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The Demise of Angkor Wat

In the sixth century AD, a new kingdom emerged in mainland South-East Asia. Based in Cambodia, it absorbed the Funan kingdom established by the brahmin Kaundinya and emerged as the Khemer kingdom of Angkor. Their kings chose names ending in -varman like the Pallava kings of Kanchi and constructed one of the largest Hindu temples outside India.

bq. The temples of Angkor, built from 879 – 1191AD, when the Khmer civilization was at the height of its development, represent one of humankind’s most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements. From the great citadel of Angkor, the kings of the Khmer empire ruled over a vast domain that reached from what is now southern Vietnam to Yunan, China and from Vietnam westward to the Bay of Bengal. The structures one sees at Angkor today, more than 100 temples in all, are the surviving religious remains of a grand social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings – palaces, public buildings, and houses – were all built of wood and are long since decayed and gone.

The City of Angkor was also magnificient

bq. They learned the metropolitan area extended far beyond Angkor Thom, the 700-year-old walled city that houses Angkor Wat. Angkor was home to about 750,000 people and covered some 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) $(O m(Buch larger than any other preindustrial development and similar to the shape and size of modern cities, Fletcher said.

bq. “It’s like a Los Angeles. It’s not like Hong Kong,” he said. “Lots and lots of open space, big gaps around the houses, huge freeways, which are the canals in this case.” The city’s economy was based on rice, and rice paddies spread along dozens of canals, at least one up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) long. A network of reservoirs, canals, and bridges was created to move people and goods and to ensure there was enough water to grow rice. Angkor engineers even changed the direction that some rivers flowed in what essentially was “a human-built landscape for growing rice,” Fletcher said.

The general reason mentioned for the demise of this kingdom is an attack by the Thais in 1431. But now scientists think that the demise happened much before, due to the evils of urban societies, like ecological failure and infrastructure breakdown. They think it is important to study these reasons as it can provide lessons in dealing with problems many urban societies are facing today.

bq. Fletcher, a professor at the University of Sydney, theorizes that population pressures and water woes made it harder to trade and communicate. People began migrating south toward the area around what is now Phnom Penh, where subsequent capitals were set up.

bq. The growing population also forced people to venture into the nearby Kulen hills to cut down trees for fuel and to clear land for growing rice. That would have resulted in rain runoff carrying sediment down into the canal network, Evans said. “Anything that happened to that water management system would have had a great deal of consequence for all of the people,” he said. [“ENN”:http://www.enn.com/news/2004-06-10/s_24741.asp]

In another report from Cambodia, India has promised to donate $5.5 million for the restoration of the Ta Prohm temple at the Angkor Wat site.

bq. The Ta Prohm is a magnificent temple-monastery complex built in the South Indian architectural style that once housed nearly 13,000 monks and other attendants. Angkor Wat is the largest temple area in the world..

bq. Ta Prohm has been left by archaeologists in its original jungle-covered state, some of its walls cracked apart by tree roots, making it an exotic subject for photographers and a popular destination for tourists. It was built by one of the greatest Khmer Kings, Jayavarman VII, who also built Angkor Thom as his capital and the Bayon as his state temple where a mix of Buddhist and Hindu deities were worshipped. [“Big News Network”:http://feeds.bignewsnetwork.com/?sid=3224cf9b4b8c1049]

Srijith has “great photographs”:http://www.pbase.com/srijith/angkor of Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm

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