Angkor is deep in the north-west Cambodian jungles that surround it and that long submerged it. The temple of Angkor Vat was built early in the twelfth-century by King Suryavarman II to the glory of the Hindu God Vishnu. About a mile to the north lies the royal walled city of Angkor Thom, with its five huge gates and its fifty towers of Bayon in the ruined city of Preah Khan; seat of a dynasty that rose to imperial splendor only to vanish without any traces beyond these in stone.
At the time of Angkor’s glory, the influence of Buddhism, transported from India shortly after Hinduism, had also become great in Indochina. Many shrines were dedicated to ”bodhisattvas”, or future Buddhas. Khmer kings often had themselves represented in such form, indicating that through their kindness and munificence they had achieved sainthood. Preah Khan was proclaimed to be holier even than Allahabad in India, and the waters that surround it were thought to cleanse mud from the soul.
Angkor tells its story in fabled temples and sculptures made by nameless artists in the service of demigod kings. For many years, Cambodians, who knew of the tree strangled, partly buried treasure of their jungles; viewed the ruins with a kind of superstitious horror. To them it was a ghost town of sort, haunted by unpredictable spirits. Another version, is that the missionaries, alarmed by the thought that their unexpected discovery might ignite an old religion or give added strength to the present Buddhism, prudently kept quiet about the great ruined buildings, monuments and temples in the heart of Cambodia. Surely these stone deities, these great uncompromising faces, could only attract the Cambodians back to idolatry. Better to leave it all alone in the crawling vines and underbrush of tropical jungle.
The history of Angkor is a history of a short, glorious and destructive empire. The Khmers, the people of central Cambodia, whose ancient capital was Angkor, recorded their rise and fall over five centuries; their conquests, achievements, their prides and sorrows, their religion and their pleasures, all in stone. To an enthralling extent, Angkor is a sculptured book of history and legend intertwined.
Late in the seventh century a rebellion began in one of Cambodia’s vassal states. It was to prove overwhelmingly successful, for it captured the whole country and established the Khmer dynasty as its rulers. In the more than fifty years of Jayavarman II’s reign, there began the sweeping conquests of the Khmer’s abroad, and the building of the fantastic city of Angkor Thom at home. The Khmer armies had the strength to extract nervous and conciliating tribute from places as remote as Malaya and all the time the legends of the wonder and wealth of Angkor grew.
It is not surprising that a truly compelling kind of ”folie de grandeur” began to grip the Khmer kings. They worshipped their Gods in the temples they had built, but simultaneously they deified themselves. Their religion was changing from Hinduism to Buddhism as successive waves of priests and pilgrims came to Angkor, but the Khmers transmuted it into a Buddhism unlike any other form in the world. At the same time they kept a kind of overlay of Hinduism in the forms of their religion. When the temple of Bayon was built, it embodies this new mixture of ideas. With its immense stone faces, it s a design unknown in the parent culture of India.
e deity. Angkor Wat. At the time when these figures were being cut, cathedral builders in Europe were decorating facades with comparable images." width="614" height="819" />