20 April 2013

Wat Preah Enkosei and its Angkor temples

On the first day of the Khmer New Year – year 2557 by their calendar – I set out to explore yet another of Siem Reap’s wats. This was the one I had intended to visit the previous day before I got sidetracked.

Although it is an easy two-kilometre walk from the central city, on the east bank of the Siem Reap River along River Road, I grabbed one of my local tuktuks, knowing I could enjoy the pleasant walk back a little later. This time we went further than Wat Preah Enkosa to the wat with the oh-so-similar name, Preah Enkosei.

This is a living wat, currently home to 35 Buddhist monks, but this is also the only place I know in Siem Reap where you can see Angkor temples, albeit small ones, for free. (I later found another freebie - see here.) Behind the modern temple sit two brick towers, the bases of two other structures, and the remains of the east gate of a complex dating from the mid- to late-10th century. It is possible that there were originally three towers but the third has now disappeared. As the platform base of the modern temple is made of laterite blocks, it seems likely that the building blocks of the ancient structure were used to help construct the more modern one.

The site was originally contained within a moat, though much of this has now been filled in and what remains has become something of a tipping place for garden and other rubbish. The towers, too, are now mostly ruins, though the larger of the two has a lintel with surprisingly well preserved sculptural reliefs. The broader lower panel shows a central elephant head flanked by dragons and other characters, while the narrow top panel features an interesting depiction of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. (This refers to a story from Hindu cosmology where the gods and demons toiled together for a thousand years to release from the sea of milk the nectar of immortal life.)

Gnarled old frangipani trees grew around the temples, filling the air with their sweet perfume and providing welcome shade on another of April’s over-40-degree days, and there was a pleasant breeze, so I sat a while in the shade of one tower, soaking up the peaceful atmosphere. I had expected the wat to be humming with New Year’s celebrations – and there were some (see my New Year’s blog) – but they were contained in two particular areas so didn’t encroach on the overall feeling of tranquillity.

The decoration on the modern building was relatively subdued for a Buddhist temple, but no less impressive. The reliefs above the doors and windows, the roof-edge ornamentation and the roof pediment decoration all gleamed with their gold and yellow paint.

Elsewhere in the wat, an ancient banyon tree was surrounded by more than the usual number of small shrines, and two stone Buddhas soaked up the sunshine, despite their golden umbrellas. All in all, it was rather a splendid start to 2557!

The burial stupas and a little monk washing

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