Free «Angkor Wat and Borobudur» Essay Sample

Angkor Wat and Borobudur

Architecture has always been one of the most powerful ways of expressing the nation’s culture, social and political ideology, religious faith and many other aspects that are crucial for understanding the true nature of the country. It is especially evident in large ancient religious structures, such as the 9th-century Borobudur in Indonesia and the 12th-century Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. This paper is devoted to the comparison of these two temples in terms of their geographical location, religious and historical significance.

The geographical location of Angkor Wat and Borobudur are completely different. Angkor Wat was built on a large flat territory so that its peaks were seen from far away. At the present time, Angkor Wat is a popular tourist site, so all the jungles around it are cleared, and the place has a powerful infrastructure facilitating the flow of visitors. However, for a long time, this temple was hidden in the jungle as it was almost completely forgotten after the sixteenth century. It was still functioning, but no works were done to clear the site off the vegetation, so it caused a lot of damage to the temple. It is quite difficult to say how the area looked like in the twelfth century, when Angkor Wat was just finished, but there is some archeological indication that the two of Khmer capitals were located in the vicinity (Behnke 32). This temple is located slightly north of the Tonle Sap(Great Lake) that dominates the landscape. On the contrary, Borobudur is located in the area between two volcanoes, Merbabu-Merapi and Sundoro-Sumbing, andtwo rivers that are called the Elo and theProgo. Unlike in the case of Angkor Wat, the lands around Borobudur are highly fertile, so due to their substantial agricultural potential, this territory is often called “the garden of Java” (Nou 34). Some scholars believe that in the ninth century, there was an ancient lake surrounding the temple, so it symbolized a lotus flower floating on the lake’s surface, but the issue is still debatable (Nou 61).

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The religious purposes of these temples are also different. Borobudur was built as a major Buddhist temple in the region, however, there are no written records who exactly built it and for what purposes. It is decorated with a large number of Buddha statues. It is the largest original Buddhist temple in the world. Borobudur also combines “ancient Indonesian indigenous tradition of ancestor worship and the Buddhist idea of attaining Nirvana” (Nou 83). It makes this temple really unique as no other Buddhist religious monument is so organically connected with the indigenous cults. This place is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a route for the Buddhist pilgrimage. Angkor Wat is at the moment also a Buddhist religious monument, but originally it was planned as a Hindu temple. The king who commissioned the construction of Angkor Wat planned it to be dedicated to Vishnu, one of the most crucial deities in Hinduism (Behnke 38). It was a radical break from local traditions, as most temples there were devoted to Shiva as the Supreme Being. Closer to the end of the twelfth century, due to the changes in the ruling dynasties in the region, Hinduism got weaker, and the temple began to be actively used by Buddhists. Now, it is the largest religious monument in the world.

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From the historical perspective both temples witnessed similar periods of bloom and decline. It could be explained by the unique combination of historical and geographical factors. In the beginning, Angkor Wat and Borobudur were thriving and popular religious sites, but both civilizations came to the period of a relative decline in just a few centuries, and these temples were abandoned (Angkor Wat – partially, Borobudur – completely). In case of the Indonesian temple, one of the other causes was constant volcanic eruptions taking place in this area that made the rulers move the capital far from the initial place and Borobudur. During the era of decline, Borobudur was no longer considered to be a sacred place, but rather a site associated with a bad luck and ancient mysteries. The nineteenth century was the time of the rediscovery for both temples. Angkor Wat “was rescued from obscurity in the mid-19th century when French explorers reported seeing great sandstone monuments in the Cambodian jungle” (Mannikka 12). The British administration made the same attempts in Java to clear Borobudur from ashes and jungles. During the twentieth century, both temples were damaged due to the instability in both countries. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge came to power and executed one of the most terrible genocides in the human history that led to the large-scale military conflict with the Vietnamese troops. Angkor Wat suffered relatively little damage in this war, but some of the constructions were destroyed, and there are plenty of bullet-holes in bas-reliefs. Indonesia witnessed no military conflict of the same nature, but in 1985, Muslim extremists threw nine bombs onto the temple that badly damaged nine stupas. Nowadays, Borobudur is threatened by the visitors' overload problem, and Borobudur Conservation Center exerts every effort to solve this problem in the nearest future as the stones (especially stairs) of the temple suffer from a significant wear out (Kanki, Adishakti, and Fatimah 53).

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To conclude, Angkor Wat and Borobudur are perfect examples of the Asian architecture that is perfectly integrated into the surrounding geographical landscapes. These temples also reflect the religious ideology of the regions, where they were built and the general changes in the historical circumstances of the countries. Both monuments witnessed periods of decline and were abandoned, but now, they are the crucial religious and cultural centers of the region.

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