Prasat Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
high-definition creative commons photographs from Prasat Phimai, the main Khmer Temple in Isaan, Thailand, together with further information.
This is one of the main monuments of the Khmer Empire in what is now Thailand, and stood at the end of a 250km road from Angkor to Phimai, which seems to have been a regional capital at the time. What is now marked off as the Phimai Historical Park is only a small section of the true archaeological site, which spreads much further across the modern city of Phimai, and there are other remains around the city. The main portion of the site was built in the 11th-12th centuries, probably by Jayavarman VI, who originated in this area, with some further additions later.
The temple is somewhat unusual in that it although it was built by a Hindu Empire, it is a Buddhist Temple, reflecting the faith of the people in the area, who had been converted to Buddhism some centuries earlier; but though the main focus is Buddhist, in keeping with the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of the period, many elements and stories are still drawn from Hindu mythology, and it seems many of the rituals practiced there were Hindu also.
The main temple inside the compound faces south, not east, as is the normal orientation for Khmer Temples, and it is not known why this is. An inscription found at Phimai indicates the site may have been called Vimaya, in ancient times, indicating that it was an important market town; this word has then developed into Phimai in Thai.
The Main Enclosure
After crossing over the nāga bridge (described later) there is a passageway to the main enclosure. This has six now dry lotus ponds, three on each side of the causeway, as we walk up. This area was almost certainly roofed over, as many tiles and roof finials were found in the area during excavations.
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The Main Temple
The main temple inside the enclosure in built in a cruciform pattern, with a large extension to the main tower on the southern side. This is elaborately decorated with carved sandstone.
The principal tower itself is built in the usual Khmer prang style, .and is made out of white sandstone. The tower has deities and nāgas facing the directions to protect the sacred space; and inside the main statue is of the Buddha being protected from the elements by the nāga Mucilinda in the fourth week after the Awakening.
Enclosing the main sacred space are the galleries which run all round the temple, and are an extensive work in their own right. They are punctuated by the four gateways on each of the cardinal directions, which also had well-carved lintels over them, only some of which remain in place.
Unusually the three main towers in the compound are each built out of different materials. The main tower is built with white sandstone. To the southwest of that is the Red Stone Tower; and to the southeast is the Prang Brahmathat, made out of laterite, and housing a truly impressive statue of Jayavarman VII, one of the great Buddhist kings.
The Dressing Room and Nāga Bridge
To the south of the main compound and the first buildings we see when entering the park is the Dressing Room, which is to the west of the Nāga bridge, which marks the passage from the earthly realm to the sacred space.
The former is where ritual participants would prepare for their roles in the ceremonies, before crossing the bridge, and approaching the main enclosure and the main temple area.
The Outdoor Museum
To the north of the compound we come across what amounts to an outdoor museum, holding many of the carved lintels from the site, which illustrate stories from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Many more and some of the best examples are kept at the Phimai National Museum.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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