Neak Pean Temple - The Entwined Serpents

Name: Ta Prohm (Rajavihara)
Creator: Jayavarman VII
Date built: second half of the 12th century
Primary deity: Prajnaparamita
Architecture: Khmer Bayon
Location: Angkor, Cambodia
Coordinates: 1327'47?N 10353'40?E


The name Neak Pean Temple - The Entwined Serpents is derived from the sculptures of snakes (Naga) running around the base of the sanctuary temple structure.


Some historians believe that Neak Pean represents Anavatapta, a mythical lake in the Himalayas whose waters are thought to cure all illness. Neak Pean was originally designed for medical purposes, as it is one of the many hospitals that Jayavarman VII built. There is a statue of Bahala (Bodhisattva Guan Yin transformed into a horse), as a symbol of drowning prevention.

Neak Pean situated in the middle of artificial lake "Jaya Tadaka", 3700m by 900m, which now has been dried up. In the centre of this space is a square lake 72m along, bordered by four smaller lakes situated on the axis and lower than the embankment surrounding the main one. The sanctuary has decoration dating from Jayavarman VII. Its four bays, which were originally open, were walled up with fine standing images of Avalokitesvara, to who, in his role of divine healer. The repairs to the monument carried out by Mr. Glaize, re-established the former appearance of this edifice which stands on a base in the form of a huge lotus. The idol of the tower stood on the sacred flower, the usual base for divine beings which seems to float in the lake

Symbolism of the Neak Pean

The Neak Pean re-creates a famous site in Buddhist mythology, the Southern island of Jambudvipa. The healing waters flowed out from the lake in the cardinal directions, through fountain-heads in the forms of a lion, an elephant, a horse, and a bull, the same four creature found upon the drum of the famous Sarnath lion capital. At the center of the Neak Pean is a square tank, in the middle of which is small, circular stone tower, on a round stepped plinth, in turn encircled by two serpents, their raise heads facing east and their entwined tails to the West. The whole is surrounded by four smaller tanks, connected by water spouts which and in the heads of a horse, and elephant, a lion and a human being's head for that of the bull may be another instance of Jayavrman using his own feature, a practice already much in evidence throughout Angkor.

It would appear that Buddhist priest, standing on the steps that enter the central pond, poured the sacred water by hand, into a spout, which then flowed out through the carved heads and down upon the worshipper, who stood below, inside a small cave, but not visible to the priest. The devotee stood upon or sat on a pair of carved, stone feet, directly beneath the head, to receive the sanctified and healing waters.

The eloquent Neak Pean, a minature version of the mythical waters of the four great rivers, is indicated to the lord of compassion, Lokesvara, the form of Avalokitesvara favoured by Jayavarman VII.

Excavations have revealed fragments of three other statures, completing the symmetry of Jayavarman VI's vision.

 Neak Pean Temple - The Entwined Serpents, Siem Reap, Cambodia Map


This webpage was updated 27th January 2020