Angkor

One of the capitals of the Khmer empire was Angkor, founded by Indravarman in the 9th century. It contains hundreds of temples, the best known of which is at Angkor Wat (f = 13°27' N). The temple complex at Angor-Wat, built by Suryavarman II (1113-1150 a.d.) in the 12th century, marks the crowning achievement of Khmer architecture. Consecrated to Vishnu, the complex is unusual in facing toward and entered from the west (a trait shared by only two other, much smaller temples in the Angkor region). The complex is a series of five nested rectangular walls and galleries surrounded in turn by a moat, the external dimensions of which are 1500m (E-W) x 1300m (N-S). The central part consists of five shrines surrounded by two series of enveloping colonnades and linked to the outside world by a bridge flanked by serpentine balustrades. The insides of the colonnades contain scenes of the cosmic myth Mahabharata, as well as images of Hindu gods and scenes from the life of Suryavarman II. Stencil, Gifford, and Moro'n (1976) examined detailed site plans produced by Nafilyan (1969) and concluded that first, great precision was used in establishing the lengths and orthogonality of the linear features, and second, that the site bears extensive astronomical references, among which are planned locations for observation of solar and lunar alignments, and the placement and content of bas reliefs according to the movement of the Sun through the seasons. Stencil et al. (1976) found a total of 18 alignments from various positions inside the complex. Paris (1941) had previously noted four, three of which (equinox and winter and solar solstices) are observable from just inside the western entrance. On the day of the spring equinox, the Sun rises over the central tower, at an elevation of 6°. The winter solstice sunrise rises to the southeast, over a temple at Prasat Kuk Bangro, 5.5 km distant; the summer solstice sunrise occurs over a prominent hill, Phnom Bok, 17.5 km to the northeast. Stencil et al. (1976) conjecture that these alignments required the facing and entrance to be placed to the west and argue against a westward facing for purely funerary purposes. For all of the alignments, they searched for those that suggested declinations of ±23.5°, ±5°, ±19°, and ±29° for the Sun (at 1110 a.d.), the Moon at midcycle and minor and major standstills, respectively. An uncertainty of

0.5°, required by eroded tower tops, was assumed. Stencil et al. (1976) conclude from an examination of angular frequency histograms that

(1) all computed angular lines show a 2-o peak at each of the angles: 0, ±5°, ±23°, and ±29°;

(2) lines to points along the causeway show a 3-o peak at ±5° (six projections); and

(3) alignments are associated with "all major points" on the plans.

Stencil et al. (1976) also examined the dimensions of 200 linear components of the temple complex and found that dividing them by the number 0.4345 m produced the largest number of integer multiples. This value they assume was close to the value of the Cambodian cubit or hat as used at this site. There could well have been slight variations in the mean length of the hat in the construction of the different temples and other structures over time. In this reconstructed unit, they find a strong correspondence (marked with the symbol ^ in the listing below) between the lengths of features in the complex with astronomical units such as lunar months and lunar mansions, components of the solar year, and the four Yugas of Indian cosmology:

(1) distances between sets of steps of the central sanctuary (E-W: 11.88; N-S: 12.11 hat); ^ 12 months in solar year;

(2) total interior lengths of nine chambers in central tower (E-W: 28.13; N-S: 27.21 hat); ^ numbers of lunar mansions of Hindu astronomy: 27 and 28;

(3) exterior axial lengths of central tower (E-W: 45.53; N-S: 45.30; total: 90.83 hat); ^ average number of days between solstices and equinoxes ~ 91.3;

(4) interior lengths of four axial entrances (E: 45.36, N: 43.75, W: 46.04, and S: 45.70 hat); the sum = 180 hat ^ one-half the length of a divine year of the gods (360 solar years);

(5) total of all interior axial lengths of all chambers (358.83 hat) ^ the divine year in solar years;

(6) exterior axial lengths of topmost level (E-W: 189.00; N-S: 176.37, sum = 365.37 hat) ^ the solar (Julian) year, 365.25;

(7) interior axial lengths of libraries in second gallery [E-W: 15.85; N-S: 11.14 (or 12.11 including doorway indentations); sum: 26.99 (27.96) hat) ^ 27 or 28 lunar mansions;

(8) exterior axial lengths of libraries in second gallery (EW: 43.98; N-S 28.25 hat); in phyeam units (4 hat) ^ 11 lunar gods (karana), 7 days in lunar week;

(9) distances between N and S libraries and "sacred deposit" of the temple (N: 29.53; S: 29.60 hat); ^ mean lunar (synodic) month, 29.53 days;

(10) height of libraries above terrace level (23.88 hat); ^ 24 lunar half months in one lunar year; and, in a somewhat different category;

(11) the width of the moat30 (439.78 hat); ^ 432,000 years of the Kali Yuga;

30 The authors note that if the edge of the water is used, the distance more closely approximates 432 hat.

(12) from the entrance to the balustrade wall (867.03 hat); o 864,000 years of the Dvapara Yuga;

(13) from entrance to the the central tower (1296.07 hat); o 1,296,000 years of the Treta Yuga; and

(14) from the bridge to the temple center (1734.41 hat); o 1,728,000 years of the Krita Yuga.

An explanation for the great interest in the Sun, which is clearly implied by the apparent alignments, may be seen in the name of the king who ordered the Angkor Wat to be built. Stencil et al. point out that the name Suryavarman means "protected by the sun." Finally, they suggest that depictions on the walls reflect the seasons; such depictions often have even broader astronomical content. Proceeding counterclockwise (the direction of the annual solar motion), these depictions are as follows:

(1) a scene of the "churning of the sea of milk" to produce the elixir of immortality, an act of renewal and therefore evocative of springtime, on the east wall;

(2) a scene of all the gods (the "day of the gods" lasts six months; presumably summer), on the north wall;

(3) a depiction of the great battle of Kurukshetra from the Mahabharata, possibly symbolizing the setting of the Sun and decline and perhaps destruction associated with fall, on the west wall; and

(4) a depiction of the kingdom of Yama, the death god, suggesting winter, on the South wall (the north wall is in darkness during this season, possibly symbolizing the "night of the gods"; winter is the dry season when animals and plants become dormant or die).

Thus, the complex has blended elements of time, the calendar, and Hindu mythology. The apparent interest in the Moon, as evidenced by many of the alignments, may appear out of place, but Stencil et al. (1976, pp. 282-283) cite in translation (Pelliot 1951, p. 22) the comment of a visiting Chinese merchant in 1296:

There are people (in Angkor, just as in China) who understand astronomy and can calculate the eclipses of the sun and moon.

Therefore, it was very important to track the motions of the Moon, lest the protector of the king be eclipsed and the kingdom placed in peril through lack of preparation.

More recent work on Angor Wat has been done by Mannikka (1996), whose work is discussed in §15.3.2.1. By the late 12th century, Mahayana Buddhism had started to supplant Hinduism in Cambodia and temples were built or rededicated to the worship of Buddha.

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