could’ve been carried by only two. And how complex could the coffins have been? Surely, the “volunteers” were lifting heavy sandstone up ramps, they could carry the deceased with two. And shouldn’t four be lucky, since it illustrates the four elements of the earth?

The purpose: A matter of life or death?

  • The entrance faces the west, which is rare because all other temples before it faced the east.  The east represents new life, since this is where the sun rises.  Some Buddhists even make sure they buy their houses on the side of the street where their door will face east. Angkor Wat, however, faces the “death” side, which further verifies that it may have been built for the King’s burial. The king is supposed to be buried inside, but noone has ever found his remains.

No one actually lived in Angkor Wat.  This shocked me – considering it is such a huge complex.  How could you have such a huge building and not even have people living in it? It’s because the structure was a place for people to meditate, worship and pray to the Buddha.

  • There are no toilets in Angkor Wat (since no one lived in it). So before entering, one would have to make sure they had a solid stomach or else they would have to run out of the maze and into the bushes. I found this out the hard way…
  • Angkor Wat hadn’t been discovered until the 1800’s by the French.  It was essentially buried by the jungle.  A quick escape during a time of war had left the area empty, and for hundreds of years the religious site full of gems and statues was abandoned. This, I find hard to believe, since there are many hill tribe people that wander through the forest and how would no one go back? This part of the story isn’t in history books so who really knows…

I wanted to know why so many of the stones had holes in them. A friend mentioned maybe there used to be stones there, but they got stolen.  Most of the holes were on the floor, and I couldn’t imagine precious gems being walked one.  Our tour guide filled us in:

  • The large sandstone was moved from an area about 60km from the building site. They used elephants and volunteers to move the large blocks.  Holes were drilled into the stone so rods could drag them along.
  • There’s a large moat that surrounds the temple.  There are multiple reasons, but the one I found most interesting is because of practicality. Heavy monsoon seasons swell the soil, which would constantly shift the temple’s foundation. By building a moat, the water is able to run off and drain into it. This, combined with a foundation of sandstone, limestone, and some other natural resources means that Angkor Wat stays in pretty good condition, despite it being almost 1,000 years old.

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