Before coming to Siem Reap and central Cambodia I had no idea what to expect. I knew that Angkor Wat was the largest surviving temple complex in the world and I knew there was significant Hindu influence in the area but I had no idea what these simple facts really meant. Professor Krishna-Murthy from the Vivekananda Institute in Mysore was gracious enough to make the long journey from south India to explain and interpret the mysteries of the vast Khmer empire.
Angkor Wat is far from the only temple in the area. The forests around Siem Reap are populated by hundreds of sepulcher temples. Our course enabled us to visit most of the famous locations. Seven straight days of temple visits can be a lot for some people but the hands-on learning that it provided was invaluable to our understanding of the history of the temple complexes.
Siem Reap became the capital of the Khmer Empire when the Hindu king Jayavarman II was exiled from the island of Java in Indonesia. He came to Kambuja, modern day Cambodia, to establish a new kingdom and home for himself. To cement his position in the area, he set himself up as Devaraja or God-King and built a large temple to his celestial glory. Each of his decedents in turn assumed this title and erected their own temple complexes. The largest, Angkor Wat, marks the apex of the empire. It is built as a metaphor of the entire Hindu world. Each section describes the earth as Hindu doctrine dictates.
Our next stop will be the ancient ruins of the Vijaynagara empire in southern India. The course will make a direct comparison between the Hindu kingdom of south India and the Hindu kingdom of Cambodia.
(Article by Reed)