Preah Khan

March 1, 2009

in Angkor Temples

Temple Name: Preah Khan
Notable Features: Detailed Naga and Apsara carvings. Home to Angkor’s only two-story building. Unique cylindrical columns.
Getting There: To reach Preah Khan, take the road north from Angkor Thom’s North Gate. Follow the road northeast for 600 meters, east for 300 meters, and north for 250 meters. At this point, you will see a turnoff on the right that will lead you to Preah Khan’s western entrance. The turnoff is marked by a Preah Khan signpost.

The Buddhist University of the Khmer Empire

Preah Khan, which means “Sacred Sword”, was built towards the end of the 12th century as a part of King Jayavarman VII’s massive building campaign. Unlike many of Angkor’s larger monuments, which served primarily as worship centers or military headquarters, Preah Khan was also a Buddhist University. At its zenith, Preah Khan supported more than 1000 teachers and countless students.

King Jayavarman VII dedicated Preah Khan to his father, Dharnindravarman II, who is depicted throughout the temple in the likeness of the bodhisattva Lokesvara (the embodiment of compassion). Unfortunately, a later king destroyed many of Preah Khan’s Buddhist carvings and bas-reliefs. Archeologists blame King Jayavarman VIII for erasing the monument’s Buddhist heritage, and re-consecrating Preah Khan to the principles and deities of Hinduism.

Like most Angkorian temples, Preah Khan faces the rising sun, or the east. It is a large, moated monument that is accessed by a series of grand causeways. These causeways are flanked by richly detailed Naga (serpent beings) sculptures. These sculptures were used by the Khmer to identify a Royal City. In fact, King Jayavarman VII temporarily resided in Preah Khan while his palace in Angkor Thom was being constructed.

Inscriptions found throughout the temple suggest that Preah Khan was one of the most powerful, metropolitan areas of the ancient Khmer Empire. Archeologists have deduced that some 5,324 villages were part of the Preah Khan city proper. Astoundingly, the tax records of 97,840 male and female citizens of Preah Khan have survived the ages.

Preah Khan has been the focus of partial restoration since the 1920’s, but much of the temple has been left in a state of moderate to advanced ruin. As a result, this temple is a wonderful juxtaposition of richly ornamented Khmer stonework and jungle-swarmed piles of rubble.

Interestingly, Preah Khan is home to Angkor’s only two-story structure. Even though some of Angkor’s temples are more than 65 meters tall, they are all single-story buildings. Preah Khan’s two-story monument is located towards the eastern end of the temple complex. This architectural masterpiece should find its way onto any Angkor itinerary.

Additionally, some of the only examples of cylindrical columns in all of Angkor may be found in Preah Khan. These columns may be observed at the building located just west of Preah Khan’s main temple. Since cylindrical columns are not a staple of Preah Khan’s design, many archeologists believe that they were the product of a later period of construction.

Preah Khan is a gorgeous monument, worth any traveler’s time. It’s a fabulous example of Royal Khmer architecture, as well as a unique representation of the Khmer’s religious devotion. This monument can be viewed at all hours of the day. But like many temples in Angkor, viewing Preah Khan in the early morning or late afternoon hours will be the most comfortable. The Cambodian high noon sun can be quite brutal.

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