Phnom Bok

"The ox-hump mountain"

Date late 9th - early 10th century
King Yasovarman I
(posthumous name: Paramasivaloka)
Cult Brahmanic
Clearing partial clearing by Glaize in 1939

Phnom Bok is a steep hill of 235 metres in height, and the third peak of the Angkor region after Phnom Bakheng and Phnom Krom chosen by Yasovarman on which to erect his sandstone temples.

In this systematic occupation of the summits, with all the problems inherent in carrying and assembling the tons of stone which had to be hauled by hand up their steep sides, this innovator king, in dedicating his capital to the cult of Devaraja or the royal linga, placed all of his subjects - both urban and rural - under the protection of the Brahmanic Trinity, or "Trimurti", of Shiva, Vishnou and Brahma. In the architectonic history of the Khmer, it is a trilogy characteristic of a time of exceptional unity.

The ascent of Phnom Bok should not be undertaken except by strong walkers who are undaunted by the climb, in full sunlight, up the exposed hill - one needs to start early in the morning with a guide who knows the path well. Eight kilometres of sandy road - the same to Banteay Samre which, parting from the grand circuit between Pre Rup and the Mebon at 14 kilometres from Siem Reap, turns to the east, passes through the village of Pradak and crosses the eastern dike of the baray - allows one to gain access by car, if the small bridge clearing the Stung Roluos is in condition, to the crossing of the road that leads left to the south-eastern base of the hill. A path from here, at first shaded and then climbing the barren, rocky southern slope, leads one to the top - gradually revealing limitless horizons barred only to the north by the long line of the Phnom Kulen. The beauty of the landscape rewards the effort.

The temple of Phnom Bok, the brother to Phnom Krom, is also undated since no inscription has been found. Nevertheless, their differences are so minimal that they have surely been conceived by the same architect, built to a common plan and sculpted by the same craftsmen. They are, with a difference of a few years, contemporaneous with Bakheng - whose motifs are identical.

The various buildings are similar in arrangement to Phnom Krom but with the difference that here the three sanctuary towers equal in size. They were found, following clearing, badly ruined and without their upper tiers, although the removal of the fallen masonry - completed to the east and only started to the west - revealed the mural decoration to be excellent in craftsmanship and far better preserved than at Phnom Krom, the stones here not having suffered the elements.

The frontons are all practically similar, and several have been reconstructed on the ground. Though damaged, they clearly indicate tympanums with the superficial decoration that characterises the art of Yasovarman. Nearly square in proportion and slightly confusing in composition - but powerfully framed by the enormous makaras that finish the line of the arch - they have a central cheek adorned with a figure flanked by large flaming volutes, enhanced with figurines and fringed with a varying number of small heads of divinities.

Although the mural decorations on the towers to the north and south remained unfinished, everywhere one finds elements similar to those at Bakheng and Phnom Krom, but with slight variations in detail - the devatas' faces are here full forwards and the framing of the niches is more constricted - the complexity of the lintels, which are a little weak and rather banal in composition, contrasts with the elegant simplicity of the octagonal four-banded colonnettes. The two outer brick annexe buildings have crumbled, while the two others - in sandstone - are better preserved than those at Phnom Krom. Only the bases of the laterite galleries remain, but the enclosing wall is intact.

Apart from the tower miniatures and the antefixes so typical of monuments of this period, excavation has notably discovered; - in the north tower, a broken broad-necked pedestal with a linga, of a type generally classified as pre-angkorian, - at the foot of the central sanctuary, some major fragments of a very fine statue of Vishnou in an assertive stance that appears to be later than the monument, - three heads of the gods of the "Trimurti", removed by Delaporte in 1873 and now in the Musée Guimet in Paris, - and the large circular pedestal that carried the statue of Brahma in the southern tower, analogous to the one at Phnom Krom.

The temple suffers, once again, from the addition, just in front, of a modern pagoda. Sixty metres east are the remains of a deep rectangular pit formed in brick, measuring a dozen metres by eight, with a stairway to its eastern side. It must have previously served as a water tank. At 150 metres west, a high laterite platform forms a square of a dozen metres each side and carries an enormous monolithic sandstone linga, of 4 metres in height and 1m.20 in diameter, now toppled and broken. The effort that must have been required to transport this unique piece - the weight of which has to exceed 10 tons - defies belief.