- Tim Cahill
Preah Khan is immense, beautiful and full of surprises. Whether you wish to take a relaxing stroll through taking in the majesty of the place in its entirety, or on the other hand scrupulously decipher the delicate ancient carvings and sculptures, allow yourself that bit of extra time to see more than you expected from your visit.
Preah Khan is one of the largest Angkor temples, measuring 700 meters by 800 meters. Much more than just a temple in the traditional sense, it had the function of a small city, complete with thousands of servants, and was also a huge center for Buddhist learning, an ancient university if you like. The temple was built on the site of an ancient battle where the Chams were defeated and the kingdom of Angkor was regained - references have been made to a 'Lake of Blood'.
As for the temple itself, there are four entrances over a moat which surrounds the complex. There are four entrances located at the cardinal points which cross the moat which surrounds the laterite temple wall. As the temple is orientated toward the east, it was usually entered from this side, as is the same today due to it offering the more logical and comprehensive route through. Once inside, the sights are numerous, be they galleries, libraries, shrines, sanctuaries, terraces or ballrooms, and there are no less than 40 doors to pass through from east to west. There are too many sights to mention in Preah Khan, but we believe the following to certainly be worthy of mention.
Around the outer enclosure wall stand no less than seventy two garudas, holding nagas, and each at approximately 35 meters apart. They were believed to be the protectors of air and water. The Vishnu complex, to the west of the central sanctuary is a series of shrines dedicated to worship of Vishnu, incarnated here in numerous forms. North of the central sanctuary you will find a very similar area of worship, this time it is a complex dedicated to the god Shiva. The Hall of Dancers is a wondrous vaulted space where eight exuisite apsara lintels can be found displaying celestial dancers which sit proud above perfectly positioned prosceniums. There is the Dharmasala, a wonderful free standing building which although in a somewhat ruinous state now, was traditionally believed to be a place where pilgrims could take rest and shelter, but historians argue these days that it was more likely a temple to accommodate the sacred flame. And then there is the central sanctuary of course, which houses another series of small shrines and the central tower, which in itself contains a wonderful 16th century stupa, still worshipped today by local Buddhists.
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