In its day Preah Khan was not only a royal palace (while the king waited for his new home in Angkor Thom to be constructed) but also a Buddhist monastery and a university employing more than 1000 monks. According to its foundation stele, which was found at the site, it took ten tons of rice (provided by the surrounding villages) to sustain the temples population of more than 97 000 inhabitants.
It’s a large temple with long passages, multiple doorways, countless fantastically preserved carvings and some unusual statues. Two huge beheaded dvarapalas, reminiscent of the colossal Egyptian statues we saw at Christmas time, guard the main entrance.
Pediments and lintels are illustrated with Hindu characters Rama and Ravana and Shiva and Kama in scenes from Hindu scripture. In each area dedicated to a particular god or deity identified by carved depictions of their lives; the battle of Lanka, the Ramayana, Shiva Nataraya the ‘lord of the dance’, dragons, serpents and the often fearsome Garuda, who appears in both Buddhist and Hindu mythology.
At the centre of the temple, in place of the original statue of Lokesvara, is a stupa built several centuries after the temple's initial construction.
Other enclosures and niches hold Buddhas, although many are without heads or have been defaced, stupas, Garuda and Kinnari, winged mermaid like creatures with garlands of flowers for legs.
There is an incredible two storey columned structure in the courtyard called a pavilion in the guide books. It no longer has access to the second floor nor a roof but it is impressive none the less. Just on its left is a large raised platform guarded by lions at the base of the steps which is thought to have been used for ceremonies or even cremations.
We sat opposite the ‘pavilion’ for a while poured over the guide book and tried to take everything in. We definitely missed things just as well we will be back!