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Khmer terminology

Structures & characters in ancient Khmer temples

Apsara

An apsara is a celestial nymph from Buddhist and Hindu mythology, usually depicted dancing and smiling. They can be found in great numbers in bas reliefs of several Angkor temples, such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon. The apsaras emerged during “the churning of the ocean of milk”, a famous storey from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

Devata

A devata or thewada is a female celestial being, usually depicted standing. Devata stems from the Sanskrit word “deva”, which translates to divine. As apsaras, they are often found depicted in bas reliefs of Angkor temples.

Baray

A baray is a giant, man made water reservoir. It is not known with certainty what the purpose of the barays was. Archaeologists believe that they were part of the irrigation system or served a religious purpose. At the center of the barays the Khmer constructed a temple on an artificial island. The largest baray in Angkor is the East baray, which was more than 7 kilometers long and 1.7 kilometers wide.

Gopura

An entrance gate or entrance pavilion in the wall that surrounds a temple. Gopuras are often impressive structures with carvings on lintels and pediments. Many of the large temples have a gopura in the center of each side of its surrounding walls.

Linga

The linga or lingam is a symbolic representation of the Hindu God Shiva, a stone representation in a cylindric shape. The linga was placed in the central sanctuary of a Khmer temple to be worshipped.

Naga

A snake from Buddhist and Hindu mythology often depicted with multiple heads. In many Angkor temples they are found on Naga bridges or carved on balustrades and lintels. The King of the Nagas is Mucalinda, who protected the meditating Buddha from torrential rains with its hoods.

Kala

A fierce monster with large teeth. Only the head with an upper jaw is depicted, no lower jaw. In Angkor Kalas are often found carved on lintels and walls of temples.

Nandi

The sacred bull, the mount of the Hindu God Shiva. Three statues of Nandi are found in front of the towers of the Preah Ko (“the sacred bull”) temple.

Dvarapala

Armed guardians. They are usually found in pairs, one on either side of the gate protecting the entrance to the temple.

Garuda

A creature from Hindu and Buddhist mythology, half bird, half man. In Hindu mythology Garuda is the mount of Vishnu. In Angkor they are often found in carvings on walls and lintels.

 

Naga bridge

A bridge with balustrades carrying Naga snakes. Naga bridges served as the symbolic representation of the crossing from the world of man into the world of the Gods.

Dharmasala

A Dharmasala or “House of Fire” is a rest house with fire where travelers could shelter. It is known from the Ta Prohm stele there were 121 rest houses with fire on the main roads from Angkor to several important towns in the empire.

Stele

A stone table inscribed with information about the temple, such as its founding date, the King who founded the temple and the Gods to who the temple was dedicated.

Banteay

Citadel, e.g. Banteay Srei, Banteay Kdei.

Phnom

Mountain, e.g. Phnom Bakheng (mountain temple).

Prasat

Tower or temple, e.g. Prasat Kravan, Prasat Suor Prat.

Preah

Sacred, e.g. Preah Khan, “the Sacred Sword”.

Thom

Big, large, e.g. Angkor Thom, “large city”.

Angkor

City, e.g. Angkor Thom, “large city”.

Srei

Woman, e.g. Banteay Srei, “the citadel of women”.

Prei

Forest, e.g. Banteay Prei, “Forest citadel”.

Mount Meru

The center of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. The Angkor “mountain temples” like the Bakong and Phnom Bakheng were build to be a representation of Mount Meru.