Preah Khan temple is located 2 kilometers north-east of Angkor Thorn on the Grand Circuit. The temple was built in the second half of the 12th century in AD 1191 by King Jaya-varman VII, dedicating to his father Dharanindravarman. The Buddhist complex covers 56 hectares served as the nucleus of a group that includes Neak Pean and Ta Som, located 4 kilometers long Jayatataka Baray – the last of the great re¬servoirs to be built in Angkor.
Preah Khan is a huge, highly explorable monastic complex. Full of carvings, passages and photo opportunities. It originally served as a Buddhist monastery and school, engaging over 1000 monks. For a short period it was also the residence of King Jayavarman VII during the reconstruction of his permanent home in Angkor Thom. Preah Khan means ‘sacred sword.’ In harmony with the architecturally similar Ta Prohm, which was dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s mother, Preah Khan is dedicated to his father. Features of note: like most of Jayavarman VII’s monuments, the Buddha images were vandalized in the later Hindu resurgence. Some Buddha carvings in the central corridor have been crudely carved over with Bodhisattvas, and in a couple of odd cases, a lotus flower and a linga. Also note the cylindrical columns on the building west of the main temple. It is one of the only examples of round columns and may be from a later period.
The inscription indicates that Preah Khan was built on the battle site where King Jaya-varman VII finally defeated the Chams. In those days it was known as Nagarajayacri which mean the city of Preah Khan.
Four concentric ramparts subdivide Preah Khan. The outer or fourth wall, which is encircled by a wide moat, today en¬closes a large tract of jungle, formerly the living quarters of the monks, students and attendants of Preah Khan. The second rampart delineated the principle religious compound of about four hectares within which there is a dense concen¬tration of temple and shrines. The central complex is Bud¬dhist. The northern and western sectors are dedicated to
Brahmanism – Vishnu (west) and Shiva (north), whilst the southern sector is a place of ancestor worship. The eastern sector forms the grand entrance to the central shrine.
History of Preah Khan Temple
Preah Khan was built on the site of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the invading Chams in 1191. Unusually the modern name, meaning “holy sword”, is derived from the meaning of the original—Nagara Jayasri (holy city of victory). The site may previously have been occupied by the royal palaces of Yasovarman II and Tribhuvanadityavarman. The temple’s foundation stela has provided considerable information about the history and administration of the site: the main image, of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the form of the king’s father, was dedicated in 1191 (the king’s mother had earlier been commemorated in the same way at Ta Prohm). 430 other deities also had shrines on the site, each of which received an allotment of food, clothing, perfume and even mosquito nets; the temple’s wealth included gold, silver, gems, 112,300 pearls and a cow with gilded horns. The institution combined the roles of city, temple and Buddhist university: there were 97,840 attendants and servants, including 1000 dancers and 1000 teachers.
The temple is still largely unrestored: the initial clearing was from 1927 to 1932, and partial anastylosis was carried out in 1939. Since then free-standing statues have been removed for safe-keeping, and there has been further consolidation and restoration work. Throughout, the conservators have attempted to balance restoration and maintenance of the wild condition in which the temple was discovered: one of them, Maurice Glaize, wrote that;
The temple was previously overrun with a particularly voracious vegetation and quite ruined, presenting only chaos. Clearing works were undertaken with a constant respect for the large trees which give the composition a pleasing presentation without constituting any immediate danger. At the same time, some partial anastylosis has revived various buildings found in a sufficient state of preservation and presenting some special interest in their architecture or decoration.
Since 1991, the site has been maintained by the World Monuments Fund. It has continued the cautious approach to restoration, believing that to go further would involve too much guesswork, and prefers to respect the ruined nature of the temple. One of its former employees has said, “We’re basically running a glorified maintenance program. We’re not prepared to falsify history”. It has therefore limited itself primarily to stabilisation work on the fourth eastern gopura, the House of Fire and the Hall of Dancers.