Preah Ko, “the sacred bull”, is one of the oldest monuments in Angkor. The Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva is named after the bull Nandi, the mount of Shiva.
Built in 879, the Preah Ko is the oldest temple of the Roluos group of temples to which the Bakong, Prasat Lolei and Prasat Prei Monti also belong.
King Indravarman I built the temple in honor of his ancestors in the town of Hariharalaya, the old capital of the Khmer predating Angkor Thom by several centuries. The temple was cleared from the jungle in the 1930’s.
The moat and outer enclosures
The Preah Ko is surrounded by a moat measuring over 500 meters on each side and three enclosures. Nothing remains of the third enclosure except for the East cruciform gopura, in which was the main entrance to the temple.
The laterite wall of the second enclosure is intersected by gopuras at the East and West side. In the South East corner of the 2nd enclosure stands a large, well preserved library building with perforated stone windows. Ascetics are sculpted into the bricks of the square structure. Virtually nothing remains of several gallery buildings and long rooms near the second enclosure wall.
The first enclosure is surrounded by a brick wall. At the center of the East and West wall is a gopura entrance building with colonettes in the windows. Lintels over the entrance gate are adorned with sculptings of Hindu Gods like Vishnu. The Preah Ko’s foundation stele was discovered in the East gopura building. The stele pays homage to Shiva, names the ancestors of King Indravarman I and mentions the date on which the statues of the main idols were installed in the sanctuaries.
Six sanctuary towers
Six sanctuary towers in two rows of three stand on a square platform. In front of the platform facing the towers are three statues of the bull Nandi, the mount of Shiva. Three stairways, each guarded by a pair of lions give access to the platform and the sanctuaries. The towers were covered in stucco in which very detailed sculpting were made, some of which are still intact today. The sanctuaries open to the East, while there are false doors on the other cardinal directions.
The front row sanctuaries (the East towers) are larger than those of the the second row. Indravarman I dedicated them to three of his ancestors, Kings who ruled Angkor before him. Flanking the doors are armed dvarapala guardians in niches. Enshrined on pedestals in the sanctuary rooms were images of the Hindu God Shiva. The lintels over the East entrance contain carved depictions of a Kala (a monster depicted with large teeth and only an upper jaw) with a deity sitting on top of its head, as well as Naga snakes and small warrior figures. The lintels over the false doors contain depictions of Garuda, Nagas and warriors.
The second row of sanctuary towers which are smaller than the front row was dedicated to Indravarman’s female ancestors. Instead of dvarapalas, the sanctuaries are guarded by sculptings of female devatas standing in niches. Lintels and pediments are adorned with sculptings of Nagas and Garudas.
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