Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple History
Ta Prohm is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray near Tonle Bati, it was built by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most of the other Angkor temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.
Ta Prohm was one of the first temples begun in Jayavarman VII’s massive building program. The temple’s modern name means “old Brahma”, but the original name was Rajavihara (royal temple). It was centred on veneration of the king’s family: the main image (of Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, installed in 1186) was modelled on his mother, while the two satellite temples in the third enclosure were dedicated to his guru (north) and his elder brother (south ). Expansions and additions continued as late as the rule of Srindravarman at the end of the 13th century. The temple’s stele recorded that the site was home to more than 12,500 people, with a further 80,000 in surrounding villages helping to supply the institution. The temple amassed considerable riches, including gold, pearls and silks.
After the fall of the Khmer empire, the temple fell into neglect for centuries. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 20th century, Ta Prohm was chosen by the École française d’Extrême-Orient to be left largely as it was found as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque”.
Ta Prohm Temple Guidance
The basic layout of Ta Prohm is that of a typical “flat” Khmer temple, with five rectangular enclosing walls around a central sanctuary. Like most Khmer temples, Ta Prohm is oriented to the east, so the temple proper is set back to the west along an elongated east-west axis. The outer wall of 1000 by 650 metres encloses an area of 650,000 square metres that would have been a substantial town, but which is now largely forested. There are entrance gopuras at each of the cardinal points, although access today is now only possible from the east and west. Each gopura had face towers (similar to those at the Bayon) added during the 13th century, although some of these have collapsed. There were moats inside and outside the fourth enclosure. The three inner enclosures of the temple proper are galleried, while the corner towers of the first enclosure form a quincunx with the tower of the central sanctuary. This basic plan is complicated for the visitor by the circuitous access necessitated by the temple’s partially collapsed state, as well as by the large number of other buildings, some being later additions. The most substantial of these other buildings are the libraries in the southeast corners of the first and third enclosures; the satellite temples on the north and south sides of the third enclosure; the Hall of Dancers between the third and fourth eastern gopuras; and a House of Fire east of the fourth eastern gopura. It is magnificent.
The trees growing out of the ruins are the distinctive feature of the temple. Freeman and Jacques note that they “have prompted more writers to descriptive excess than any other feature of Angkor”. Some of these trees are Banyan, species Ficus microcarpa, while others belong to the species Tetrameles nudiflora or silk-cotton tree. Three prominent examples of the latter are on the west side of the fourth eastern gopura; northwest of the third eastern gopura; and along the east side of the southern half of the second enclosure’s west wall.