15 February 2014

Cambodia 2014: Ancient Astronomy, Angkor Wat, City built with astronomic measurements to mimic the Gods in the Universe.

Central tower of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
with full Moon.
Credit: Astronomy club Toutatis/S. Lamoureux
(Click on picture to enlarge)

Follow us in our Astronomy trip through Cambodia. A series of 6 posts on Astronomy in Cambodia. Please enjoy the posts and pictures here on Links Through Space.

Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yasodharapura present-day Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple.
Breaking from the Shaivism 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 Khmer's 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 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. As a brilliant example of the synthesis of astronomy and architecture at Angkor Wat, the solar axes of the temple lead directly to the central sanctuary, a sanctum sanctorum devoted to the supreme solar god, Lord Vishnu. Vishnu manifests as one of the solar months, and the sun itself is thought to be his emanation.

2 picture composition: Aspara in Moon light
Credit: Astronomy club Toutatis/S. Lamoureux
(Click on picture to enlarge)
Although the Sun gains stature through its conjunction with the center of Angkor Wat, Vishnu, and the king, it is worth noting that lunar alignments are also recorded along the western and eastern axis of the temple. 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 honour and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above.
The solar and lunar alignments at Angkor Wat were alignments with the gods, alignments that tied the nation to the heavens above, and alignments that imbued the king with the power to rule by divine association.

Here are concrete astronomical observations you can see at Angkor Wat:
1. The rising sun aligning on equinox days with the western entrance of the state temple, 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 in the interior court.
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.

Angkor Wat temple with rising full Moon.
Credit: Astronomy club Toutatis/S. Lamoureux
(Click on picture to enlarge)
Many of these observations I haven’t seen, but I understand well the concept of making these temples an observing platform, in other words an Observatory.
When you settle your feet at a specific location, the Universe, in a sense revolves around you. With some patience and time you can start to notice patterns and Recursions that you can calculate and even predict.

In conclusion for me, the most amazing aspects of the ancient Khmer Civilization was their understanding of their place in the cosmos, and how the placement of the temples mirrored so many of the celestial movements.
A real ancient observatory with it's knowledge embedded on it's self. Through stone and art, they kept it all to be discovered again and again.

Continue reading post no.4 Cambodia 2014: Southern night sky stars and Constellations. A delight for us living in Finland.

Have a look at our Pictures from  the Astronomy trip in Cambodia.

Links Through Space:
Great reading about Astronomy in Angkor Wat
Subhash Kak article: The Solar Equation in Angkor Wat
Great article on topic: Sacred Angkor