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World Biggest Hindu Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia : The largest Sri Maha Vishnu Temple in the world

Angkor Wat, Cambodia : The largest Sri Maha Vishnu Temple in the world

Angkor Wat (Cambodia)  is not only the largest Hindu Temple, but also one of the wonders of the word. Yet, unknown to many Hindus all around! An architectural marvel and a piece of world heritage. Indians know more about Taj Mahal and almost nothing about this temple at Angkor Wat. Religion apart, this beautiful temple and it's intricate architectural wonder that signifies a symbol of Science and Mathematics in ancient times. There might not have been any Civil Engineering at that time, but even today the Engineers of Modern days, will have to bet their heads to recreate smething like this. Likewise, there are many wonders which people do not know about. We are lost in Eiffel Tower and things like Egyptian Pyramids, but there are lot more of Indian marvels and structures, in other places - why, even in China, Japan & Singapore also!

Angkor Wat (or Angkor Vat) is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. The largest and best-preserved temple at Angkor, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre- first Hindu, then Buddhist- since its foundation. The temple is the epitome 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 drawn by its architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs and the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means "City Temple"; Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit word nagar. Wat is the Khmer form of the Pali word "vatthu", meaning "temple grounds". Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok (Vara Vishnuloka in Sanskrit), after the posthumous title of its founder.

History of Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat lies 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred at Baphuon. It is in an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures. It is the southernmost of Angkor's main sites.

The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as Vrah Vishnu-lok ( literally "Holy Vishnu'-Location'", Old Khmer' Cl. Sanskrit). after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished. In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.

In the late 13th century, Angkor Wat gradually moved from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle.

One of the first Western visitors to the temple was António da Madalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of." However, the temple was popularised in the West only in the mid-19th century on the publication of Henri Mouhot's travel notes. The French explorer wrote of it:

"One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged."

Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, found it difficult to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple, and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site.

There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement including cooking utensils, weapons, or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Instead there is the evidence of the monuments themselves.

Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation.[7] Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.

The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride that has factored into Cambodia's diplomatic relations with its neighbour Thailand, France and the United States. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863.[9] From a larger historical and even transcultural perspective, however, the temple of Angkor Wat did not became a symbol of national pride sui generis but had been inscribed into a larger politico-cultural process of French-colonial heritage production in which the original temple site was presented in French colonial and universal exhibitions in Paris and Marseille between 1889 and 1937.

The splendid artistic legacy of Angkor Wat and other Khmer monuments in the Angkor region led directly to France adopting Cambodia as a protectorate on 11 August 1863 and invading Siam to take control of the ruins. This quickly led to Cambodia reclaiming lands in the northwestern corner of the country that had been under Siamese (Thai) control since 1351 AD (Manich Jumsai 2001), or by some accounts, 1431 AD.[11] Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat since that time.

During the midst of the Vietnam War, Chief of State Norodom Sihanouk hosted Jacqueline Kennedy in Cambodia to fulfill her "lifelong dream of seeing Angkor Wat."

In January 2003 riots erupted in Phnom Penh when a false rumour circulated that a Thai soap opera actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.

Architecture of Angkor Wat Temple

General plan of Angkor Wat with central structure in the middle

Detailed plan of the central structure

Aerial view of Angkor Wat

Miniature model of the central structure of Angkor Wat. In the foreground the cruciform terrace which lies in front of the central structure.

Angkor Wat Pictures

Amazing Long Neck Women of Padaung, Thailand - The Karen Long Neck Hilltribe

Karen Long Neck Hill tribe - Padaung, Thailand

The Padaung are a sub-group of Karen (Bwe Group) living in Kayah state of eastern Burma on the Thailand border. They number less than 40,000 people in total. The Padaung call themselves "Lae Kur" or "Kayan". They have their own language which belongs to the Kenmic group in the Tibeto-Burman language family.

The Karen themseves are not one homogeneous group but rather a loose confederation of heterogeneous and closely related tribes. Among the smallest of the Karen tribes in Thailand are the Karen Padaung. 

One of the treasures of any country is its people. In this respect Myanmar, particularly the east with its rich and diverse ethnic minorities, is well endowed. One of the most striking of these groups is the Padaung. Natives of Kayah State the Padaung are seldom seen in the lowlands and, if they appear at all, tend to congregate around the provincial town of Loikaw near the border with Thailand.

Although the Padaung, a Mongolian tribe who have been assimilated into the Karen group, only number about 7,000 they have attracted a great deal of interest because of their practice of neck-stretching. The custom is more than just a rare and strange expression of feminine beauty, the number and value of the rings confers status and respect on the wearer's family.

In the past Padaung girls were fitted with the rings at the age of five or six. The day chosen for this ritual was prescribed by the horoscopic findings of the village shamans. The neck was carefully smeared with a salve and massage for several hours, after which a priest would fit small cushions under the first ring-usually made of bronze - to prevent soreness. The cushions were removed later on. The process would continue with successive ring being added every two years. A Padaung women of marriageable age will probably have had her neck extended by aboui 25 cms.

These severe decorations express the Padaung women's own concept of beauty and social ranking but there are other theories concerning the origins ofthese rings. It has been claimed that rings were first placed around the women's necks in order to make them undesirable to slave traders. A Padaung legend explains that the rings were protection against tiger bites, a constant hazard in their homeland in the north of China.

Unlike normal accessories, these rings are for life and may only be removed with the direst of results. Adultery among Padaung women has always been punished by the removal of the rings, a fate almost literally, worse than death. This is an unusually cruel punishment as the cervical vertebrae has become deformed after years of wearing the rings, and the neck muscles have atrophied. Unless she wishes to risk suffocation the unfortunate wife must pay for the infidelity by spending the rest of her life lying down or try to find some other artificial support for her neck.

Bronze and silver bracelets also cover the womens legs and arms, a custom likely to remain. The neck rings however, may very well become extinct within a generation or two as younger Padaung women are beginning to refuse to fit the rings around their children's necks.

The Padaung like to live in river valleys wherever they can. Unlike other tribes these 'Long-Knecked Karen' rarely leave their villages. If you want to see them, you have to go to them. The age of a village can often be reckoned from the size of its jackfruit trees. In the village I visited they were tall and fulsome indicating a certain passage of time. Houses stood in small, neat squares made of woven and split bamboo with palm leaf roofs. Each home had a spacious, open terrace where the Padaung sat in the shade in front to their looms, spinning and weaving cotton textiles, blankets and tunics. Some of the bamboo walls were stained blue where cloth had been hung to dry. The Padaung men were conspicuous by their absence, out in the fields tending crops.

At first glance, the Padaung appear to belong to a different continent than Asia, their green and purple headresses, white caftans and shining ornaments suggesting some African tribe or even the Plain Indians of old. Whatever you think of their customs, 'striking' is certainly the word to describe the Padaung of eastern Myanmar. It remains to be seen though, whether the Padaung will eventually come are small and containable but this may change. At the moment they appear to welcome the odd visitor, smiling shyly at the cameras, patiently answering the questions that are put to them through the tour guides. How they will keep this dignity and composure in the face of encroaching tourism is a problem shared by all the minority tribes of this region.

In Thailand, only a few families of Padaung have settled temporarily as refugees in Muang District of Mae Hong Son Province, near Ban Tha Ton in Chiang Rai Province, and as of June 2005 a small group near Chiang Dao. Generally they live among other hilltribes groups, mostly Karen.

The Padaung escaped from the Kaya State in Burma to Thailand in the mid to late 1900's and are actually refugees of a political turmoil. They belong to the Karenni sub-group of the Karen People, which are still fighting for their independence in Burma.

The Karen-Padaung occupied central Burma before the Burmese arrived from the North and they, together with the ancient Mon, farmed the Irrawaddy and Salween Valleys and built civilizations based on their unique cultures.

The Padaung women famously wear brass rings around their necks. This distorts the growth of their collarbones and make them look as if they have long necks - which they don't. This row of brass rings do not actually stretch their necks but in fact squash the vertebrae and collar bones. A woman generally has about twenty or more rings around her neck. This neck ring adornment is started when the girls are 5 or 6 years old.

The rings on the arms and the legs are not quite as prominent as those on the neck simply because the neck rings are so pronounced. However, these rings are just as important. The rings on the arms are worn on the forearm from the wrist to the elbow. Those on the legs are worn from the ankles to the knees, and cloth coverings are kept over most of these rings, from the shins down to the ankles.

Most of Padaung are animists, but about 10 percent are Buddhists. Now, the number of Christians is increasing because of the Roman Catholic mission. The annual festival for the fertility and prosperity of the whole community is usually held at the beginning of the rainy season. Sacrifices are made to the spirits for good health and bountiful harvests. Rice is the Padaung main crop.

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