Prasat Andet, a rarely visited but easily accessible ancient temple, is located 27 kilometres from the small city of Kampong Thom, on the way towards Siem Reap. While it is still in fair condition, it is probably most notable not for its architecture but for the school of Khmer art to which it has lent its name: the Prasat Andet style. The main sculptures associated with school are now found in museums in Phnom Penh, New York and Paris, with none remaining in situ, but the keen student of Khmer art will be interested in seeing the temple which lent its name to these glorious sculptures.
Prasat Andet is located on the grounds of a modern wat in Kampong Svay (literally, Mango Village). The wat and the prasat are both located on a five metre high artificial mound which dates back to antiquity. You see this mound as you first approach the temple along the access road and in so flat a part of the world, this almost seems like a hill. As we walked beneath the trees on the way into the compound, we asked the obvious question: Why would the ancients have devoted so much time and energy to the creation of this great mound of Earth? The most likely answer was that in Hindu cosmology the gods were associated with Mount Meru, a cosmic mountain. With no actual mountains in the area, the Khmer had decided to build one themselves. There was another dimension to this, which emerged later. Apparently in the rainy season, it was very common for the floodwaters to rise several metres in this area (Tonle Sap, the vast ‘inland sea’, was not so far away). By rising the temple five metres above the surrounding area, the ancients would have protected the temple from the annual floodwaters. This aspect of the temple was reflected in the name Prasat Andet, which meant ‘Floating Temple’ in Khmer. During the rainy season, the prasat and its grounds could be seen to be floating atop the rainwater.
Once you reach the top of the mound, you get your first view of the temple. Reminiscent of Wat Hancheay near Kampong Cham, the Chenla-era prasat here is located close by the viharn (hall) of a modern wat. The proximity of these two buildings can tell us a lot about the relationship between the past and present in rural Cambodia. Ancient temples continue to be venerated in Cambodia, even though they were formerly dedicated to Hindu gods and the population in the district is now entirely Budhdist. The sacred space of 7th century Chenla was still a holy site in 21st century Cambodia, creating an extraordinary sense of continuity between the past and present. It was also a reminder of how much the identity of the Khmers was tied up with their religious history and the veneration of religious monuments.
Now some 1350 years old, the prasat typically had a decayed look, with most of the decoration peeled off to reveal the bare bones of the structure. It was originally constructed of bricks, masonry and laterite, but most of what remained was just the bare, red brocks, with the outer layers largely lost. The main surviving decorative features were three false doors on the west, south and north sides. They reminded us of the false doors we had seen on Chenla-era monuments at Phnom Da and Wat Hancheay; also, the motif continued to be used on Khmer monuments well into the Angkor era. The other surviving decoration was a lintel over the door of the eastern porch. This was an example of the so-called Kampong Preah style of lintels which had been dominant in Cambodia in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. It featured vegetal and floral motifs of a highly decorative and stylised nature, and they reminded us of simialr designs which we had seen on temples in India. Clearly, the influence of Indian art had been enormous on Cambodia during the Chenla era.
The interior of the temple was a rather dismal affair, with nothing to boast of in the way of sculpture and just a few burnt-out incense sticks in evidence. However, this had not always been the case. The temple had once been dedicated to Harihara, a hybrid of the gods Shiva and Vishnu which had originated in India but whose cult had been especially popular in Cambodia during the 7th century. The Harihara of Prasat Andet was now safely stored in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, which, considering Cambodia’s history of looting and plunder, was undoubtedly a wise move. However, its absence is certainly felt at Prasat Andet, and perhaps a replica should be installed here to give visitors a sense of the grandeur of Prasat Andet sculpture. The Prasat Andet statues stand among the great artworks of the country and region, and the temple felt somehow empty without it. Before you head to Prasat Andet, try and see the Harihara in the National Museum first.