Elephant is an important animal in the ancient time of Khmer. It’s the mount of the highest figure in the country, the King. Elephants are ridden by commanders and joined their masters in war. They are also used as a vehicle to transport some heavy materials.
Elephant Terrace is the long terrace locates in Angkor Thom, north of Bayon temple. The terrace starts from the first entrance gopura of Baphuon temple, it runs for 300 m in length from south to north, and end at the Leper King Terrace. The west side of the terrace is aligned with the east wall of the Royal Palace.
Constructed in the late 12th century in the reign of King Jayavarman VII, the terrace is built in the Bayon style. It’s served as the foundation of royal reception pavilion. It’s called Elephant Terrace because of the carvings of elephants along its wall.
The terrace is 3 m high from the ground with total five stairways, three main stairways from the east at the central of the whole terrace, and two more subsidiary ones at the north end and south end.
Visitors can start their visit from the south stairway which is decorated with elephants gathering lotus flowers using their trunks. On the wall of the terrace are scene of elephants continuously carved.
The next stairway is also decorated with three elephants holding lotus flowers. The wall from this stairway to the central largest one is carved with lion-headed figure and garudas, all are standing and raising hands to support the terrace.
The central stairway is franked with naga balustrades and lion guardians in higher stage. This central stairway is in a straight line with the east entrance gopura of the Royal Palace and the east Victory Gate of Angkor Thom. To the west, a raised platform which has a frieze of sacred geese, Hamsa, carved along its base. This is perhaps served as the base of the wooden royal pavilion.
From the central stairway, the wall is also carved alternating lion-headed figures and garudas until the next stairway. Then again the carvings of elephants and their riders. The carvings are almost in life-size and show lively activities of elephants in hunting.
At the north end of the platform, a large five-headed horse is carved, this is a later addition to the terrace of King Jayavarman VIII. The horse is hidden, some visitors could not find it (my photographer also couldn’t find it, that’s why I don’t have its picture), it is sculpted in high relief stands on each side at the base of the inner retaining wall. The mythological origin of the horse is unknown. Some believe this is an Avalokiteshvara in the form of the divine horse Balaha. However, it’s noticed that King JayavarmVIII is a Hinduism king while Balaha is the divine horse in Buddhism. Moreover, the horse is surrounded by Apsaras, who are the female divinities born from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a Hindu epic.