Prah Palilay

Date sanctuary - first half of the 12th century
gopura - late 12th, early 13th century
Cult Buddhist
Clearing by H. Marchal in 1918 - 1919
Anastylosis of the gopura by M. Glaize in 1937 - 1938

Setting off down the oblique path behind Tep Pranam, towards the north-west, one comes in 150 metres to the foot of a small terrace from where one can see the Buddha preceding the entrance, the gopura, and the sanctuary itself of Prah Palilay, surrounded by the soaring silk-cotton trees which provide a particularly dramatic setting.

This cruciform terrace, of about thirty metres in length by 8m.50 in width on its upper level, is in a remarkable state of preservation, constituting one of the finest specimens of this kind of work from the classic period, where the broadly crested seven-headed nagas of its balustrades are refined in line and carry no excess of material. Two dvarapalas or guardians, now decapitated, preceded it on the east side with two crouching lions, only one of which remains.

The terrace is linked to the gopura by a thirty three metre pavement, once bordered with "Hamsas", or sacred geese, sculpted on sandstone blocks, similar to those on Terrace of the elephants. A large Buddha of a late period, who for a long-time was missing his head - found in 1934 entwined in the roots of a tree - has been erected in front of the monument. Three metres high, including the base, he sits on a lotus "calling the earth to witness". His "ushnisha" finishes in a flame like that of the Buddha of Tep Pranam.

The laterite enclosure wall forms a square of 50 metres each side and is cut by a single gopura to the east. Before its restoration in 1937 nothing existed of this but a precarious and unstable structure - the fruit of all the usual problems inherent in the buildings in the style of the Bayon. It is now presented as the elegant silhouette of a cruciform building with three passageways, slender in proportion and crowned at the centre by a single storey square tower with a barrel-formed vault and double gable end.

Its main interest lies in the frontons, sculpted with Buddhist scenes that have extraordinarily managed to avoid being defaced by the iconoclasts. One can see, on the eastern side of the north wing "the offering of the animals in the forest" with elephants, monkeys and peacocks in a scene that could have been the origin of the name of Prah Palilay by the altering of "Parilyyaka", the name of the woods to which the Buddha retreated in solitude after leaving Kosambi. To the west is the seated Buddha receiving the "offerings from Sujata", and, on the gable end, the "calming of the furious elephant Nalagiri".

The sandstone sanctuary has a five metre square chamber that opens to its four sides with as many vestibules. It stands on a base which is itself set on a three tiered plinth of 6 metres in overall height.

Breached on each axis by a stairway with intermediate landings, these tiers are unfortunately badly ruined - as are the vestibules - which is all the more regrettable since their ornamentation, close in style to that of Angkor Wat, is from the best period of the classic art (the first half of the 12th century). Above stands a high, truncated pyramid forming a sort of rugged-faced chimney. Filled with re-used stone blocks it certainly forms an addition, and could only have served as a frame - like the towers with faces of the Bayon - for some form of light-weight covering.

Inside, hardwood beams doubling the lintel once gave support to the stonework above the doors. Completely decayed, they had to be replaced by elements in reinforced concrete over the north and west openings. A large Buddha of a later period but of some quality leans in the western opening, close to which can be found the fine torso of a standing Buddha.

Some excellent pieces of sculpture from the frontons have been taken to the Bayon storeroom for safe-keeping, while others have been placed around the monument - some representing Buddhist scenes and others Brahmanic divinities. One will see, in particular - on either side of the gopura within the enclosure - an Indra on a three headed elephant and "the assault of Mara and his army of demons" against the Buddha, whose image has not been found. This syncretism is not uncommon with the Khmer, and one suspects that if the Buddhist images of Prah Palilay have managed to escape destruction by the successors to Jayavarman VII, of an intransigent Hinduism, it was mybe due to the proximity of the Tep Pranam monastery (Saugatasrama) on which it perhaps depended and whose official status, situated in the shadow of the Royal Palace, could have endowed these saintly images with some particular immunity.