Buddhism in Cambodia

Preah Khan

Preah Khan (pronounced "PRAY KAHN") was built by Jayavarman VII, at the west end of the king's Jayatataka baray, on the site of Jayavarman's victory over the Cham invaders (1181). It functioned not only as a temple but also as a monastery and university, including elements of Buddhist, Vaishnava, and Shaiva worship. Jayavarman himself was a Buddhist, but most of the Buddha images were destroyed by a later king (most, but not all, authors blame Jayavarman VIII) who reverted the temple to exclusively Hindu use.

Preah Khan comprises a vast area of 56.7 hectares and four enclosing walls. The building are enclosed by a rectangular wall 700 by 800m and surrounded by a moat. Inside is a labyrinth of pavilions, halls and chapels. 

Preah Khan may have served as a temporary residence of the king while he was rebuilding the capital after the Chams sacked it in 1177. Nearby monuments include Preah Damrei, guarded by massive elephants; Preah Thkol, a cruciform shrine 2km east of the central group; and Preah Stung, 2km south-east of the main group, which includes a tower with four faces.

What to see

The Preah Khan complex is the largest enclosure of ancient Cambodia at nearly five kilometres square, bigger than Angkor Thom (3.3 kms sq) and Banteay Chhmar (4 kms sq). 

The group consists of a central sanctuary and four enclosures with many accessory buildings, basins, a large eight-metre wide moat and temples, some of which are outside the outer enclosure walls. Outside the enclosure is the small pyramid temple of Prasat Preah Damrei of some twelve low tiers. 

Built in the 9th century, it stands on a terrace and is approached by a series of steps. Enclosed by a laterite wall with four gates, the upper corners of the pyramid is guarded by massive stone elephants. The main eastern approach into the complex is via a large baray, some 600 x 3,000 metres, where a cruciform sandstone shrine, Preah Thkol, occupies an island in the center. 

At the western end of the baray is an 11th century structure, Prasat Preah Stung, whose sanctuary is surmounted by a central tower with four Bayon-like faces and a remarkable terrace with carvings of 'hamsa' (swans). An ornately carved naga bridge gives access to the main eastern entry gopura, flanked by two smaller entrance halls. The inner walls have galleries and gates and alongside the re-built central sandstone tower are two libraries. The walls are adorned with apsara carvings and a royal pool has been cleared of weeds and foliage. Closeby is a sandstone 'dharmasala' (rest house), similar to the one found at Preah Khan of Angkor.

The main group of temples were built in the 12th century when Preah Khan was home to both King Suryavarman II and later, the future King Jayavarman VII, before the latter defeated the invading Chams, claimed the throne and moved his capital back to Angkor in 1181. The story of his victories are celebrated in bas-relief carvings on the walls of the Bayon and Banteay Chhmar. 

Located 100 kilometres east of Angkor, the site was studied in the 1870s by Louis Delaporte, who shamefully looted and carried off a number of substantial carvings that are now housed in the Guimet Museum in Paris. However, one masterpiece remains in the National Museum in Phnom Penh and that's a finely sculpted head, believed to be of Jayavarman VII.

Where To Stay

Preah Khan Hotel (4 Stars)
National Road No 6, Phum Grous Svay Dangkom Preah Khan, Siem Reap, Cambodia.