Situated between India and China, Southeast Asia has been the birthplace of several cultures, some of which rank among the world’s greatest civilizations. Among the Indianized kingdoms which sprang up in Southeast Asia before the Common era, the great Khmer civilization and its capital, Angkor, in modern day Cambodia. The advent of Indians in Southeast Asia has hardly a parallel in history. In view of the ethnic affinities between the prehistoric Austro-Asiatic races of India and those of Suvarnabhumi, contact between the two regions may well go back to the remotest antiquity. Most of the countries of Southeast Asia came under the cultural and religious influence of India. This region was broadly referred to by ancient Indians as Suvarnabhumi (the Land of Gold) or Suvarnadvipa (the Island of Gold). Vedic Indians must have charted Java, Yawadvip, thousands of years ago because Yawadvip is mentioned in India's earliest epic, the Ramayana. The Ramayana reveals some knowledge of the eastern regions beyond seas; for instance Sugriva dispatched his men to Yavadvipa, the island of Java, in search of Sita. 

The whole area was so influenced by India, that according to a European scholar who wrote in 1861, that "the Indian countries situated beyond the Ganges hardly deserve the attention of History." The various states established in this region can therefore be called Indianized kingdoms. Invasion nor proselystism was by no means the main factor in the process of Indianization which took place in the Indian Archipelago. International trade was very important. Angkor Wat indeed deserves to play the leading part not only because of its exceptional artistic and architectural achievements but also on account of the hydrological, agricultural and ecological problems solved there. 

Angkor wat is often hailed as one of the most extraordinary architectural creations ever built, with its intricate bas-reliefs, strange acoustics and magnificent soaring towers. Angkor Wat, originally named Vrah Vishnulok - the sacred abode of Lord Vishnu, is the largest temple in the world. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century. The Sanskrit Nagara (capital) was modified by the Cambodian tongue to Nokor and then to Angkor. The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit word 'nagara' meaning 'holy city'. Vatika is Sanskrit word for  temple. "The city which is a temple," Angkor Wat is a majestic monument, the world's largest religious construction in stone, and an architectural masterpiece. The Khmers adhered to the Indian belief that a temple must be built according to a mathematical system in order for it to function in harmony with the universe. Distances between certain architectural elements of the temple reflect numbers related to Indian mythology and cosmology. The sheer size of the place leaves visitors in awe and the complex designs illustrate the skills of long gone priest architects.  Every spare inch has been carved with intricate works of art. The sculptures of Indian icons produced in Cambodia during the 6th to the 8th centuries A D are masterpieces, monumental, subtle, highly sophisticated, mature in style and unrivalled for sheer beauty anywhere in India says Philip Rawson. The scale of Angkor Wat enabled the Khmer to give full expression to religious symbolism. It is, above all else, a microcosm of the Hindu universe.

It is frequently said that Angkor was 'discovered' by the Europeans but this is patently nonsense and simply reflects a Eurocentric view. The Khmer never forgot the existence of their monuments. French naturalist Henri Mouhot stumbled across the city complex of Angkor Wat while on a zoological expedition. He was overwhelmed by the magnificence of these ruins hidden in the jungle and wrote: “One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michael Angelo  - might take its place besides our most beautiful buildings – Grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome …it makes the traveler forget all the fatigues of the journey, filling him with admiration and delight, such as should be experienced on finding a verdant oasis in the sandy desert."

The grandeur of this ancient civilization is truly astounding. Covering an area of one square mile, Angkor Wat is one of the largest temple complex in the world. The temple is dedicated to the Lord Vishnu from whom the king was considered a reincarnation. Essentially a three-layered pyramid, Angkor Wat has five distinctive towers, 64 meters high. On the outer wall are eight panels of bas-relief depicting scenes of Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. These relics of past grandeur bear mute testimony tone of the least known yet most glorious chapters in the history of mankind: that of the classical culture of ‘Greater India.’ 

Unlike other countries, Cambodia does not minimize Indian influence on the local culture. On the contrary, the people of the country generously acknowledge it. Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia recalled the close cultural ties that have existed for two thousand years between India and Cambodia. He said: "When we refer to 2000 year old ties which unite us with India, it is not at all a hyperbole. In fact, it was about 2000 years ago that the first navigators, Indian merchants, and Brahmins brought to our ancestors their gods, their techniques, their organization. Briefly India was for us what Greece was for the Latin Occident."    


History of Kambuja
Architectural Symbolism
Why does Angkor Wat face West? 
Angkor Wat: A City within a City   

Lintels and Apsaras


For the rest of the chapter refer to the links listed below:

Sacred Angkor
Sacred Angkor part 3
Sacred Angkor part 4

History of Kambuja

Southeast Asia did not become a cultural battlefield between China and India. In the field of religion, for instance, there was no rivalry between the two great Asian peoples to save souls in Southeast Asia. On the contrary, the Chinese adopted Buddhism, which was introduced from India by way of central Asia at the court of the eastern Han emperor in the 1st century AD. Throughout the first millennium, scholars and pilgrims from China as well as Southeast Asia visited places of worship and scholarship in India. Many Chinese scholars and pilgrims stopped halfway in Sumatra and Borneo to learn Sanskrit and Pali before proceeding to India for advanced study. China and Southeast Asia both were areas of Indian religious influence in this period. 

Most of Southeast Asia followed the Indian cultural patterns. The relative acceptability of Indian culture may be further attributed to geographical commonness, relative lack of Indian political ambition in the region, and the sate of commerce between India and Southeast Asia. Geographically, India and Southeast Asia share the tropical monsoon climate, with all its implications for a way of life based on irrigate agriculture. Indian culture was welcome in Southeast Asia because it came without political strings. Also, it should be noted that commerce had been an important carrier of culture throughout history. Traditional Chinese shyness towards the sea left the field largely to Indians at first and, later, to the Arabs, Persians, and to the Southeast Asians themselves.  

However, the large scale acculturation of Southeast Asian elite on the Indian pattern could not have been the work of Indian traders, who belonged to the Vaishya class, or sailors, who came from the Shudra group. Indeed the prime agents of the process of Indianization were the Brahmins, the priestly class, who had knowledge of the sacred lore, the rites and the rituals and laws. The initiative for the Indianizing process in Southeast Asia most certainly came from the region’s ruling class, who invited Brahmins to serve at their courts at priest, astrologers, and advisers.  


Map of Indianized Indochina or Suvarnabhumi. 

Hindu names like Dvaravati, Amravati, Panduranga and Me Kong (Ma Ganga) many others. Philippines was known as Panyupayana and Borneo was known as Varuna Dvipa.

For more on The Glorious Hindu Legacy: Indic influence in Southeast Asia refer to the chapters under Glimpses XII to Glimpses XIX and Suvarnabhumi.


The Khambuja royalty, traced its descent from Rishi Kambu Svayambhuva, the King of Aryadesa (India) and the apsara Meera, which is another version of the recurrent motif of foundation myths of royal families in South India.  


Chenla is claimed to have been the original home of the Khambuja people. 

The Khambuja royalty, traced its descent from Rishi Kambu Svayambhuva, the King of Aryadesa (India) and the apsara Meera, which is another version of the recurrent motif of foundation myths of royal families in South India.  Kambuja (Cambodia) according to tradition was established by Kambu Svayambhuva after whom the country was named Kambuja. Some of its famous rulers bore names ending in Varman as in South Indian; examples are Jayavarman, Yasovarman, and Suryavarman.

The two earliest known kings are Srutavarman and his son Sreshthavarman, who secured Chenla’s freedom from Funan. About the middle of the 6th century, when the last king of Funan, Rudravarman died, the king of Chenla, Bhavavarman – possibly a grandson of Rudravarman of Funan – underttok to conquer Funan with the help of his brother Chitrasena.  

A good deal is known of Bhavavarman from inscriptions, one of which, written in Sanskrit verse, announces the consecration by the King, of a Sivalinga named Tryambaka. Another describes him as King of Kings, strong as Mount Meru. When he died in 598 the unification of the two kingdoms was well advanced, and he has been described, therefore, as the founder of the glory of Kambujadesa. After his death, his brother, Chitrasena ascended the throne as Mahendravarman. He built numerous Shiva temples throughout his domains. All the known inscriptions of Mahendravarman resemble Pallava inscriptions of the early 7th century. In marked contrast to Funan and other Southeast Asian states which frequently sent embassies to China, Chenla dispatched its first embassy to China in 616-617, during Chitrasena’s reign.   


Lord Shiva, bronze 11th century. Cambodia.

King Mahendravarman built numerous Shiva temples throughout his domain.


After his Chitravarman’s death, his son Isanavarman ruled over the whole of Cambodia, Cochin China, and the valley of the Mun River to the north of the Dangrek Mountains. On the site of the modern Sambor Prei Kuk (Kampong Thom) on the Mekong River, he founded a new capital city, called after his name Isanapura.  

The Khambuja or the Khmer Kingdom gradually emerged from the fusion of Chenla and Funan, and became the most powerful state in Indochina.

It survived for almost seven centuries and attained an unparalleled height of political prestige and cultural advancement until it was destroyed by the Thais in the 15th century. At about the same time this empire emerged, the Pyu kingdom of Sri Ksetra in Burma, the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati in Siam, and the Empire of Sri Vijaya in Indonesia were flourishing. The seventh century was a formative one in Southeast Asia.   


Lord Harihara: Shiva and Vishnu united into a single body was the main feature of this period.

Harihara 6th century; sandstone from Ashram Maharosei (6th C.) a Hindu-style sandstone temple built in a style unlike any other temple in Cambodia.

(image source: Guimet Museum, France).


Until the end of this century, the Khmer kings concentrated on consolidating their hold over lower Meking (Ma Ganga)  region and around Tonle Sap. Both Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced, with the former predominating;  Saivism appears to have been the court religion. The worship of Harihara, in which Shiva and Vishnu are united in a single body, was the main feature of this period. Most inscriptions are in Sanskrit and the literary culture was based upon the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas.  

Phnom Kulen -- This is where the 500-year long Age of Angkor began. Phnom Kulen is the mountain on which Jayavarman II initiated a royal 'devraja' king in 802AD, declaring a unified and independent Cambodia under a single ruler.

Until the rise of Jayavarman II the capital of the Kambuja was in the south at Isanapura where the earliest types of Khmer temples are found, all dedicated to the Hindu religion. Indian models, especially of the post-Gupta style, were generally imitated, but the wood originals in India have perished. Indian influence in early Khmer or Sambor art is so marked that some scholars have suggested the artists came from India. The statues are extremely beautiful, but only a few have survived. 

The most exquisite of these are the statues of Harihara, Uma and Lakshmi in the Phom Penh museum.  

Jayavarman introduced into Cambodia with the help of a Brahmin guru, Hiranyadama, the idea of the Deva Raja (the king-God) which was somewhat similar to that of the Sailendra King of the Mountain cult. Jayavarman based his power on religion. He organized the state, founding several capitals – Hariharalaya, modern Roluous, Amarendrapura, probably built around Akyum, and finally Mahendraparvata or the Phom Kulen. Excavations on the summit of Phnom Kulen have revealed a number of temples that were completely hidden by thick forests and were mainly discovered by Philippe Stern and Henri Mouhot. In style, they provide a link between pre-Angkor and classical Angkor art.   


Angkor wat procession and scene of battles.


The Khmers were accomplished builders; Jayavarman’s successors built temples enthusiastically. The cult of the King of the Mountain inspired each king to erect a magnificent shrine to perpetuate his memory. Thus arose the complex of Angkor Thom. Yasovarman I (889 – 901) was one of the outstanding rulers of the dynasty, and the founder of the first city of Angkor. This covered a much larger area than Angkor Thom, which was founded later by Jayavarman VII at the end of the twelfth century. These two cities partly overlap, but the former lies outside the southern wall of Angkor Thom. Yasovarman issued a  large number of Sanskrit inscriptions written in Kavya style and built the Saiva temple of Phnom Bakheng.    

Indravarman who laid the foundation of Angkor, is said to have studied the monistic Vedanta philosophy of the great Indian Sage Shankaracharya, with a Brahmin learned in that tradition. 

Hydraulic Capital

Cambodia reached its peak during the reign of Suryavaman II (1113 – 1152), the builder of the matchless Angkor Wat, an epic in stone. With the death of Jayavarman II (1181 – 1220) the kingdom began to decline, falling finally before the advancing Thais. 

Angkor is a derivative of the Sanskrit Nagara, meaning city, and thom a Khmer word meaning great.  Angkor can reclaim the reputation it once had as a "hydraulic capital".


Hydraulic Capital - Irrigation channels.


 “This architectural work perhaps has not, and perhaps never has had, its equal on the face of the globe.” - Henri Mouhot.

Angkor wat was the size of Los Angeles.


Angkow wat covering an area of five hundred acres is the largest and most impressive temple in the world. According to Henri Mouhot, who discovered it for the modern world: “this architectural work perhaps has not, and perhaps never has had, its equal on the face of the globe.” 

Since his day, countless people, both admirers and skeptics, have stood spellbound before this majestic temple of Vishnu.  

A raised causeway of flagstones, lined by a naga-balustrade, leads from the main road over a moat to the main gate of the temple. This gate house, which is a spacious building forming the front part of the wall that goes around the enclosure, is in itself a remarkable creation. A paved road 400 yards long leads to the temple. At the base, the temple is 223 by 242 yards, and its main tower is about 80 yards high. Structurally it is a three-stepped pyramid. Each storey is punctuated by towers at the corners and pavilions in the center. The main tower is on the third storey. The temple rises steeply in the form of three concentric rectangular galleries, each double the height of the preceding one, and connected by stairs and intervening open terraces. The inner most gallery is dominated by five tall domes, the central one of which dominates the plain below. The entire building is constructed in sandstone, and if any wood was used, it has long since perished.  

The building has been chiseled with endless bas-reliefs and beautiful designs and patterns. Flowers, birds, and dancing maidens decorate the walls. Hundreds of Khmer artists must have spend their entire lives on the work, yet is impossible to detect a single flaw in these acres of carved panels. The sculptors of Angkor wat who executed many scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Harivamsa, must have had an intimate knowledge of Indian epic literature. Vishnu predominates but other gods also adorn the temple with their various incarnations and emanations. The outer gallery,  running around the whole building, itself contains a half-mile of bas reliefs on the back wall, and there are about 1750 life-size apsaras, practically everyone in a different, magnificent head-dress.   


All the princes received training in Indian philosophy and literature. 

A number of persons of apparent Indian origin were present in the Khambuja kingdom and Brahmins were held in high esteem. For instance, Hiranyadama came from a janapada in India to teach Tantric texts to the royal priest, Sivakaivalya.    


Although the Khmers are so admirably remembered for their superb achievements in art, they patronized all branches of Indian learning. All the princes received training in Indian philosophy and literature. A number of persons of apparent Indian origin were present in the Khambuja kingdom and Brahmins were held in high esteem. For instance, Hiranyadama came from a janapada in India to teach Tantric texts to the royal priest, Sivakaivalya.  

When Buddhism became the paramount religion of Cambodia is uncertain. It had long been flourishing and occasionally enjoyed royal patronage, but it was never the state religion and never held a dominant position. It seems likely that Siam, which was first influenced by Cambodia, later aided Cambodia’s conversion to Buddhism. The change was almost complete; today Hinduism is practically extinct in Cambodia, except in a vestigial form in certain ceremonies and festivities. Hindu deities have been absorbed by Buddhism and relegated to subordinate positions, and even the Hindu gods in the great temples, such as Angkor Wat, have long been replaced by the images of the Buddha.  

The Thais attacked Angkor Wat several times in the 1300s and 1400s and sacked the seat of the Khmer regime in 1431. 

Over the centuries, numerous different groups - including Thai and Vietnamese invaders, French colonizers and Khmer Rouge guerrillas and the Americans with their carpet bombing - have trampled over Cambodia's ancient sites, each contributing to the damage.

To the French conservators, Angkor was archeological champagne, the best of the best.  

Rescuing it became a technical passion. For 40 years the French concentrated on arresting further deterioration and by 1970 a hundred-man team, cranes and heavy cement-mixing equipment were reinforcing the massive jumble of stonework. Four out of Angkor's nine towers are gone, irretrievably lopped off by crunching weather forces.  

(source: India and World Civilization – D P Singhal  part II p. 124  - 131 and Southeast Asia- Past and present – By D R Sardesai p. 15 - 20). 

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Architectural Symbolism - Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor Wat

India was the spark that fired the blaze

One of the most spectacular structures of astronomical significance that has ever been built is the temple of Angkor Wat in what is now Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple at Angkor, a former capital of the Khmer empire. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, and is as immense as it is beautiful


An astounding aerial view of Angkor wat - surrounded by water.

Lotus-spired Angkor Wat rises like a mirrored image above the waters of the moat. Angkor reflects classic Khmer temple architecture; Its central tower symbolizes sacred Mount Meru, the surrounding spires chains of mountains, the encircling moat the oceans.

In orderly magnificence, the capital unfurled its artistic splendor with the growth of empire.

The origins of the temple lie in what may be the world's oldest religious text, the Rig Veda, 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.


Surrounded by a rectangular moat 1.5 kilometers (0.9 mile) long and 1.3 kilometers (0.8 mile) wide, the structure itself consists of two rectangular walls enclosing three nested rectangular galleries that culminate in a central spire surrounded by four smaller towers. The straight lines of its moat, walls and galleries are oriented along the north-south, east-west directions, and unlike most temples in the area its entrance faces west, being approached by way of a long bridge that spans the moat.

The origins of the temple lie in what may be the world's oldest religious text, the Rig Veda, 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 inline 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:

Astronomy 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.  


Surya: The Vedic Sun God on his chariot.

His chariot drawn by prancing horses, the sun god Surya rides the sky above a chorus of worshippers. In his right hand he holds a sacred lotus blossom.

(image source: Splendors of the Past: Lost Cities of the Ancient World - National Geographic Society. p.186-190).


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.

  • The central tower at Angkor Wat contains nine inner chambers. If you total the dimensions of all of these chambers it equals 27 hat in the north-south direction and 28 hat in the east-west direction, corresponding to the possible number of lunar mansions. Also, the libraries have lengths measured along their interiors of 16 hat in the east-west direction, and either 12 or 11 hat in the north-south direction, depending upon whether or not the doorways are included. Added together, these also give either 28 or 27 hat. Finally, the north-south width of the libraries measured from the exteriors of the walls is again 28 hat.

Hindu cosmology recognizes four time periods, or Yugas, that are represented in the dimensions of the temple:

  • The length of the Kali-Yuga, our current time period, is 2 x 603 years, or 432 thousand years. The width of the moat that surrounds the temple, measured at the water level, is approximately 432 hat.

  • The length of the Dv apara-Yuga is 4 x 603 years, or 864 thousand years. The distance from the entrance to the inner wall is 867 hat. 

  • The length of the Treta-Yuga is 6 x 603 years, or 1,296 thousand years. The distance from the entrance to the central tower is 1,296 hat. 

  • The length of the Krita-Yuga is 8 x 603 years, or 1,728 thousand years. The distance from the moat bridge to the center of the temple is 1,734 hat.

Rarely in history has any culture given rise to a structure that so elaborately and expansively incorporates its concept of the cosmos. Angkor Wat stands as a striking and majestic monument in honor of the Universe and our place in it.

(source: Angkor - The History of Astronomy -

The Solar Numbers at Angkor Wat

Dr Subhask Kak (1949 - ) is a widely known scientist and a Indic scholar. Currently a Professor at Louisiana State University, he has authored ten books and more than 200 research papers in the fields of information theory, quantum mechanics, and Indic studies. He is a Sanskrit scholar and is author of Astronomical Code of the Rig Veda, and India at Century's End: Essays on History and Politics.

He has observed:

"The great Vishnu temple at Angkor Wat is known to have been built according to an astronomical plan. A little understood solar formula of the temple is identical to the one in the 2nd millennium BC Indian text called Shatapatha Brahmana. It was an expression of the Shatapatha astronomy." 

Architectural plans published by Nafilyan (1969) were examined to Assess possible astronomical alignments in context of written records of the Khmer empire and specifically the reign of Suryavarman II (1113-1150AD) during which the complex was built.  Twenty-two possible alignments are identified and their relationship to bas relief and Hindu time cycles examined.

Conclusions: 1. The rising sun appears aligned on equinox and solstice days with the western entrance of Angkor Wat.2. The movements of the moon can be observed from a variety of positions within the temple, and lunar cycles may have been recorded in the three sets of libraries.3. The bas reliefs of the third gallery can be understood in relation to the movements of the sun, which establish their counterclockwise direction. 4. The measurements of the temple appear proportional to calendric and cosmological time cycles.

(source: and  

Jean Fillozat was the first to perceive that the relief function could be part of broader astronomical and numerological concepts embedded in Khmer architecture.  

In 1976, a group of American scholars R. Stencel, F Gifford and E Moron, published a paper revealing a cosmic symbolism created by the relationship between structures and meaning in the design of Angkor wat. The theme was considerably expanded by Eleanor Mannikka in her book of 1996. On the basis of the study of a very large number of measurements of architectural elements at Angkor Wat, she established that the temple’s dimensions are encoded with the meanings of Indian cosmology and numerology. She also noticed that some alignments of the monument’s structures are closely related to astronomical events. The temple’s architecture is a sort of religious and astronomical text, a text that could be read by knowledgeable people walking along its main pathways. For example, as the sun progresses on its annual round, it illuminates in a specific way the great continuous series reliefs of the 3rd gallery, revealing a most intriguing relationship between the passage of the sun and the content of the reliefs. In the first part of the year, it illuminates the main protagonists of the creation act (Churning of the Ocean of Milk). During the autumn equinox, on the side of the setting sun, the highlighted reliefs depict the terrible battle of Kurukshtra. During the dry season, the north gallery loses the sun, while the reliefs on the south gallery, lit up by the sun, take as their theme the kingdom of death. 

Architectural symbolism 

In ancient Cambodia, as in India, the highest religious authority, the Brahmins, formulated the sacred concepts on which the temple was based, and the main architect, who was also a religious teacher, carried out its construction according to the science of sacred architecture (vastu-vidyah)  


Aerial view of Angkor wat.

"The great Vishnu temple at Angkor Wat is known to have been built according to an astronomical plan. A little understood solar formula of the temple is identical to the one in the 2nd millennium BC Indian text called Shatapatha Brahmana. It was an expression of the Shatapatha astronomy." 

In ancient Cambodia, as in India, the highest religious authority, the Brahmins, formulated the sacred concepts on which the temple was based, and the main architect, who was also a religious teacher, carried out its construction according to the science of sacred architecture (vastu-vidyah).   


The Khmer temple was conceived according to the Indian tradition of a temple-mountain, of being the image of the mountain where the gods lived, Mount Meru. This mountain was located north of the Himalayas, surrounded by the four water extensions which separate the continents. Mount Meru floats over the primordial ocean, symbolically represented by moats or the baray surrounding the temple. Since this mountain had four peaks with a higher fifth at the center, the central sanctuary of Angkor Wat had to have a similar configuration. Moreover, since Mount Meru was the center of the universe in Indian cosmology, Angkor wat too had to be the center of the cosmos. Thus this place was charged with sacred meaning. 

(source: Sacred Angkor - By Vittorio Roveda  p. 1 – 22).

Symbolic diagram of the Universe ?

According to Graham Hancock, Angkorwat 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 wat’s 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 Wat’s 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 sun rising over the central tower of Angkor wat at dawn on the Spring equinox.

Angkor wat is the largest and most elaborate single edifice in the entire Angkor scheme. 


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.    


The Angkor-Draco correlation.

(image source: Heaven's Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization -  By Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia  p.  115 - 199).


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.


The axis of the arrow-straight causeway of Angkor can be seen to extent beyond the temple's moat and to reach out towards the distant horizon - showing that its builders thought expansively, in very large-scale terms. Within its moat, all the dimensions of the temple are precisely calibrated to express a grand cosmological and numerological scheme related to the precession of the equinoxes. 


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 wat’s 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 solstice…The 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.”

(source: Heaven's Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization -  By Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia  p.  115 - 199).

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Why does Angkor Wat face West? 
Angkorwat: Not a Funerary place or a Mausoleum

Henri Parmentier writes in his book, Guide to Angkor

"The temple of Angkor Wat, contrary to most other monuments which face east, extends from west to east, this transposition is doubtless explained by the fact that it was a funeral temple."

George Coedes writes of Angkor Wat

"It is a masterpiece of Khmer art, built during the life time of the King to serve him afterwards as a funeral temple in which he was to be deified as a statue of Vishnu with the posthumous name of Paramavishnuloka." 

Win Swaan in his book, Lost Cities of Asia writes

"Though many Khmer temples seem to have fulfilled both these functions (temple and mausoleum), at Angkor Wat alone were the death-centred attributes triumphant and paramount. Thus, it alone is oriented not towards the source of light and life, the east; but towards the west, the direction associated with the setting sun, darkness and death." 


The only way of seeing the bas relief of third enclosure is by circling it in anti-clockwise direction. This is simply because the Devanagari script is written from left to right and so is art and sculpture. 

(image source: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).


Some scholars have advanced another argument that one has to move in anti-clockwise direction a full circle to see the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat’s third enclosure, which is also the direction of going round a funeral pyre, thereby concluding that Angkor Wat is a funerary temple. However, even if Angkor Wat was not a funerary temple, the only way of seeing the bas relief of third enclosure is by circling it in anti-clockwise direction. This is simply because the Devanagari script is written from left to right and so is art and sculpture. To see a sculpture of 60 meters or more in length, there is no escape from moving left to right, and hence circling in the anti-clockwise direction. 

Donatella Mazzeo and Chiara Silvi Antonini rightly observe: 

"At the time when he set about building his monumental temple-mountain Suryavarman II confronted a problem: the finding a site sufficiently vast to enable him to construct an edifice worthy of his greatness and his aspirations. Whatever the layout of the city of Angkor was at this time, including the area of ancient Yasodharapura and of the future Angkor Thom, the constructions of the 10th and 11th century occupied a considerable part of the available land. As a result, Suryavarman chose the southeast corner of Yasodhapura, a space evidently free of buildings of durable materials, yet one where he could take advantage of the network of canals laid out by Yasovarman for his capital."

It is plainly evident that the most appropriate access route to the site of Angkor Wat temple was from the west. Attributing unsubstantiated explanations or meaning to a fact of purely physical constraint is unwarranted. 


Hindu traditions dominated Angkor civilization up to the 13th century even if some sovereigns of this period had Buddhist leanings, or were even devout Buddhists. King Suryavarman II (1113-1150), the builder of Angkor Wat was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In the Hindu tradition, no one ever builds a funerary temple or mausoleum for the simple reason that the mortal remains, with a few exceptions, are cremated and the ashes left over are consigned to the waters. The philosophical understanding behind cremation is that this body made of five basic elements, namely Earth, Water, Air, Space and Fire, returns to those elements after the migration of the soul. 


A Shiva Linga in the temple of Prasat Kravan with images of Lord Vishnu crossing the Ocean.

Shiva-lingam is a sign by which Shiva is symbolized. Linga means a "mark" in Sanskrit. It is a symbol that points to an inference. The Linga is only the outward symbol of the formless being, Lord Siva— Lord Siva incarnate, who is the indivisible, all-pervading, eternal, auspicious, ever-pure, immortal essence of this vast universe, who is the undying soul seated in the chambers of one's heart, who is one's Indweller, innermost Self or Atman and who is identical with the Supreme Brahman.

Shiva is represented by the Lingam or Mark, which is manifestly the Creative power of Divinity. To the Westerner, imbued with the Puritan and Victorian ethics, it is difficult to grasp the meaning of a Shiva linga. Prudery was quite unknown to ancient Indian artists, who had no conception of ‘the sins of the flesh’ with which Western civilizations are so preoccupied even today.


But it is also true that the palace and the dearest possessions belonging to the departed person, become a kind of a memorial for successive generations. Thus, in case of Angkor chakravartins, their linga or personal gods and the shrines housing them, were their most sacred possessions. These temples were not for public prayer or assembly but for the exclusive worship by the King of his personal God. The successor King thus had a new personal shrine built, and the shrine of his predecessor was always regarded with utmost reverence and high esteem. They thus became not mausoleums or funerary temples, as many western scholars have suggested, but revered memorials. 

As a rule, Hindu temples face north or east, which is linked to the most effective use of the sun. But where circumstances do not permit, temples can face south or west. There are temples in India facing west. Furthermore, the main Garbha Griha or Sanctum Santorum at Angkor Wat does not face west alone but faces all the four directions in an identical manner. The approaches to the main shrine under the central tower are identical from all directions. Only the main royal approach to the whole temple complex is from the west, which, as already seen, was the only logical approach from the King’s main dwelling site. 


As for deifying Suryavarman II as stuate of Vishnu in Angkor Wat with the posthumous name of “Paramavishnuloka” it should be understood that all Gods are formless as nobody has seen them. All forms of manifestations as seen in pictures of statues are the individual maker’s impressions. It was, therefore, natural for the craftsmen to see the image of their Kings in those of the Gods. King Jayavarman VII as Avalokitesvara is omnipresent in all the monuments built by him. This was not dictated by the King himself. 

The name “Paramavishnuloka” is nothing majestic or deifying.  It is a combination of three Sanskrit words – Parama (meaning great), Vishnu and Loka (meaning place or shrine), i.e. a “Great Vishnu Shrine” which it was, and still is. The suffix Loka is not to be associated with the name of a person, but of place. In this respect Coedes has misinterpreted Paramavishnuloka to mean Suryavarman’s posthumous name…Had Angkor Wat been meant for deifying Suryavarman II, it should have been called after his death “Suryavarmanpura” or “Paramasuryavarmanloka”, like “Yashodharpura” , “Mahendrapura” or “Bhimapura.” For example, Jayavarman II’s capital at Rolous was called “Hariharalaya” but this was not his posthumous name. 

(source: Saving Angkor - By C M Bhandari  p. 151 - 153).

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Angkor Wat: A City within a City

Angkor Wat itself, built to honor the Hindu god Vishnu, is often hailed as one of the most extraordinary architectural creations ever built, with its intricate bas reliefs, strange acoustics and magnificent soaring towers. 

The grandeur of this ancient civilization is truly astounding. Covering an area of one square mile, Angkor Wat is one of the largest temple complex in the world. The temple is dedicated to the God Vishnu from whom the king was considered a reincarnation. Essentially a three-layered pyramid, Agkor Wat has five distinctive towers, 64 meters high. On the outer wall are eight panels of bas-relief depicting scenes of Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.


Garuda. Lord Vishnu's mount and Lord Shiva.

(image source: Angkor: Splendors of the Khmer Civilization - By Marilia Albanese p. 34).


Erected by Suryavarman II (1113- 1150) , the famous and most glorious of all Khmer rulers, Angkor Wat is indeed the largest and the most beautiful of all the temples built in the Indo-China peninsula. Remarkable for its quality and its perfect feeling for form and volume, its over-all lay-out and the arrangement of its various components, this magnificent monument is the masterpiece of classical Khmer aesthetics and city-planning. 

Angkor Wat lies in the southeast sector of the ancient city of Yosodharapura, built in the late 9th century and surrounded by an enormous moat the perimeter of which measures 10 miles. This part of the urban complex had to be wholly reorganized in order to make room for Suryavarman II’s gigantic creation. The temple complex takes up almost all the available space. The temple itself is surrounded by a moat almost 660ft wide contained within a rectangular enclosure 4925 ft long and 4270 ft wide covering an area of about two square km. The park surrounding the temple covers an area of one million square meters (1,200,000 sq.yd) minus 100,000 sq. meters occupied by various buildings and galleries which divide the park into four square basins. What can we conclude from these colossal dimensions? They bear witness to the fact that the great temple-palaces were the center of urban complexes of which the stone structures alone have survived.  

Angkor Wat attests its architect’s feeling for sculptural form and arrangement. Crossing the threshold of the propylaea, one gets a sensational view of the façade of the main temple culminating in five towers, the quincuncial arrangement of which resembles a tiara. One is truly struck with astonishment at this amazing and enrapturing sight. The size and magnificence of the monument by no means detract from its refinement. As a whole, it bears witness to an authentically dynamic perception of space. Khmer art reaches one of its peak here. 

On the inside a kind of pictorial chronicle of the Khmer empire embellished with legendary scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata portraying all the fabulous beings in Hindu mythology unfolds here before our eyes. These enormous “frscoes” carved in fine sandstone display an extraordinary feeling for monumental composition. The sculptural carvings cover an area of almost 1200 square meters (1440 sq.yd).  

The Wealth of Angkor 

Yet this stupendous achievement makes us ask one meanly materialistic question: what did the Khmer kings owe their wealth to? What enabled them to produce such an enormous monument? The construction of the temple of Angkor Wat called for 350,000 cubic meters of building materials, ie. Almost one million metric tons of rock which had to be brought from the far-off sandstone quarries situated near Kulen, 40 km (25 miles) north of Angkor. But once again, how was it possible to support the tens of thousands of workmen employed in this tremendous undertaking: quarrymen, cart and raft-makers, stone cutters, masons, sculptors etc? Where could they get the raw materials for the bronze statues, so few of which have survived, the doors set off with gold and silver inlays, the brocade and gauze adorning the altars where offering were placed? How did they pay the artists and craftsmen who worked on this marvelous temple for decades and decades?   



Gold leaves and delicate gold pattern.

The Khmers used precious metals in their buildings; the inner walls of the cells were covered with bronze plates and the cusps of some temples also have been plated. Everything has been stolen, but this gold panel gives some idea of the wealth of the Empire.


Miniature shrine structure.

At the corner of the temple roofs there were antefixes like this one, originally from Bantaey Sri. They reproduce the structure of the shrine in miniature, as in the architecture of southern India, by which Khmer architecture was inspired.

(image source: Angkor: Splendors of the Khmer Civilization - By Marilia Albanese).


The Birth of Rice Plantations - The Indian traders who settled on the southern coast first introduced advanced farming methods into Southeast Asia. Thanks to them, the first rice plantations appeared on the peninsula. The variety of rice grown was obtained by selection. It was already sown in India in the third millennium B.C. To ripen, this rice requires constant care and a well regulated irrigation system. The Mekong delta was the center of this agricultural system based on irrigated rice-fields.  

The Creation of Artificial Lakes or Barays - To go from simply cultivating rice-fields yielding one crop a year to conceiving the desire to make them produce two or three, a very important step must be taken. This progress implies the will to free human communities from their subservience to the rhythm of nature. This step was taken by the rulers at Angkor when they decided to create enormous artificial reservoirs, known as barays. The main purpose of these reservoirs was a better distribution of the region’s water resources, above all rainfall which some months is extremely abundant but more often wholly lacking.

The irrigation system which, between the 8th and 10th century transformed Angkor into a genuine rice factory, was basically organized according to these simple principles. Water, indispensable for agriculture, was also one of the fundamental factors taken into account by architects and city-planners. Canals proceeding from the baray brought fresh water to the town’s inhabitants. Waster water was carried away by the current. The water in the moats traced the town boundaries and also served to defend Khmer urban centers.   


Goddess Lakshmi, the Bestower of Success.


Scientific Agriculture 

The rulers adopted a kind of “scientific” agriculture in which rice was looked upon as a bedding plant. Instead of going through the whole process consisting of plowing, sowing, irrigating and reaping on the spot in the flooded fields, the Khmers realized that it would be advantageous to sow the rice in beds where the shoots come up very thick; when they reach a height of 8-10 inches, these shoots were transplanted in the freshly harvested, plowed and submerged fields. These beds take up only a tenth of the land under cultivation. They make it possible to sow a second time before reaping the first crop. This method was capable of transforming Angkor into the tremendous rice factory which was the main cause of its rulers’ wealth and power and made it possible to erect their admirable temples. 

The term “environment” is nowhere more meaningful than at Angkor. The capital of the Khmer kingdom is indeed perfect example of how man can give nature a helping hand. Without the irrigation system, the birth of an important civilization would have been altogether impossible in the heart of the hostile jungle. Angkor is actually a miracle, an agreement entered into by earth, water, men and gods. The uniting of these four factors thoroughly changed the appearance of the plain in the Angkor area. The rice plantations make it resemble a chequer-board. Thanks to them, this part of the world has become an ecological masterpiece. Rice and religion link up a whole series of phenomenon controlling national development. 

(source: The Cultural history of Angkor – By Henri Stierlin  p. 1 – 54).  

Its sheer size and scope reflect the power, resources, and loyalty that the Khmer Empire had achieved.  The buildings of Angkor Wat are built solely from sandstone from a quarry a fair distance away.  Engineers estimate that the amount of sandstone used in Angkor Wat is at least equivalent to the volume of stone used in the great Egyptian pyramid of Khafre.  This is yet another indication of the power that the Khmer Empire had reached at the time of Angkor Wat’s construction.

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Lintels and Apsaras

The decorative lintels over almost every doorway in a Khmer temple provided the carvers with a standard rectangular frame in which to work. Although by no means the only surfaces that were decorated with reliefs, Khmer lintels were of great importance. They often carried with most significant icons: divinities and scenes from Hindu epics in particular. From their designs and locations, lintels can often be read for information about the temple, such as the god to whom it was dedicated, and the importance of a particular sect. Even more that this, lintels are a means of dating temples. The motifs and styles changed over the centuries, and minute variations have been studied.    


Krishna killing the wicked Kamsa

(image source: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).


Khmer temples are full of symbolism – not just in the details of lintels and pediments, but in the architecture itself, and on the largest scale. One of the pleasurable surprises in discovering Khmer architecture is to realize that the logic behind it is an attempt to recreate an entire cosmology on Earth. Nagas themselves are rich in symbolism in both Hinduism and Buddhism: they play a part in a number of key events, including legends, and are associated with water.  

The most common Hindu icons found in Khmer temples in Thailand are Vishnu Reclining (Vishnu Anantasayin), Shiva Dancing (Shiva Nataraj) and Shiva riding with Uma on the bull Nandi (Umamaheshvara); these occur mainly on pediments and lintels. There is less Buddhist imagery built into the architecture.  

The Ramayana furnishes the material for many lintels and pediments. Scenes from the life of Krishna also occur, as does the Churning of the Milk of Ocean. The Hindu epics and legends provide for a wealth of imagery.


(image source: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).


Shiva Nataraja dancing. 

(image source: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).




Smiling Apsara. Lovely detailed work showing jewelry. 

In Hindu sacred stories, Apsaras are heavenly nymphs of great beauty and charm, often represented as dancers at the celestial court. In a number ofstories, the Gods sent Apsaras to earth to distract and seduce sages practicing austerities - especially those who are gaining alarming levels of yogic power through their concentrated meditation. Apsaras would also reward heroes who fell in combat, rushing to the battle site and carrying them  into heaven.


Details of the admirable Apsaras, or heavenly maidens, adorning the temple reached a peak of perfection here. Unbelievably graceful Apsaras and Devatas inhabit this divine world. 



(image source: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).



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The rest of the chapter continues at the links listed below.

Sacred Angkor
Sacred Angkor part 3
Sacred Angkor part 4

Did You Know?

The 500 year old Tamil Bell in New Zealand

Tamils have long been seafarers and traders. It is believed that they reached northern Australia by the 14th century, and there is a suggestion that they may have got as far as New Zealand.

In 1836 the missionary explorer William Colenso found this bell, which had been used by Māori as a cooking vessel for generations. Inscribed on it in Tamil are the words ‘Mohoyideen Buk’s ship’s bell’. The bell is now held at the national museum, Te Papa. Theories abound, but the precise origins of the bell and how it got to New Zealand remain a mystery.


Refer to India once ruled the Americas! – By Gene D Matlock

Around 1836, the missionary William Colenso met Māori near Whangarei using the bell as a kohua (iron pot) to cook potatoes. It is bronze, thirteen centimetres long and nine centimetres deep, and has an inscription. Colenso was told that the bell had been found after a heavy gale had blown down a large tree; it was uncovered from the tree roots. Its owners believed that the bell had been in the possession of the iwi (tribe) for several generations. Colenso swapped an iron pot for the bell. After his death he bequeathed the bell to the Colonial Museum, forbear to Te Papa Tongarewa.

The bell produced a lot of interest when it was exhibited, and discussions and theories abounded about its origins. The bell was photographed and copies sent to England and various people in India. 

Tamils in Southern India immediately recognised the writing on the bell. 

The bell has been identified as a type of ship's bell. Some of the characters in the inscription are of an archaic form no longer seen in modern Tamil script; thus suggesting that the bell could be about 500 years old.


For more refer to chapters on Suvarnabhumi, Seafaring in Ancient India, War in Ancient India and India on Pacific Waves?  Refer to India once ruled the Americas! – By Gene D Matlock

For more on The Glorious Hindu Legacy: Indic influence in Southeast Asia refer to the chapter under Glimpses XII to Glimpses XIX


The rest of the chapter continues...

Sacred Angkor
Sacred Angkor part 3
Sacred Angkor part 4

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