Neak Pean in Siem Reap
Neak Pean in Siem Reap
This fine temple is located on an artificial island in the centre of the now dried up North Baray. It symbolizes the holy lake Anavatapta on the vertex of the world in the Himalayas. From there four holy streams spring up, bringing healing water into the whole world. Pilgrims visited this place to draw salutary water.
The tower opens to the east; the other faces show false doors with reliefs of Lokeshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. At the pediments are legends of the Buddha. It is located in the centre of the central basin on a circular island.
Neak Pean is a miniature, simplified model of an aspect of the Buddhist cosmology. Here Jayavarman VII’s love of symbolic representations, difficult to discern amidst the scale and the complexity of the Bayon. The Neak Pean re-creates a famous site in Buddhist mythology, the Southern island of Jambudvipa. This is the home of humans, and at the center is the Hmalayan lake Anavatapta, the sacred springs visited by Buddha, Bodhisattva, Saints, hermits and affected people. 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. This 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. Two of the pairs of carved feet remain today, one larger than the other, perhaps indicating male and female sizes.
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. In the main tank is a colosal stone horse with figures clinging to its sides, portraying the saving of drowning sailors by the compassionate Bodhisattva. Excavations have revealed fragments of three other statures, completing the symmetry of Jayavarman VI’s vision.
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