Preah Khan Temple
Preah Khan Temple – The Holy Sword
At about 2 km North East of Angkor Thom, there was a wonderful temple which we are common known as Preah Khan. Preah Khan is Khmer words which mean “The holy sword or sacred sword or the royal sword”. Preah Khan temple was built by the greatest Khmer king of Angkor era, Jayavarman VII in 1191 AD, 10 years after his victory on Champa, who was invading and controlling Angkor for four year (1177-1181).
According to its stone inscription, Preah Khan was buily on the last battle site where King Jayavarman VII defeated Champa and the Champa’s king had been killed here.
This temple was probably the site of previous palace of Yasovarman II (1150-1165) and Tribhuvanadityavarman and also the palace of King Jayavarman VII before he move to Angkor Thom.
The original named of Preah Khan was Nagarajayacri which means the Kingdom Protected by a Holy Sword. The stone inscription describes about the holy sword that it is the prosperous treasure of the Kingdom. It was made by 21 different kinds of metal. Then, Preah Khan also a home of the royal family, dignitaies, monks, teachers and many servant in total about 10000 peoples.
Preah Khan lies within a laterite wall about 800meters from East to West, 700 meters from North to South and surrounding by a moat. It locates at the end of Jayatataka Baray which is the last great reservoir to be built in Angkor era. Nowadays this baray is dry and it has got a new name called Rajatataka field.
Preah Khan was dedicate to Mahayana Buddhism and also to the king Dharanindravarman, king father of Jayavarman VII. A statue of Bodhisattva Avaloketisvara named Jayavarmesvara has been kept inside this temple is a statue represented to the king’s father. Beside this statue, there were many others deities at others site of the whole temple, in totally about 430 deities. Preah Khan was not only a palace or temple, but also a Buddhism university in the late 12th century.
Visiting Preah Khan Temple
To visit this temple, visitors could enter from the four Gopuras which locates at the main cardinal points. The most popular entrance is on the Eastern. It is available for visitors to see Jayatataka Baray and a terrace with lions guardians and nagas balustrade.
Walkway and the Naga Bridge
Walking on the walkway flanked by boundary stones for about 200 meters long from East to West, we arrive the causeways across the moat. The carving on boundary stones were changed in the late of 13th century while the original carvings were Buddha image.
The same to Angkor Thom, the causeway across the moat or the Naga bridge is decorating with two lines of deities and Asuras who were holding the naga king, Vasuki, appeared in the scene of Churning of the Ocean of Milk. At the end of this scene, there are two giant mythical guardians, Garudas.
The Outer Gopura
Now we arrive a Gopura with three entrances, each top with the Bayon style four-face-tower, the largest entrance is in the middle. This is the gopura of the city wall or the fourth enclosure of Preah Khan. It is connected with others three more Gopuras by laterite walls. On the exterior of the laterite wall carved 68 giant Garudas, each about 5 meters high which symbolized protector of the air and water. This mythical bird is also the mount of Vishnu. They are regarded as powerful guardians and they were placed around the walls in a distance of 35 meters from each other. This mythical bird appeared with its traditional enemy, Nagas, the hands of Garuda hold and lift up the tail of Nagas and his legs stepping on the Naga’s body.
Passing Gopura IV and continue to the West through the forest to the third Gopura. Before we reach the third Gopura, there is a substantial “House of Fire” which is one of the 121 chapels built by King Jayavarman VII in his empire.
The Third Gopura
Continued a little while, there is a raised platform decorated with Naga balustrades and guarded by lions. Standing on this platform, a wonderful architectural composition of the third Gopura with it five entrances is in front of us, which leading to the central sanctuary.
There were many carvings at the external surface, which is supporting by many pillars, connected the three large entrances at the center to the two smaller at the end of the both sides. The central entrance was probably serving as the royal entrance to the temple.
Hall of Dancer
Passing the third Gopura, you will reach a large building where many Apsaras were carved on the lintel in the form of dancing. They are either single or in pairs. This hall is called “Hall of Dancers” which derived from the carving here. The hall is divided into four courtyards, each surrounded by 24 pillars. Formerly, this hall probably a place where worshippers presented offering of food, gifts to the king and Preah Khan Divinities, because this hall is close to the entrance of the main sanctuary. Many Buddha images also carving in the niches above Apsaras, but after the reigned of Jayavarman VII, the religious in Cambodia was returning to Hinduism and most of the Buddha images were defaced.
There is a small entrance on the north side of the “Hall of Dancer” which lead you to see the Storey Pavilion. The Storey Pavilion is a strange and most unusual building of Angkor. It’s decorated with closely large round columns and has no trace of a stairway to the upper storey. It is maybe accessed to the upper level by wooden staircase in former time. The view of Storey Pavilion somehow made visitors feel like being somewhere in the Western country. A legend said that it’s once housed “Preah Khan”, the holy sword, which proceeded the king’s procession.
The Second Gopura
Return to “Hall of Dancer” and continued to the West, there are two libraries facing to the West at the end of “Hall of Dancer”. The second enclosure is built as gallery walls. From the second Gopura to the inner Gopura are many buildings that were added in later time, making it a complicated area. However, the carvings here are something visitors could admire: Garudas are exceptionally carved at the corners; Buddha images on the columns have been transformed into hermits.
The Inner Gopura and Central Sanctuary
The East facing fronton of the inner Gopura carved a male and female divinity standing on the pedestals, probably represented to the king and the queen. Beautiful Devadas are standing in the niches which are almost hidden. At the western of the inner gopura is where the famous stele of Preah Khan was found. It’s 2 meters high and 60cm square with inscription on all four sides. It is now kept in the Conservancy.
Continue to the west and we are now in the inner enclosure. The fronton of the inner gopura, facing west, is depicted a scene from Ramayana, in which Rama and Sita returning to Ayodhana. Within this enclosure is again contained many later additional small buildings. The central sanctuary has a small stupa at its center which was added around the 16th century. This place was originally placed the statue of Jayamesvara, the statue represents king father of Jayavarman VII. On both interior and exterior walls of the central sanctuary are pierced with small holes on purpose of attaching large bronze plates as covers. The inscription mentioned that about 1500 tones of bronze were used at this temple. There are four doorways to the cardinal points, looking at each with the long narrow views.
Small Temples Around the Second Enclosure
Surrounded the second enclosure are three small rectangular temples. The north dedicated to Shiva; the south to the kings and queens who were deceased ancestors; the west to Vishnu. From the central sanctuary, visitors can choose to turn north, or south to see the temples.
The north temple has some interesting frontons: the west fronton has Reclining Vishnu in exceptionally fine condition; Hindu trinities at the East, in which Shiva is dancing while Vishnu and Brahma sit on both sides, the same fronton is found at the west of temple U at Preah Pithu group temple.
Back from the North temple, continue westward from the central sanctuary, a linga with its yoni pedestal is immediately west of the central sanctuary. More small chambers occupied the Southwest and Northwest corners of the inner enclosure.
After leaving the west Gopura of the second enclosure, we are entering the west temple which dedicated to Vishnu. A long pedestal with holes for three statues is placed right after its Eastern entrance. The inscription on its door frame says that they were Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita. A library of this small temple is at the northwest corner. The west fronton is identified as Krishna lifts mount Govardhana.
The West Approach of Preah Khan
The west Gopura of the third enclosure is a few steps away from the temple of Vishnu. Its fronton depicts people playing chess on a boat. The west fronton has a scene of the Battle at Langka. The west entrance is guarded by two large Dvarapalas.
Leave Preah Khan through its west which has the same design as the eastern one, though it’s shorter in distance: the outer Gopura of the laterite town wall carved with giant Garudas; the naga bridge over the moat flanked by Gods and Asuras and the long walkway with boundary stones.