The Misinterpreted Name of Prasat Chen


On the way to Preah Vihear after visiting Beng Mealea, the driver (and also the guide) told me that I would have lunch at Koh Ker. Meaning, it’s still far. The complex of Koh Ker is a remote archaeological site about 120 kilometers north-eastern of Siem Reap. It’s believed that Koh Ker, -or Lingapura as written on the inscriptions-, was the capital of Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman IV. That means Koh Ker was the ancient site of Angkor. More than 118 10th-century temples were found in this area, but only 10 percent of the ancient buildings can be visited since most of the heritage monuments are hidden in the forest and unfortunately the area was not fully de-mined of the war.

About 15 km from Beng Mealea, we arrived at Svay Leu, a small traditional market. Then we continued through the pristine forest and passed by Seyiong, the last village before reaching Koh Ker that is still 7 kms away from the village. Koh Ker is totally remote from anywhere.

Finally, after a long drive, on left side of the road (western side), we arrived in Koh Ker. But firstly, I wanted to visit one of the wonderful temples in the area. It’s Prasat Chen

Prasat Chen, Koh Ker

The Cambodian people called it Prasat Chen meaning Chinese Temple.

But actually the name of the temple was not correct. About a half century ago, at the entrance of the temple there were two impressive sculptures of ape-men who fought to each other. Each of them wore specific crown, called a Mukuta. With their tails run up to their backs, those ape-men were interpreted as the queue worn by Chinese noblemen. Then it became the name of the temple. Actually the fight between ape-men is a depiction from Ramayana (or Reamker in Cambodia) : the fight between brothers, Sugriva and Valin. Now people can see these sculptures at the National Museum, Phnom Penh

I walked along the path to capture the temple, but unfortunately it is partially collapsed. However Prasat Chen housed remarkable statues in its time, but again, unfortunately, almost all of them were missing. Prasat Chen in Koh Ker was one of the temples which were heavily looted site.

Based on some info from the internet, the Denver Art Museum flew the 10th century statue of Rama, -which was looted from Prasat Chen during the Cambodia civil war 1970 – 1975 and continued to the Khmer Rouge era-, to be back again to Cambodia. The head, hand and feet of the statue were unknown. The other statues which had the same issues, known as the Kneeling Attendants of Prasat Chen. The statues had ben displayed as permanent collection in the galleries for two decades in The Metropolitan Museum in the USA and they announced to return them back to Cambodia. Some said that the statues of Duryodana, Bhima, Balarama, Hanuman which were decorated in Prasat Chen were moved from one to another museum as collection, perhaps had been sold but finally be back again to Cambodia. And it’s believed that are still many statues from the Prasat Chen were held in private collections.

I was so sad seeing the current condition of Prasat Chen. It had the misinterpreted name, also been looted awfully, almost collapsed. Even though, Prasat Chen is famous for its colossal statues narrating the two Hindu Epos, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

I took some photos of Prasat Chen which had three-shrine walled that was dedicated to Vishnu. I could be too long there because Koh Ker was still waiting.


This post was written in response to the bi-weekly challenge from Celina’s Blog, Srei’s Notes, Cerita Riyanti, and also A Rhyme In My Heart, which is the 3rd challenge of 2021 has the theme of Oriental, so we are encouraged ourselves to write articles weekly. If you are interested to take part in this challenge, we welcome you… and of course we will be very happy!

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