Kbal Spean River of A Thousand Lingas
Kbal Spean, an archaeological site of Angkor era located on the southwest of Kulen Mountain, about 38 km from Angkor area. The site is well known for its direct carvings into the river bed and banks of sandstone in a length of 150 meters stretch. It’s commonly known as “River of a Thousand Lingas” which many stubby lingas, the symbol of supreme divine power of Shiva, were carved in rows.
The Siem Reap River, which rises in the western part of Kulen Mountain, flows through the main Angkor Group as well as the Siem Reap town and finally flows into the Tonle Sap Lake (The Great Lake). Steung Kbal Spean, a tributary of Siem Reap River, has its start from an outlying hill called Phnom Kbal Spean. It’s here, on the upper stream down the steep hillside, that the carvings begin to appear.
The attraction of Kbal Spean is not only about the River of a Thousand Lingas, but also many interesting carvings of Reclining Vishnu, Ummahesvara, and Brahma.
History of Kbal Spean
Since the beginning of Angkor period with Jayavarman II as the founder of Khmer Empire, the area of Kulen Mountain (Mahendra Paravata) has been regarded as the sacred area for royal religious ceremonies. One of the significant ceremonies called Devaraja has first taken placed on the Kulen Mountain, in which the ceremony turned Jayavarman II to be the God King. And it’s believed that the river which flows over the sacred lingas is blessed with divine power.
At the site, there are several inscription carved into the rock, dating to the reign of Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066). Among these inscription, there is one was authored by an elder minister of Suryavarman I (1002-1049) dated 1054 which refer to ‘a thousand lingas’. Other inscriptions were carved by hermits and haven’t referred directly to any sculpture. However, they were all carved in Baphuon style in the same period. The inscription also mentioned that in 1059 King Udayadityavarman came here to consecrate a golden linga.
Access Kbal Spean
Kbal Spean locates on the southern slope of western part of Kulen Mountain, 13 km north of Banteay Srei, 38 km north of the main group of Angkor monuments. The carvings are best appeared at the end of the rainy season (Dec to Feb). During this time, there are still the fast-flowing water, but doesn’t completely submerge the most parts of carvings.
Carvings at Kbal Spean
It’s recommended that visitors should start their visit at Kbal Spean from the natural bridge. This is a broad block of sandstone, under which the river has eroded a channel, and thus the site gets its name, translated “the bridge head”.
To reach the natural bridge, visitors must walk straight up to the bridge along the east bank. At the end of the path, the most attractive outlooks of the site are from here. The water flows between two carved outcrops, a pair of Reclining Vishnu represent the long sleep of Vishnu on the serpent Ananta floating on the Ocean of Milk, while waiting for a new cycle of world creation. Vishnu’s consort, Lakshmi, is sitting at her husband’s feet while he is dreaming the cosmos into being. Meanwhile, a lotus flower blooms from his navel and Brahma appears on the lotus flower. This scene, in Khmer art, is usually shown Brahma and the lotus appear vaguely from behind Vishnu’s back rather than from his navel.
On the north face of the natural bridge is another carving of Reclining Vishnu. Next to this has another representation of Brahma sitting on a lotus bloom. Up there is a carving of a three towered temple. A little further upstream, north of the natural bridge, Brahma was carved in four-handed sitting on a lotus bloom.
Walk downstream for about 30 m from the bridge, there is another pair of Reclining Vishnu. Continue downward, we reach a pool that has no rapid flows. Here is a large field of lingas. At the central, there is a group of five lingas arranged in quincunx which represents Mount Meru. This central group is surrounded by yoni, a square enclosure with a channel at one end, represents the female principle.
Continue walking down the stream, at about 50 m, there is a rocky island in midstream, many bas-reliefs cut into the rock faces. A figure apprears in the central, which has been hacked away, is Shiva as an ascetic. This is probably Shiva Bikhshatanamurti, but the appurtenance of the crocodile nearby is unknown of meaning. Near there, a large frog is found. Next to this is a rectangular basin which always full with water. Here, on the walls of basin, more Reclining Vishnus are carved. And again the crocodile, but this time its tail grasped by a woman. The scene of Umamahesvara is apprear on a little island, in which Shiva and his consort, Uma, ridding their mount, Nandi.