In order to reach Preah Khan, the temple complex north of Angkor Thom, we take nearly the same route as the day before. Our moped-rickshaw drives past Angkor Wat, through the south gate of Angkor Thom and past the Bayon and the Terrace of the Elephants. After we have let the northern town gate and the 100 m wide moat behind us, we reach Preah Khan. The temple is hidden in the woods.
In the past Preah Khan was more than just a temple. It was both Buddhist monastery with shrines for 430 Hindu gods, Mahayana university with more than 1,000 teachers, as well as an agricultural economic management center. Before Angkor Thom had been built, Preah Khan was presumably the provisional capital of the Khmer empire.
The temple formed the center of the city. The city with an area of 750 x 900 m was protected by a moat. It almost had 100.000 inhabitants at the time. Under the reign of King Jayavarman VIII, in the mid-13th century, the complex was converted to a Hindu temple and many Buddha statues and reliefs destroyed.
The name Preah Khan (Holy Sword) is derived from the original Sanskrit name Nagara Jayasri, which means “the holy city of victory”. Jayavarman VII dedicated the temple in 1191 to his father, who drove out the invaders and defeated the arch-enemy, the Cham from present-day central Vietnam.
The central statue is named “Jayavarmeshvara”, which means “Jayavarman, Lord of the world”. It is consecrated to the father of Jayavarman, representing the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the universal Bodhisattva of compassion and caring. In a similar way Jayavarman VII had commemorated his mother with the construction of Ta Prohm.
We enter the complex by the west gate. Through the gate tower (Gapura) flanked by powerful Guardians we come to the actual temple. The temple is cross-shaped. A longitudinal passage which is interrupted only by different gates, allows us to see to the other end. In the center under a Prasat (tower) is a small stupa.
Openings in the walls are arranged in such a way that the rays of sun point directly to the top of the stupa. This gives the impression as if a flame burns at the top of the stupa.
Elaborate constructions make the floor plan appear to be very confusing. A friendly policeman shows us a small passage in a side wing where we usually would not have gone in, because of danger of collapse.
Here is a small significant prayer niche with a representation of Harihara, the union of Shiva and Vishnu, which was very common amongst the Khmer in the Pre-Angkor period.
In a yard, on the right side of the central corridor, nature tries to conquer back its terrain. Left of the hall is the Hall of Dancers.
A special feature of Preah Khan is the two-story portico. It is unique in Angkor and modeled like the wooden rice barn in Khmer-style. Locals say that it was the place of the holy sword, which gave the temple is name. Probably but it is a myth, because there is no evidence.
You can see that restorations are carried out. Due to the overgrowth of the tree trunks, the gatehouse, which closes the courtyards, reminds us anew of Lara Croft.
We leave Preah Khan by the west gate. An avenue leads to the northern Baray, the third large water reservoirs of Angkor.
But before that we see a chapel, the House of Fire, on the left side of the avenue. Originally there were 121 identical ones.
This one, as well as the west gate has been recently restored.
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