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Angkor Wat

The largest of the Khmer temples (fig.) and one of the seven Wonders of the World. It is located in Cambodia and was built in the early 12th century AD, during the reign of King Suryavarman II, and initially dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. In early recordings it was actually called Phreah Pisnulok or Phra Phitsanulok, i.e. the ‘World of Vishnu’. The name Angkor Wat only became a popular designation later on. It is the only Angkorian temple complex that was constructed facing the uncommon direction of the West, prompting the idea that it may have been built as a mausoleum, since the West is usually associated with death, as it is the direction where the sun sets. It has a rectangular shape and is surrounded by an exterior wall measuring 1,300 by 1,500 meters and by a moat of 190 meters wide and with a length of 1,900 meters, surrounding the temple on four sides. It is a massive three-tiered construction crowned by five towers called prang of which the tallest stands at its centre and measures 65 meters high from ground level. The exterior walls on the first level are covered with bas-reliefs and carvings, the largest in the world. With the exception of the historic procession of King Suryavarman II and the theme of heaven and hell, the subject of the bas-reliefs is of Hindu origin, mainly the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. The northern section of the western gallery depicts the Battle of Langka and the northwestern corner pavilion depicts Vishnu's avatars; the southern section of the western gallery depicts the Battle of Kurukshetra and the southwestern corner pavilion depicts Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa; the western section of the northern gallery depicts the battle between the gods and the asuras with the eastern section of the northern gallery describing Krishna's victory over the asura Bana; the western section of the southern gallery is a historical section depicting the procession of King Suryavarman II and the eastern section of the southern gallery describes the Judgement of the Souls by Yama and their consignment to heaven or hell; the northern section of the eastern gallery illustrates Vishnu's victory over the asuras and the southern section of the eastern gallery depicts the Churning of the Ocean of Milk (fig.), a theme also found in Spean Neak, i.e. the naga-bridges (fig.) at the entrance gates to Angkor Thom (fig.). The second level has an abundance of wall carvings of Apsara, whose total is estimated at somewhere between 1,500 and 1,900 images, most of them wearing a crown-like headdress. Besides this the second level has a hall which is known as the Hall of the Thousand Buddhas and four gopuras, each one of them constructed in direction a the compass. The third or upper level features the main prang or tower which on each side enshrines a standing Buddha image. Angkor Wat is a stone quincunx replica of Khmer cosmology: its five towers symbolizing Mt. Meru's five peaks; the enclosing walls, the mountains at the edge of the world; and the surrounding moat, the oceans beyond. Also spelled Angkor Vat and in Thai Nakhon Wat.