Preah Khan

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Named for the sacred sword owned by the 9th-century king, Jayavarman II, Preah Khan temple complex was established by Jayavarman VII (r.1181– 1218), and functioned as a monastery and religious college. It is also believed to have served as a temporary capital for Jayavarman VII during the restoration of Angkor Thom following the city’s sacking by the Kingdom of Champa in 1177. An inscribed stone stele  found here in 1939 indicates that the temple, the largest such enclosure in Angkor, was based at the center of an ancient city, Nagarajayacri – jayacri means sacred sword in Siamese. The central sanctuary was originally dedicated to the Buddha, but the Hindu rulers succeeding Jayavarman VII vandalized many of the temple’s Buddhist aspects, replacing several Buddha images on the walls with carvings of Hindu deities. Today, the complex extends over a sprawling 141 acres (57 ha), and is surrounded by a 2-mile (3-km) long laterite wall. The premises also have a massive reservoir or baray. Access to the central sanctuary, built on a cross-shaped layout, is through four gates, set at the cardinal points of the compass. One of the main highlights at Preah Khan is the Hall of Dancers, so named for the exquisite apsara bas-reliefs that line the walls. The shrine of the White Lady, a wife of Jayavarman VII, is still venerated by locals who leave behind offerings of flowers and incense. The most notable temple on the grounds, however, is the Temple of Four Faces, named for the carvings on its central tower. Like Ta Prohm , Preah Khan is studded with great trees whose creeping roots cover and, in places, pierce  the laterite and sand- stone structures on  which they grow. Yet, unlike Ta Prohm, the complex has  undergone exten- sive resto ration.  Many of the giant trees here have been felled, and the walls are being pains takingly rebuilt.

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