king jayavarman vii

Neak Pean - Siem Reap, Cambodia

Neak Pean is an artificial island featuring a Buddhist temple, in Angkor park, near to Preah Khan temple. It was built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, who ruled the Khmer Empire between the years 1181 and 1218. Historians believe the island was built as a “hospital”, with the design taking inspiration from the mythical Himalayan lake Anavatapta, that was believed to cure illness. 

The design features a main pond, connected by four smaller ponds, representing earth, wind, fire and water. It was believed that bathing in these ponds that represent the elements would balance an ill person, and cure their ailment.

Ta Prohm - Cambodia 

Originally known as “Rajavihara” (Monastery of the King), Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Inscriptions on the building indicate 80,000 workers were involved in the construction of the temple. 

The temple remains almost completely in its natural state, relatively isolated in the jungle, with the various towers and monuments famously becoming bound by tree roots.

Prajnaparamita, c. 1225

Cambodia: Angkor period, 1200-1250

Prajnaparamita is the bodhisattva of wisdom and the spiritual mother of all Buddhas. The book is a symbol of her wisdom, and the lotus is a mark of her purity. Images of Prajnaparamita became increasingly popular during the 13th century in Angkor. Much of this had to do with the adoption of Buddhism as the official state religion by King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–1215) and the association he made between Prajnaparamita and his own mother, Queen Sri Jayarajacudamani. Beyond the popularity of Prajnaparamita images during the 13th century, other features date the figure to this time period; specifically, the skirt is neither long nor pleated. Instead, it is a short skirt made of a patterned textile, which had become fashionable during the 13th century.

Norton Simon Art Museum


Monastery of the Sacred Sword.

At one time, Preah Khan combined the roles of city, temple and university, with over a thousand teachers and a thousand dancers living here. This temple is in the grand-circuit and a bit of a distance away. I am glad we visited it, despite our guide discouraging us.

It has the perfect blend of ruins and structure, chaos and order, rubble and reconstruction. This is the temple that will haunt my memories forever. 

I could linger long in Preah Khan. And pretend I’m King Jayavarman VII for whom this temple was built. But it’s getting late and my guide is fidgeting.

“We have no lanterns, he says, in our carts. And we must leave before the hour of the tiger.” - Pierre Loti, 1901

As you drive to the temples, you will pass by lots and lots of others - small and big. Don’t stop. Don’t be tempted. Above all, don’t let your guide bully you.

The final post of my Angkor Series (10 of 10) | Photos and text by VJ Singh | Far/Back | January 2012. All rights reserved. Check out my previous nine posts, as I re-lived some amazing travel moments.