Sometimes I wish I was an archaeologist and at Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, the desire got a bit stronger. So much has been unearthed but I am sure there is much more that is hidden!
We started our 3rd day with tour of Preah Khan Temple. There are 4 temples in Angkor Complex with names starting with Preah; they are Preah Palilay, Preah Pithu, Preah Ko and Preah Khan. Among these Preah Khan is the largest, the name translates to Sacred Sword. (Preah word means Sacred.) I would suggest including Preah Khan Temple in your 1 day itinerary of Angkor complex.
History of Preah Khan Temple
King Jayavarman VII built this temple in second half of 1th century, in 1191AD. He then dedicated this temple to his father Dharanindravarman. This complex of Buddhist temples, in an area of 56 hectares include Neak Pean and Ta Som. These temples are located along a huge reservoir Jayatataka Baray.
It is the same King Jayavarman VII who built the Ta Phrom Temple in memory of his mother Jayarajachudanami.
A stone inscription unearthed here states:
- An invocation to Lokeshvara and Prajnaparamita and also to the three jewels of Buddhism, namely the Buddha, the Dhamma or Buddhist teachings and the Sangha, the Buddhist community.
- The text praises Jayavarman VII, the King who built the temple.
- It also mentions that the King founded a city named Nagara Jayasri, which translates to “the City of the Sacred Sword”.
- The inscription also states that close to 100,000 people served the temple, including rice farmers, monks and dancers.
- It also lists the wealth of the temple, including silver, gold and gems.
- The temple was dedicated to 515 divinities. During the course of a year, 18 major festivals took place here, requiring a team of thousands just to maintain the place.
Half a Day Tour of Preah Khan Temple
The approach to Preah Khan Temple is very different from other temples of Angkor complex. We paused for a while at the beautiful moat teeming with lovely white lilies. Cross the moat walking through the bridge which is lined with giant figures holding the (mythological) snake. After the moat you face this huge fortified wall that protects the entire complex of Preah Khan temple. Don’t ignore the garuda, a celestial creature, at the entrance. It is there for centuries quietly observing all who enter and exit.
Inside it is a mini forest, shaded by tall trees to some extent. You will then find a maze of corridors through towers, satellite temples, courtyards, halls, shrines! The central portion is bereft of roof and it can get quite hot here. At the center is the main Buddhist sanctuary. Rectangular galleries go all around this sanctuary. Most of the corridors are filled with stones that were once the building block of this temple. Sadly not much restoration work is done on this. At the eastern gate Giant ficus trees are slowly strangulating the temple walls and crushing it to rubble.
Spectacular Intricate Carvings in Preah Khan Temple
Observe carefully to notice that the eastern entrance is dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism with equal-sized doors. The other cardinal directions are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma with successively smaller doors, emphasising the unequal nature of Hinduism. A knowledgeable guide too will tell you this.
It is believed that King Jayavarman VII was a devout Buddhist. He built the Preah Khan Temple as a Buddhist temple. However under Jayavarman VIII’s rule in 13th century most depictions of the Buddha were changed into praying Rishi figures. The lintels and pediments have Vishnu, Krishna and Buddha images depicting a confluence of both religions. Entrance to the Western satellite temple is guarded by two huge Dvarapalas armed with a sword.