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Neak Pean Temple

Neak Pean temple is located east of Preah Khan and about 300 meters off the road. The temple is in the center of Jayatataka or Northern Baray and placed on the same axis as Preah Khan. It was built in the second half of the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. The temple seems to have served as a place where pilgrims could go and take the waters, both physically and symbolically- the Khmer equivalent of a spa.

The central pond is a replica of Lake Anavatapta in the Himalayas, situated at the top of the universe, which gives birth to the four great rivers of the earth. These rivers are represented at Neak Pean by sculpted gargoyles corresponding to the four cardinal points. Neak Pean was probably consecrated to the Buddha coming to the glory of enlightenment.

Neak Pean temple is set in a large, square, man-made pond which is 70meters square bordered by steps and surrounded by four smaller square ponds. A small circular island, with a steeped base of seven laterite tier, is in the center of the large square pond, and forms the base for the shrine dedicated to Avalokitshavara. Small elephants sculpted in the round originally stood on the four corners of the pond.

The bodies of two nagas encircle the base of the island and their tails entwine on the west side which give the templename. The heads of the nagas are separated to allow passage on the east, A blooming lotus surrounds the top of the sanctuary is cruciform shaped, stands on two recessed levels, opens to the east are decorated with large image of Avalokiteshvara. The fronton depicts episodes of the life of the Buddha-the cutting of the hair (east). The great departure (north), Buddha in meditation protected by a naga (West).

The principal feature in the pond of the central sanctuary is a three-dimensional sculpted horse swimming towards the east with figures clinging to its sides. The horse, Balaha, is a manifestation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who has transformed himself into a horse to rescue Simhala, a merchant, and his companions of misfortune. They were shipwrecked on an island off Sri Lanka and snatched by female ogresses. The victims are holding on to the horse’s tail in the hope of being carried ashore safely.

There are four small chambers which have vaulted roofs and back onto the main pond, then open onto four small ponds with steps leading to the water. The interior of the vault is decorated with panels of lotus and a central waterspout in building served a ceremonial function, they anointed themselves with lustral water, which flowed from the spout connected to the central pond. Each water spout is different-elephant head (north), human head (east), lion (south) and horse (west). The human head is of exceptionally fine quality workmanship and was coined the Lord of Men.