The 1,796 female figures rendered in sandstone on Angkor Wat’s pillars and walls have weathered war, and a harsh tropical environment for more than 800 years. I was first struck by the beauty and individuality of these devatas in 2009, during my first visit to Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious building in the world. During a subsequent visit to Cambodia last month, I was just as intrigued.
How many artisans did it take to carve these bas-relief figures? Are they modeled after real women of centuries past? If they could speak, what stories would they tell?
Some scholars have concluded that the beautiful, mystical women adorning Angkor Wat are heavenly goddesses, whereas others on website Devata question if they are actual representations of real women who lived during the Angkor Empire. Peruse this gallery of black & white images to see for yourself!