Angkor Wat and its Serpent Symbolism

12th century Khmer statue of Vishnu. (Image credit Wikipedia).

12th century Khmer statue of Vishnu. (Image credit Wikipedia).

Between the 9th and 13th centuries, in Cambodia’s fertile plain,between the Lake of Tonle Sap and the Kulan Hills, the Kymer kings built their capitals. Angkor Wat, and the surrounding moat, were constructed by Suryavarman l1, founder of the city of Yasodharapur, in the early 12th century and its the  largest of the Kymer religious monuments. The Cambodians were influenced by India’s Hindu religion and they dedicated this amazing temple to the Hindu god Vishnu. Later, in the 15th century, when Hinduism faded in Cambodia, it became a Buddhist shrine. 

Angkor Wat stands on a raised terrace above the level of the city. Its three rectangular galleries rise one above another and its central tower is surrounded by four smaller ones with rows of tapering lotuses rising to a point.This central feature represents the mythical World Mountain, Meru, the celestial home of the gods, which rises to the heavens from the centre of the Earth. In the upper shrine there was originally a statue of Vishnu and as this is where the god was thought to reside, only the king,and high priest, were allowed there. The lotus was associated with creation in Hinduism and also in other cultures – a subject which we will return to shortly.The temple’s outer wall represents the mountains at the edge of the world and the wide surrounding moat-the outer oceans. Along the 475m long Avenue, there are nagabalustrades which lead to the central temple. In the Angkor Wat galleries there are many bas-relief figures of celestial maidens, myths about Vishnu, Krishna,and Rama, and enormous frescoes depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The temple also has a library and a gallery in which the good are led to heaven and the evil ones to hell.

Shortly after Angkor was established, Jayavarman 1V ,possibly a rival to the throne, built

Mount Meru in Buddhist art (Image credit: Wikipedia).

Mount Meru in Buddhist art (Image credit: Wikipedia).

his own capital at Koh Nor where he constructed a version of the World Mountain in the form of a step pyramid. Representations of it, in similar form,were popular in Assyria,Babylon,and Central and South America, and as an earth mound in Stone Age England. Several stone pyramid versions of it were built in Egypt. The Balinese regard Mount Agung as a representation of Meru and there’s a natural feature in England which also represents the World Mountain. This mythical mount was associated with the Creation as it represents the First Land rising from the Primeval Sea.

In many parts of the Early World there were versions of a sky-god religion and its gods were associated with a serpent. There are thousands of snakes in Lake Tonle Sap, which are caught for human consumption,but this animal was revered in Cambodia long before Angkor Wat was established. In Angkor’s East gallery is the famous 160ft long bas relief of the Hindu creation story known as The Churning of the Sea of Milk. The central figure is Vishnu and, on either side of him, demons of the Underworld and celestial gods are pulling the multi-headed serpent Vasuki in opposite directions.This struggle between the forces of good and evil causes the serpent to secrete seminal fluid which creates immortality. In Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom, the Primeval Serpent, which swam in the Primeval Sea, was depicted with its head raised and with its tail  hanging over the edge of the mound.On its back, between Osiris and Horus, there is a lotus plant on a stand.The lotus was a popular symbol on Egypt and as it closes under the water,and opens on the following day,it was linked with the Creation .The World Serpent, or Midgard, which gnaws at the base of the World Tree, also features in Norse mythology.

Naga Humanoid

Khmer statue of the seven headed Naga serpent (Image credit: Bruce Fenton).

Among the many astronomical alignments at Angkor Wat there’s an alignment to the spring equinox, at which time the sun rises over the sacred central tower. This is a balancing time in the year, when light and dark are equal ,when ceremonies of rebirth were enacted in many parts of the Early World. This is also reflected in the Churning of the Sea legend in which the   seminal flow linked with life follows the struggle between the forces of light and darkness.  In the battle scene, at Angkor Wat, Krishna, and his followers, are attacking the city of the demon Bina and accompanying him, on a rhinoceros, is the Pleiades linked god Agni who is associated with this equinox. These stars play an important role in the Hindu calendar.

What’s not generally appreciated about the Hindu ‘multi-headed’ serpent, and other related serpent traditions, is that they were popular in Egypt and pre-Colombian Central America and they still are of special significance among the West African Dogon who follow a version of  the Early World religion. In the Middle East, they were linked with a catastrophe which occurred 5,000 years ago, which, reputedly, involved the Annunaki. Furthermore,groups of gods ,apparently based on the Annunaki leaders , were revered as the creators,or The Ancestors,in many early countries and in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and some Central American cultures,  they were associated with the Primeval Mound and, consequently, with the Creation.

 

Bibliography

E.A.Wallis Budge. The Book of the Dead. University Books 1977

R.T.Rundle Clark. Myth and Symbol In Ancient Egypt.Thames & Hudson. 1959

Jose Diaz-Bolio. Guide to the Ruins of Chichen Itza.Area Maya. 1971

Leonard Farra. The Pleiades Legacy ( The Old World). Blurb. 2010

“          “        “        “         “       (The New World). “        “

Jean Francois Gonthier. Great Civilizations: The Cultural History of Angkor. Agence Internationale d’ Edition’.1979

Marcel Griale. Conversations with Ogotemmeli. Oxford University Press.1965

Hunbatz Men. Secrets of Mayan Science/ Religion. Bear & Company.

Alan L Kolata. The Tiwanaka. Blackewell Publishers.Cambridge,Massachusetts.1993

Jill Purce. The Mystic Spiral.Thames and Hudson. 1974

Zenaide.A.Rogozin.The Story of the Nations. Charles.T.Fisher Unwin 1900

 

by Leonard Farra author of the Pleiades Legacy series.

Please click on cover images below for more details and purchasing options available at the Blurb Bookstore.

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