Reservoirs of a Millennia Ago

After the reign of the Khmer Rouge ended, Angkor was not yet ready for exploration as the last groups of the Khmer Rouge with their leader Pol Pot made their last stand in the Kulen Hills. Only after the death of Pol Pot that it became safe for exploring, archaeologists started returning to Angkor to once again explore the Khmer history.

The one advantage of this was that by this time, new technologies had emerged which would make exploration of the area a lot faster and easier. NASA had developed ground-sensing radar in 1960s and this was brought into play for exploring Angkor only in 2007. This technology was particularly conducted by helicopters flying above Angkor. With this immense technology in hand, the archaeologists figured out that Angkor was not just something big, it was an extensive city as big as any modern day metropolis.

At the epicentre of this city was the temple of Angkor Wat and closer to that, the fortified area of Angkor Thom. The city was spread out far and wide. Well, when you think of such an extensive area, it would require all the necessities to support the booming population of that city. The most important in this region was water, Cambodia was and still is a monsoon-dependent country for water. Even other economic activities, mainly cultivation of rice were governed by this.

The Khmer rulers realised the importance of water long back and started using their immense technology to make a complex system of reservoirs and canals which would supply water to different parts of the city and prevent drought and flood. There are basically, two main barays, reservoirs; the West Baray and the East Baray. The East Baray as you can infer is located on the East of the city, it was built in the 10th century and is the second-largest baray in the Angkor region. Similarly, on the West of the city of the West Baray which is the largest baray in Angkor measuring eight kilometres by two kilometres, which is just huge! This baray was actually built after the construction of the East Baray in the 11th century. The Khmers must have had a great engineering expertise because both the barays have been built in perfect rectangles which is an amazing feat for those times!

It is believed that these barays were built to store water but this is not written in any inscription, on the other hand, many people theorise that these barays were built so that Angkor represent Mount Meru, surrounded by ‘seas’. I would like to say that even though the Khmer people were religious, they would not have constructed such enormous reservoirs just for religious causes. According to me, the main reason for their construction was to store rainwater and it might have also been used for religious purposes.

But then, the LIDAR images which have been taken, show remains of an intricate system of canals dug throughout the city. These canals flowed past farms and their waters were divided into smaller streams so as to irrigate rice fields. A kingdom can be prosperous only as long as its residents are content and it is self-reliant. Angkor had everything, it had water, food and as it was flowing with resources, this meant that the kings could construct elaborate temples and concentrate on contesting for new lands by invading neighbours and increasing their kingdom’s expanse.


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