Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rarely-visited Prasat Srah Keo

Head monk Touch Seam Lean poses proudly in the main vihara of Wat Srah Keo
On my return journey from Phnom Chisor a couple of weeks ago, I decided to trek across country from Route 2 to Route 3 on the hunt for an ancient prasat by the name of Prasat Srah Keo. As it turned out, my findings didn't exactly set the world alight but it made for a pleasant way to end my day's exploration. Prasat Srah Keo lies fifty kilometres south of Phnom Penh and about a kilometre from Route 3. Nearby is a large expanse of water called Thnal Dak Baray, and the shouts of the boys jumping into the cooling water was ringing in my ears as I entered the grounds of the pagoda, Wat Srah Keo. My arrival sparked the interest of the wat's head monk, Touch Seam Lean, who literally skipped over to meet me. We talked about the prasat we stood next to, which retained brick foundations and two colonettes but little else. He said that the prasat had been broken during the Khmer Rouge era, when the main vihara had been used as a prison. I told him about my own interest in genocide memorials and he asked if he could join me on my next foray into his province to visit them. He was very interested in Khmer Rouge history. He unlocked the door to the prasat to reveal a worn lintel very similar to one at Phnom Chisor. It was an image of Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana flanked by two worshippers, above a grinning kala, though it was difficult to see clearly and the monk warned me that a snake was thought to live in the dark recesses of the prasat. I exited pretty smartish. He then guided me into the main vihara for some photos with him and the younger monks before we visited some of the laterite foundations on which the vihara is built and spotted a large lotus flower which would've been mounted on the top of the prasat. In his time at the pagoda, I was one of just a handful of visitors who'd come looking for the prasat, and most of the others had been with the fine arts department. We parted with friendly handshakes and an exchange of mobile numbers.

The sandstone doorway to the prasat with two colonettes in place

This lintel shows Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana above a grinning kala

A sandstone lotus bud which would've adorned the summit of the prasat. Note the laterite foundation blocks

These children were fishing in Thnal Dak Baray, next to Wat Srah Keo

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