Rites of Passage
REG 02 - 03 - 2010

The experience of Angkor Wat was designed to be a rite of passage through the three essential components of the human being (body, mind and spirit) as it relates to the constructed physical environment. Each component of an individual's journey from the underworld to paradise is manifested in the physical space and forms that comprise Angkor Wat. One passes from the underworld outside of the Angkor Wat complex along a bridge to the complex - a microcosm for the world. Naga (serpent) and Nagi (lion) stand guard against the demons of the underworld, but this procession from the West (realm of the dead) to the East (realm of the living) is a physical feat of the body. Once inside the city walls, two libraries contain the knowledge that prepares one's mind for the ascension to the highest spiritual realm. Finally after mastery of the mind, one's spirit is nourished through meditation for the ultimate passage into paradise at the inner sanctum. The manifestation of each component is further reinforced in the physical environment and through narrative friezes. Steep steps humble the man ascending each level of the temple. Head bowed, back hunched over, the man laboring to reach the top is reminded of the greater powers at work in the Universe. The narratives adorning the walls recount the stories of the powers that be. The struggle of good and evil - light and dark - is a prevailing theme in these visual stories. Finally, the inner-most temple offers a view of the entire microcosmic Universe represented by Angkor Wat. While we experienced Angkor Wat in a matter of hours, the journey inward was meant to take a lifetime. It is the reward of a lifetime of physical discipline, intellectual rigor, and spiritual awakening to rise above the arduous path atop a perch in paradise. Angkor Wat owes its success to the faithful homage to a singular, overarching theme. My argument is that it is not as important that the theme is to represent the cosmic landscape of the Hindu Universe as that a single vision informed the design and execution of the entire compound. The physical manifestation of the conceptual framework clearly enables a complex environment to be both simple and dynamic, and congruent throughout its many components. Angkor Wat represents a full integration of philosophy and form in a way that is culturally and environmentally relevant. The image to the right hosts various thumbnails dissecting the concepts relevant to this discussion. The image below reveals the quality of the space.

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