Angkor Wat & The Temples of Angkor

Angkor Wat - Rear View - Photo by Diego Delso
Angkor Wat Rear View – Photo by Diego Delso Dawn view of the temple of Angkor Wat, with 2 Nāgas in the foreground, a gallery in the middle and the temple mountain in the back. The Angkor Wat was first a Hindu and later a Buddhist temple complex built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, and capital of the Khmer Empire, today Cambodia. This temple complex is the best preserved temple in the site and a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Aerial View - Photo by Charles J SharpAngkor Wat or “Capital Temple” is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. It was first a Hindu and later a Buddhist temple. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means “Temple City” or “City of Temples” in Khmer; Angkor, meaning “city” or “capital city”, is a vernacular form of the word nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (नगर). Wat is the Khmer word for “temple grounds” (Sanskrit: वाट vāṭa “”enclosure”).


Angkor Wat, located at 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″E, is a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard design for the empire’s state temples and the later plan of concentric galleries. The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean. Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level.

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. This has led many (including Maurice Glaize and George Coedès) to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple. Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction—prasavya in Hindu terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services. The archaeologist Charles Higham also describes a container which may have been a funerary jar which was recovered from the central tower. It has been nominated by some as the greatest expenditure of energy on the disposal of a corpse. Freeman and Jacques, however, note that several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat’s alignment was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west.

A further interpretation of Angkor Wat has been proposed by Eleanor Mannikka. Drawing on the temple’s alignment and dimensions, and on the content and arrangement of the bas-reliefs, she argues that the structure represents a claimed new era of peace under King Suryavarman II: “as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king’s power and to honor and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above.” Mannikka’s suggestions have been received with a mixture of interest and scepticism in academic circles. She distances herself from the speculations of others, such as Graham Hancock, that Angkor Wat is part of a representation of the constellation Draco.

However, it is important to know the facts so below you will find compelling information by Graham Hancock through his mathematical and astronomical investigation of Angkor Wat.

According to Graham Hancock, Angkor Wat and all the temples were conceived by its builders as a symbolic diagram of the universe. The notion of a land that is the image of heaven on which are built cosmic temples with halls that resemble the sky was an idea that took root in Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat consists of a series of five inter nested rectangular enclosures. The short dimensions are aligned with high precision to true north-south, showing no deviation whatever according to modern surveys. The long dimensions are oriented, equally precisely, to an axis that has been deliberately diverted 0.75 degrees south of east and north of west.

The first and outermost of the five rectangles that we find ourselves looking down on from the air is the moat. Measured along its outer edge it runs 1300 meters north to south and 1500 meters from east to west.

Its ditch, (moat) 190 meters wide, has walls made from closely fitted blocks of red sandstone set out with such precision that the accumulated surveying error around the entire 5.6 kilometers of the perimeter amounts to barely a centimeter.

Angkor Wats principal entrance is on the west side where a megalithic causeway 347 meters long and 9.4 meters wide bears due east across the moat and then passes under a massive gate let into the walls of the second of the five rectangles. This second enclosure measures 1025 x 800 meters. The causeway continues eastward through it, past lawns and subsidiary structure and a large reflecting pool, until it rises on to a cruciform terrace leading into the lowest gallery of the temple itself. This is the third of the five inter nested rectangles visible from the air and precision engineering and surveying are again in evidence with the northern and southern walls, for example, being of identical lengths, exactly 202.14 meters.

Ascending to the fourth rectangle, the fourth level of Angkor Wats gigantic central pyramid, the same precision can be observed. The northern and southern walls measure respectively 114.24 and 114.22 meters. At the fifth and last enclosure, the top level of the pyramid which reaches a height of 65 meters above the entrance causeway the northern wall is 47.75 meters in length and the southern wall 47.79 meters.

According to a study published in the journal Science, these minute differences, less than 0.01 percent, demonstrates an astounding degree of accuracy on the part of the ancient builders.

The Draco-Angkor Correlation

The principal monuments of Angkor model the sinuous coils of the northern constellation of Draco. There seems to be no doubt that a correlation exists: the correspondence between the principal stars of Draco and at least fifteen of the main pyramid-temples of Angkor are too close to be called anything else.

Cycles of the Ages

A detailed survey of Angkor Wat published in Science magazine in July 1976 reveled that even the causeway incorporates cosmic symbolism and numbers encoding the cycles of time.

After establishing the basic unit of measure used in Angkor as the Khme hat (equivalent to 0.43434 meters) the authors of the survey go on to demonstrate that axial lengths along the causeway appear to have been adjusted to symbolize or represent the great world ages of Hindu cosmology:

These periods begin with the Krita Yuga or golden age of man and proceed through the Treta Yuga, Dvarpara Yuga and Kali Yuga, the last being the most decadent age of man. Their respective durations are 1,728,000 years; 1,296,000 years; 864,000 years; and 432,000 years.

It therefore cannot be an accident that key sections of the causeway have axial lengths that approximate extremely closely to 1,728 hat, 1,296 hat, 864 hat, and 432 hat the yuga lengths scaled down by 1000. We propose, conclude the authors, that the passage of time is numerically expressed by the lengths corresponding to yugas along the west-east axis.

Angkor wats dominant feature is its long and massive east-west axis which locks it uncompromisingly to sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes. In addition, the temple is cleverly anchored to ground and sky by markers for other key astronomical moments of the year. For example, reports Science:

It is interesting to note that there are two solstitial alignments from the western entrance gate of Angkor Wat. These two alignments (added to the equinoctial alignment already established) mean that the entire solar year was divided into four major sections by alignments from just inside the entrance of Angkor Wat. From this western vantage point the sun rises over Phnom Bok (17.4 kilometers to the north-east) on the day of the summer solsticeThe western entrance gate of the temple also has a winter solstice alignment with the temple of Prast Kuk Bangro, 5.5 kilometres of the south-east.


The origins of the temple lie in what may be the world’s oldest religious text, the Rigveda, one of the four Veda Samhitas of Hindu literature. This text describes the gods of heaven and earth, including the earthly god Vishnu, The Preserver. It is to Vishnu that Angkor Wat is consecrated, and with more than mere symbolic intent. Hindu temples were built to be earthly abodes for the gods. The central sanctuary was the most sacred place, directly in line with the vertical axis of the central spire that provided the connection between the realms of heaven and Earth. The surrounding architecture of the temple would then mirror Hindu cosmology, being essentially a mandala in stone a diagram of the cosmos itself. Furthermore, the Khmer civilization had by the time of Angkor Wat’s construction incorporated the idea that a king would, after his death, be transmuted into one of the gods. Hence, it was at Angkor Wat that Suryavarman II, after his death, was believed to reside as Vishnu.

Astronomical significance:

Preah Khan Temple Ruins - Photo by Allie CaulfieldAstronomy and Hindu cosmology are inseparably entwined at Angkor Wat. Nowhere is this more evident than in the interior colonnade, which is dedicated to a vast and glorious carved mural, a bas-relief illustrating the gods as well as scenes from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Along the east wall is a 45-meter (150-foot) scene illustrating the “churning of the sea of milk,” a creation myth in which the gods attempt to churn the elixir of immortality out of the milk of time. The north wall depicts the “day of the gods,” along the west wall is a great battle scene from the Mahabharata, and the south wall portrays the kingdom of Yama, the god of death. It has been suggested that the choice and arrangement of these scenes was intended to tie in with the seasons—the creation scene of the east wall is symbolic of the renewal of spring, the “day of the gods” is summer, the great battle on the west wall may represent the decline of autumn, and the portrayal of Yama might signify the dormancy, the lifeless time of winter.

The architecture of Angkor Wat also has numerous astronomical aspects beyond the basic mandala plan that is common to other Hindu temples. As many as eighteen astronomical alignments have been identified within its walls. To mention but three of them: when standing just inside the western entrance, the Sun rises over the central tower on the spring (vernal) equinox; it rises over a distant temple at Prasat Kuk Bangro, 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) away, on the winter solstice; and on the summer solstice it rises over a prominent hill 17.5 kilometers (10.9 miles) away.

Finally, some researchers have claimed that the very dimensions of many of the structures at Angkor Wat have astronomical associations. These associations emerge from consideration of the unit of length that was in use at that time, a unit known as the hat or “Cambodian cubit.” There is some question as to how long a hat was, and indeed its definition may not have been uniformly applied; but a value of 43.45 centimeters (17.1 inches) for the length of a hat is suggested by the structures themselves.

Using this value, archaeologists discovered numerous dimensions of the temple that seem to have astronomical and cosmological significance for example, the following:

The dimensions of the highest rectangular level of the temple are 189 hat in the east-west direction and 176 hat in the north-south direction. Added together these give 365, the number of days in one year.

In the central sanctuary, the distances between sets of steps is approximately 12 hat. There are roughly 12 lunar cycles, or synodic months (from full Moon to full Moon, say the basis for our modern month) in one year.

The length and width of the central tower add up to approximately 91 hat. On average, there are 91 days between any solstice and the next equinox, or any equinox and the next solstice.

Because of its orbit around the Earth, the Moon’s apparent position in the sky relative to the background stars will appear to shift from night to night. Since it takes the Moon just over 27 days to complete one orbit (known as its sidereal period), it will, during this time appear to move through 27 successive regions of the sky. In Hindu cosmology, these regions were known as the naksatras, or lunar mansions. In some contexts there were 27 lunar mansions, while in other contexts an additional naksatra containing the star Vega was included, giving 28 lunar mansions.