Sunday, January 13, 2008

Prasat Preah Theat revisited

The 7th century lintel of Prasat Preah Theat
Nearly six years after my previous visit, just off National Road 2 on the way from Phnom Penh to Tonle Bati, I called into Wat Preah Theat. There's a new vihara under construction and if you didn't know it was there, you'd miss the remains of Prasat Preah Theat, as its tucked away at the back of the pagoda compound. The monks were meditating so no-one was around to pump for details, which was a similar story six years ago, so I'm still no further forward in understanding the history behind this temple. Can anyone shine a light on Prasat Preah Theat, located in the Bati district? There's a couple of prasats that go under the same name, so make sure its the Bati one.
So what did I find? Under some sheets and tarpaulins were two sandstone lintels, both similar in style, though one was quite literally worn away. The other, shown above, appears to be in the Sambor Prei Kuk lintel style, so that would date it to early to mid 7th century, definitely pre-Angkorean. There are four arches with three medallions, with the central one carved with the figure of Indra on an elephant, and inward-facing makaras or sea monsters, with figures on each makara. Below are jeweled garlands and pendants with beading and vegetal motifs. If these two lintels are from the original temple, it would suggest that the prasat was primarily constructed of brick though I could only find a few laterite blocks on the mound where the temple was located. The lintels and doorways were always constructed of sandstone. Now, a bell-shaped stupa is at the summit of the mound, around which a new wall is being built.
Next to the lintels were a pedestal and four half-standing lions in varying degrees of repair. Again, experts can tell the date of a temple by its style of lion guardians, showing their fangs, their bulbous eyes and their jeweled pendants. I can't. In a locked room nearby, I could make out through the dirty glass, a couple of statues of Buddha seated under a naga but no-one was around to unlock the door, so their age and exact relief remains a mystery. I get the vibe that Prasat Preah Theat was a pre-Angkorean temple with later additions, but its an unrecognisable ruin nowadays with some interesting sculpture still in situ.

The bell-shaped stupa with the blue hood marks the center of the ruined prasat

One of the guardian lions bearing fangs and bulbous eyes

This half standing guardian lion is one of four at the site of the ruined prasat


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