Sundial, calendar and Khmer temples

Astro-archaeology = archaeo-astronomy = Astroarchaeology = archaeoastronomy

Prasat Ta Khwai (Ta Krabey)

A little known Khmer jungle temple on the Thai-Cambodian border

     This ancient Khmer  temple is located on top of the Phanom Dangraek mountain range 4-5 km east of the Chong Krang Pass, 1.5 km west of the Chong Ta Khwai Pass and 11.6 km east of the probably contemporary Prasat Ta Muang Thom.
     The local Khmer speaking farmers refer to the temple as Prasat Ta Sawai or Ta Khwai. Sawai means 'mango' in Khmer, Ta Khwai means 'buffalo' in Thai. The Cambodians call the temple Ta Krabey, also meaning 'buffalo'. Some 120 years ago the French explorer Etienne Aymonier called the temple Prea
h Eisei or Preah Risei. Neither names are original.
     Prasat Ta Khwai (
ปราสาทตาควาย) and Prasat Ta Krabey means the same: Buffalo. In Thai we also have a high-class word for buffalo: Kraboe (กระบือ), which probably is of Khmer origin. When describing the Hindu God Yama, then his vehicle is not a khwai, but a kraboe.

     The editorial staff of Muang Boran Journal visited the site in December 2003 and informs in an Internet article that ''Recently a new sanctuary was found in the jungle of the Phanom Dongrek mountain range at Ta Khwai pass.'' ... ''Although this lack of decorative elements makes it impossible to specify the religion and the age of Ta Khwai Sanctuary, judging from the form of the sanctuary it probably dates back to the the 12th – 13th century in the style of late Angkor Wat or Bayon.''

     The temple has been known by the locals for centuries and Etienne Aymonier (page 224, Khmer Heritage in Thailand, Bangkok 1999) referred the the temple in the end of the 19th century: ''A mile and a half SE of the village of Bak Daļ'' ... ''before attaining the Chup Smach Pass'' ... ''a knoll called Preah Eisei or Preah Risei, 'the saintly anchorite' ...''. Bak Daļ is located nearly 2 miles SE of Ban Ta Muan on Aymonier's map. The distance from Ban Bak Dai to Ta Khwai is app. 10 km as the crows flow and 2 French miles is app. 14 km.


Above: Seen from west


     Prasat Ta Khwai is due to its isolated location on the Thai-Cambodian border in a formerly Khmer Rouge infested area in a seldom well preserved condition. The temple is surrounded by natural rock walls on the western and southern side. On the northern and eastern side we find a stone platform. The hill slopes down to the east but was not researched for the presence of an eventual baray (reservoir) or processional stair-cases due to the danger of land mines.
     The cruciform shape of the tower, details in tower niches, and the unfinished appearance resembles the 11th century The Angkorian temple mountain Ta Keo at Siem Reap, Cambodia. The naga blocks are in place but the stone cutters never started their work. The tower is built in sand stone on a sandstone base on the mountain rocks, which is another factor that it is still solidly standing.
     In the central tower we find what looks like a 'natural Linga' of the Svāyambhuva type: ''Svāyambhuva means self creating. A Svāyambhuva linga is considered particularly sacred.'' (Briggs, p. 55, The Ancient Khmer Empire).


Above: Seen from west


Above: a 'natural Linga' of the Svāyambhuva type.

The presence of a linga indicates that the temple was a Shivaite temple. The nearby Prasat Muan Thom is also centred around a Svāyambhuva linga.


Above: Seen from west


History and dating
     Ta Keo was build by Jayavarman V (968-1001 AD), who is accredited for initiating the Khleangs, Phimanakas, and the Gates of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom. The art style is generally referred to as Khleangs.
     Jayavarman V was succeeded by Udayadityavarman I, who after only a few years reign was succeeded by Jayaviravarman, who also reigned for less than a decade.
     From the 2nd decade of the 11th century Suryavarman I (the first Buddhist king of Kambuja) ruled until 1049. The following king at Angkor was Udayadityavarman II (1050 - 1066) and the art style generally referred to as Baphoun.

     The Svāyambhuva linga excludes that the temple dates to the Jayavarman VII and Baphoun style and indicates that it must at least belong to the same era as the nearby Ta Muan Thom. Due to the resemblance of the Khleang style Prasat Ta Keo and its incomplete condition makes the author suggest late 10th century - beginning af 11th century.


The future
     Ta Khwai has a huge tourism potential if managed carefully. The ancient Khmer temple has a unique location in pristine virginal jungle.
     From Route 2121 a new (2005 AD) bitumen road leads the visitor 8 km down to a military post. From there go by 4-W cars or motor-bike another 7 km south to another camp, most of the way in pristine forest. The last 1.5 km to the temple consists of a hard to walk jungle track where birds are abundant and monkeys still can be spotted.


Above: Two kind of guides escorting the author


     The unique location of Prasat Ta Khwai gives the option of preserving an unspoiled archaeological site in an untouched natural environment. The author proposes to investigate the slope due east of the site and restore the ancient entrance to the temple. A narrow straight east opening in the jungle would give possibility for Surya, the Sun, again to illuminate the Svāyambhuva linga on equinox mornings - Vedic Solar New Year.


     The author is indebted to the dean of Faculty of Management Science at Surindra Rajabhat University, Surin, Mr. Surya Chanachai, for supplying me with a letter of introduction to the Tahan Phlan Border Police who kindly escorted me to the jungle temple. Also a warm thank to Dr. Sorachet from Rajabhat University, Buriram, for emphasising the need of writing this short article.


     The distances from Prasat Ta Muean Thom to Prasat Bai Baek and Prasat Ta Khwai are nearly identical: 11.2 and 11.6 km. The three temples are furthermore aligned with one another! The central tower of Prasat Ta Muean Thom is only 15 m from a 22.8 km long straight line between Prasat Bai Baek and Prasat Ta Khwai.
     The three temples are furthermore aligned with Prasat Preah Vihear - some 164 km east of Prasat Bai Baek. Here the central tower of Prasat Ta Muean Thom is 30 m from from the alignment. See map.

Above: Corner blocks for naga depictions


20 April 2006 © Asger Mollerup



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