Angkor: The Sunken Kingdom

The Twilight of Civilizations

This documentary takes a look at the Angkor Wat and the civilization that built the ancient temples and cities: the Khmer Civilization.

But why did the Khmer civilization dissapear? What exactly let to their decline? Studies suggest drastic and sudden climate change, religious and political struggles, societal upheavals might be the main causes, which could have led to the decline of the Khmer.

A part of the series The Twilight of Civilizations, this documentary journeys back in time to explore the history of the Khmer and the Angkor Wat in Angkor: The Sunken Kingdom.

The Khmer Civilization

The Khmer or Angkor Civilization came into existence during the period from 802 to 1431 C.E. and stretched as far as the modern Thailand-Burma Border in the West and Wat Phou of Laos in the North during its peak.

The Khmer Empire 900 C.E.
Khmer Empire circa 900 C.E. – map made by Sukritact

Its emergence lies in the fact that the ancient Khmer rulers adopted a right political doctrine of its time, which enforce the unity among people.

Moreover, they had developed an intelligent irrigation system to control the water of the great Mekong River for agricultures, which enhanced its prosperity.

The Khmer Civilization had long been perished over 5 centuries ago, but it left outstanding monuments such as the great Khmer temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and numerous unique sculptures like Apsara.

The word “Angkor” is derived from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, of “Nagara” which means “City”. Angkor Wat literally means “City of Temple” and Angkor Thom “The Magnificent City”.

No doubts, the ancient Khmers were great masters of stone carving. As we can see today the unarguable evidences of various Angkor temples lying on the vast plain of Siemreap, or even beyond its present-day border to the Preah Vihear at Dangrek Mountain, Phnomrung and Phimai in Thailand and Wat Phu in Laos.

All these were created and carefully crafts by the ancient Khmers in successive centuries. This seems to contradict with the normal and easy-going life of the local Khmer people and villagers of their time.

The study of Khmer civilization in depth is not an easy task. Most of the writing, found after the excavation of Angkor, were carved in the stones which became the unperishable materials against time.

Although these evidences are important to understand the basic constituency of Khmer society and its chronology, they were mainly concerned with religious rituals, King’s praise, and literature of Indian epics of “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata”.

Interestingly, we do not learn about the daily way of life from the ancient Khmer themselves, but from the Chinese annals.

In the middle of 13th century during Chinese Yuan Dynasty, a Chinese ambassador named Zhou Daguan traveled to Angkor. He stayed with the local villagers and explored the empire for a year before his return.

Zhou wrote about Angkor in his Chinese chronicle and carefully explained how Angkor people lived. This has given us a clear portrayal of how the Khmer society operated.

The center of the Khmer Civilization is at the Angkor Wat. The Angkor Wat is situated on the plain of present-day Siemreap province north of the Great Lake of Tonle Sap.

Throughout the course of Khmer history, the kingship was frequently attained by violent means.

Many successive capitals were built by different kings in the region, each of them not far from each others. These capitals are at the area of Angkor Wat and Roluos with the different names such as Harihalara, Yasodharapura, Jayendanagari, Angkor Thom and a few unknown names.

Angkor: The Sunken Kingdom
  • Info
  • Release date2012
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Frédéric Wilner
  • Part of the seriesThe Twilight of Civilizations
  • Production companyIliade Productions