The Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia is home to a number of religious sites that rank among the most breathtaking examples of their kind anywhere in the world. These temples are located in and around the town of Siem Reap, which is about 320 kilometres (200 miles) from the capital city of Phnom Penh. The temples and edifices that make up Angkor Wat constitute the largest religious site in the world. They were constructed during the reigns of several Cambodian kings and are built on a scale that is comparable to that of the pyramids in Egypt as well as the Mayan temples in Central and South America. After decades of political unrest that kept the rest of the world away from Cambodia, a newfound openness has made it possible for many people from different cultures to visit Angkor Wat and experience the marvel of the numerous temples and towers that are located there.
Even while different historical narratives have somewhat different details, most people believe that construction of Angkor Wat started on the site somewhere during the seventh and ninth centuries. Several construction projects were started about this period and continued until the middle of the fifteenth century, with frequent breaks in between owing to shifts in political power and conflicts. The majority of the kings and emperors who ascended to power during this time period were responsible for the construction of their own pyramids, temples, and other structures; these buildings were intended to serve as their graves once they passed away. However, as the landlocked Cambodian kingdom dwindled and came under attack from neighbouring countries (in particular Thailand and Vietnam), the prominence of Angkor Wat began to decline. In 1431, the Thais eventually captured the city and destroyed it after having it for their own.
After being hidden by the forest for the following four hundred years, the remains of Angkor Wat were not uncovered again until 1860, when a French botanist made the discovery. Reconstruction efforts continued on an erratic basis from this point on until they were eventually derailed by the Vietnam War. During the Khmer Rouge regime and the protracted war with Vietnam, Cambodia saw some of the darkest and most trying periods any country has ever been subjected to. Since Prince Sihanouk’s return to Cambodia in 1991, Angkor Wat has once again been the focus of world interest, and attempts to restore the temple have accelerated in recent years.
As a result of Hinduism’s status as Cambodia’s dominant religion for the better part of two millennia, the majority of the country’s religious structures were designed to pay homage to Hindu deities. However, the temples at Angkor Wat are dedicated to the idea that the king was the earthly representative of the Hindu god Shiva (or Siva), and as a result, the temples honour both Shiva and the king. This is because the concept that the king was the earthly representative of Shiva originated in India. These days, Buddhist and Hindu monks utilise a number of Angkor Wat’s temples as places of worship for their respective faiths.
The temples of Angkor Wat are often regarded as some of the most beautiful examples of religious architecture anywhere in the world. Despite the fact that conflict and anarchy have prevented these temples from assuming their true position on the international stage, the current attention and efforts focused on rebuilding seem to be destined to restore Angkor Wat and establish it firmly on the list of historical landmarks. The monumental scope of Angkor Wat is only now coming into focus after being obscured by the surrounding forest for decades.