Saturday, February 02, 2008

Early lintels at Cheung Prey

A 7th century lintel, painted blue, at Prasat Premea Cheung Prey
My visit to the hilltop temple of Prasat Premea Cheung Prey at Phnom Thom on Monday brought me back to an interesting temple site that has an intriguing story to tell, not necessarily with a guaranteed ending. There are a few ways to tell the age of an ancient prasat. Look for an inscription from the builder - that's the easiest way but not always available - or assess the overall structure and see where it fits into the varying architectural styles of the Khmer Empre. You can also tell by the lintels and colonettes in situ or even the sculpture on display, such as lions and pedestals. In that respect, Prasat Premea Cheung Prey throws up a conundrum.

Another 7th century lintel in the Sambor Prei Kuk style at the prasat

In all I located six lintels, two of which were undoubtedly, in my opinion, pre-Angkorean in their style, the others were approximately 10th or 11th century, but I will review these tomorrow. The two earlier decorative lintels - for anyone unfamiliar with the term lintel, it's a rectangular stone slab carrying a carved design with important iconographical features and is not used as a structural support - were both typical examples of the Sambor Prei Kuk style from the 610-650 (7th century) period. In both cases, they showed inward-facing makaras (sea monsters) and four arches joined by three oval medallions, the central one carved with the figure of Indra. There were also figures on the other two medallions and above the makaras. Below the arches are jeweled garlands and pendants with beading and vegetal motifs. In fact both lintels are text-book examples. One of the lintels had been painted blue, was placed in front of the western entrance to the main prasat and was quite worn, whilst the other was in better condition and was housed inside the vihara. Their presence may suggest evidence of an earlier temple on the site or they could've been brought there from another location. Therein lies the mystery.

The main vihara at Prasat Premea Cheung Prey showing the location of 3 of the lintels

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