After Bayon, this was the most important monument in the whole of Angkor under Jayavarman II (r. 1181-1219/20 CE). Spread over 56 hectares, the grand project was started in 1184 CE and was later dedicated to the sovereign’s father Dharanindravarman in 1191 CE. Despite being a Buddhist monastery the temple houses a liberal mix of both Buddhist and Brahmanical faiths. In all likelihood, Preah Khan was modelled on the lines of Buddhist learning centers of faraway India. Short stray inscriptions and a stele throws vital information about the past grandeur. If the inscriptions are to be believed the complex provided employment to around a lakh of attendants and caretakers, both men and women.
Quite like his other hastily done complexes, Preah Khan is lacks harmony. Glaize also feels, “Prah Khan, like most other temples of Jayavarman’s reign, is not uniform in style. It shows evidence of numerous alterations and additions – and although a Buddhist monastery, there is nonetheless an abundance of Brahmanic iconography.” Connected with the outer world through fancy bridges adorned with demons and devils engaged in churning the oceans, the complex has 4 enclosing layers of protection. In words of Glaize, “It is, like Ta Prohm with which it has many analogies, an example typical of the formula adopted by Jayavarman VII; all the elements of a vast composition compressed into a relatively small space (the third enclosure contains all of its buildings in only 175 by 200 metres), the transformation of an elegant initial plan into a veritable architectural chaos by the multiplication of additional buildings placed at random – all then enclosed within a vast habitation zone that was probably covered with huts and timber houses.”
Practicalities | Preah Khan is probably the second largest temple complex in Angkor and for the same reasons requires quite an effort to explore. Generally, the tuk-tuks prefer to drop the visitors at the western gate, but starting from the east is a good option. There is so much to see; spend your time wisely as many marvels await discovery. A guide can be helpful in directing your energies towards all that is worthy of attention.