Prah Ko

"The sacred ox"

Date late 9th century (879)
King Indravarman I (posthumous name: Isvaraloka)
Cult Brahmanic (Shivaïte)
Clearing G. Trouvé in 1932

Prah Ko, the funerary temple of Jayavarman II and of the ancestors of his second successor, Indravarman, is to be found just to the west of the track leading to Bakong, at 500 metres south of route 6. Sited in the eastern part of the vast square of 500 metres east-west by 400 metres north-south formed by its moats, its buildings were perhaps but a complement to a temple-mountain project which was superseded by the pyramid of Bakong, or else to some light-weight construction, long since disappeared, that was part of the city of Hariharalaya, the capital of Indravarman - perhaps for example an ancient royal residence, as Mr Cœdes has suggested.

The temple's foundation stele was found in the gopura of the first enclosure and is admirably preserved.(38) After a homage to Shiva it gives a brief genealogy of Indravarman, and then his eulogy in accordingly grand terms "the right arm of the prince" reads the Sanskrit text "is long, strong, and fearsome in battle as his flashing sword falls on his enemies, defeating kings in every direction. Invincible, he can be appeased by two enemies only - those who have their backs turned, and those who, valuing life, put themselves under his protection" (G. Cœdes). The inscription is followed by a reference to the cult of Devaraja, or the "god king", instituted on mount Mahendra (Phnom Kulen) and ends by giving the foundation date (879) of three statues of Shiva and of Devi. The other side, written in Khmer, dates from 893 during the reign of Yasovarman and prescribes certain gifts to Paramesvara, the divinity of the middle eastern row of sanctuaries, and to Prithivindresvara in the southern.

Another stele dating from the beginning of the 11th century (1005) gives the eulogy of King Jayaviravarman who reigned from 1002 to 1010 and was ousted by the usurper Suryavarman I.

The east gopura of the third enclosure, three quarters of which have collapsed, has its sandstone portico just by the access track. In laterite but with sandstone windows - each with five large balusters - it is cruciform in plan and has two wings forming secondary passageways. Originally tile covered, it must have had - to judge by the various elements found during excavation - triangular frontons embelished with large volutes corresponding to the two slopes of the roof.

The west door opens onto a laterite pavement that marks the axis of the wide causeway dividing the enclosing moat. It was flanked by two parallel galleries of which nothing remains but the foundations. A small terrace leads to the gopura of the second enclosure - analogous in plan to the preceding one but not as wide - and joins with the 97 by 94 metre laterite enclosure wall. Only the outward side has windows, each with 7 balusters. A fine accolade formed base step at its eastern door.

The surrounding courtyard of the second enclosure is wider to the east, and was once occupied on this side by two symmetrical long rooms running parallel to the wall that had porticoes facing one another - and then by two others lying perpendicular and opening to the east onto a small path running north-south. Two buildings forming galleries, but which are entirely ruined, are again aligned east-west against the north and the south enclosure walls, each with a portico to its main side. Finally, a square brick building with an upper tier, similar to those at Bakong, remains standing - due to the considerable thickness of its walls - between the two long rooms to the south. It opens to the west with a portico and is ventilated by lines of holes. Above are figures of ascetics sculpted into the brickwork, while below, a series of niches shelter other figures moulded in stucco. On the western side the courtyard is fairly tight, and was occupied by two long north-south galleries set symmetrically with respect to the axis of the monument, which is marked by a partially collapsed gopura.

The wall of the 58 by 56 metre first enclosure is in brick, like its two gopuras - simple square buildings with a single room, and cylindrical colonnettes with fine lintels that have Vishnou on Garuda as their central motif. The eastern gopura is more imposing than the western and encloses a 3m.60 wide chamber that sheltered the foundation stele.

The moulded sandstone plinth forms a common platform for the six sanctuary towers. On the east side it is breached by three stairways whose side walls are ornate with dvarapalas and devatas and set with squatting lions. In front of each is a reclining Nandin (the sacred bull), the mount of Shiva. On the west side there is a single axial stairway.

The brick sanctuary towers are arranged in two rows and vary in size - to the east, the middle tower is set back slightly and dominates. The three prasats behind are similar but less developed - and the one in the north-west corner of the platform is, for no apparent reason, offset with respect to the corresponding sanctuary of the first row.

The six towers open to the east. Each has four upper tiers that become increasingly deformed. They were covered with a coating of lime based mortar which was remarkably sculpted and is still preserved in places - particularly on the tower of the north-east corner - after eleven centuries in existence. On the eastern side, the frames of the openings and the motifs of the false doors are in sandstone, with some superb octagonal colonnettes that are undeniably the finest to be found in Khmer art. The door panels have mascarons as at Bakong. The frames are in four parts with mitred joints, as if in timber, and are preferable to those at Bakong, where the door openings are crudely cut from a monolith.

The lintels are also in sandstone and of the same merit as those at Bakong, being treated in similar spirit but perhaps with less variety. One should particularly note those above the doors of the three towers with their relief ornament of small cavaliers and figurines mounted on nagas - and the ones, more restrained but as new, of the false doors of the middle tower that have a central garuda holding the branch, above which is a charming frieze of small heads set in a row.

The square chambers - of 3m.40 across and 3m.70 in the main sanctuary - were reserved for masculine divinities. The corner piers were also ornate with imposing dvarapalas set in blind arches which, in contrast to those at Bakong, are in sandstone and set into the brickwork. They are quite distinctive in style - the one to the north-east corner, north side, of the central tower standing particularly proud, and very different to the graceful guardians of Banteay Srei.

The three towers behind, reserved for feminine divinities and of only 2m.50 inside, were less developed. Reduced in proportion they are entirely in brick with the exception of the sandstone door frames and devatas on the corner piers, which replace the dvarapalas of the eastern towers and already herald those in the Bakheng style. Everywhere the decor is sculpted in stucco, even the colonnettes, the false doors - which here are without mascarons - and lintels, where the motifs were first rough-formed in the brickwork.

As at Bakong, several fine pieces of sculpture - dating from the 9th century to the style of the Bayon - were found during the course of our work. Of these, only one of Shiva in the south-east corner tower and a feminine divinity without a head in the rear central tower were left in place.(39) Both of these statues date from the period of the monument.