Neak Pean Temple
Neak Pean Temple
Neak Pean Temple locates east of Preah Khan Temple about 300 meters and 10 km north of Siem Reap town. Neak Pean, which its original name was Rajasri, was another temple built by the greatest Khmer King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century under Bayon Style.
The temple was built on an island in the center of Jayatataka, the baray of King Jayavarman VII. It’s by sandstone and laterite, dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism. However, a stone inscription of Preah Khan said that King Jayavarman VII dedicated 14 statues of Hindu Gods and 1000 lingas. In 1930, there were partials of Reclining Vishnu and lingas have been found in the ponds around. Also another statue found in the eastern pond was identified as the horse Balaha. Depend on this evidence, Neak Pean was probably originally dedicated to Hinduism and later became Mahayana Buddhism.
Symbolism of Neak Pean
Many researchers had studied about Neak Pean to find out the meaning of which the temple represented. At last one suggestion came out and a conclusion has been made that Neak Pean is a temple represented Anavatapta, the sacred lake on Himalaya which was famous for its miraculous healing properties and the source of the four great rivers in India. The sanctuary tower of Neak Pean is in the central of a main pond and connected with the four other smaller on the main cardinal. There are waterspouts which lead the water from the main pond to the others.
To what Neak Pean is represented, it’s probably a hospital of King Jayavarman VII, designed for medical purpose.
The name Neak Pean (pronoun as Neak Porn), translated as ‘coiled serpents’, was taken from the two naga serpents in the main pond who surrounded the base of the sanctuary tower with their tails coiled together.
Zhou Da Guan also wrote about Neak Pean that: “The northern lake (Jayatataka located at the northern of Angkor Thom) lies one and a quarter miles to the north of the Walled City. At its center stands a square tower of gold with several dozen stone rooms. If you are looking for gold lions, bronze elephants, bronze oxen, bronze horses, here is where you will find them.”
Layout of Neak Pean Temple
Jayatataka, built by Jayavarman VII, was the baray of Preah Khan Temple which was also designed with an island at the center. Even though the baray is now dry, its island was 300 m square. A main pond of 70 m square is at the center of the island, and at its cardinal points are four smaller ponds of 25 m square each. A circular island of 14 m in diameter emerged in the center of the main pond and top with a sanctuary tower. Another eight ponds surrounding the whole now dry, making the island of Jayatataka to be the island of ponds.
Visiting Neak Pean Temple
Originally the island could only access by boat. A levee was built by French across the Baray and we reach Neak Pean from the north. To be arrived at the main pond, walk around the edge of the northern pond. The circular island has a stepped base of seven tiers made of laterite. Encircled at its base are two naga serpents represent the brothers of naga Nanda and Upananda lived in the Anavatapta Lake. Their heads on the east at both sides of the base, their tails were coiled together at the west. The top of the circular steps is decorated with blooming lotus, and the base of the tower is lotus petals.
The shrine opens to the east and on the other three sides are false doors carved standing Lokesvara. Elephants sculpted at the corners of the temple when it was changed to round from its original shape as cruciform with doors open on all four sides. The tower of the shrine is top with a lotus bud. The frontons depicted scenes of the Life of Buddha. At the north shows The Great Departure when Siddhartha leaving his palace for the ascetic life. The scene is depicted as Siddhartha riding a horse passing the protection of army. The east fronton shows Siddhartha cutting hair. The west fronton is Buddha in meditation under the bodhi tree. The one at the south is unrecognizable.
Sacred Horse Balaha
To the east of the island, in front of the two naga heads, the statue of a flying horse with figures clinging to its tail and flanks. The horse is Balaha, an avata of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who was transformed into a sacred flying horse to rescue Simhala, a business man, and his compassions. They were shipwrecked and snatched by a female ogress on the island of today Sri Lanka.
The Four Small Ponds
The main pond links to the smaller ones through four small chambers which have vaulted roofs appear just a bit higher than the terrace surrounding the pond. The chambers are somehow decorated with frontons and half frontons. Inside the chamber is a sculpted fountainhead or waterspout, at the center. They seem served a ceremonial function in which the pilgrims could smear themselves with water from the main pond and it flows through the waterspout into the small pond. The four waterspouts were designed in different figures. At the east is a man’s head with waterspout is his mouth. At the south is a lion, at the west is a horse, and an elephant at the north. The man’s head was the finest work and was coined the ‘Lord of Men’ by French archaeologists.