Sambor Prei Kuk

Coordinates: 12°52′15″N 105°2′35″E / 12.87083°N 105.04306°E / 12.87083; 105.04306
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Sambor Prei Kuk
Sambor Prei Kuk-Map1.png
Map of the Sambor Prei Kuk site
Alternative nameIsanapura
LocationKampong Thom Province, Cambodia
RegionSoutheast Asia
Coordinates12°52′15″N 105°2′35″E / 12.87083°N 105.04306°E / 12.87083; 105.04306
BuilderIsanavarman I
Founded7th century
PeriodsMiddle ages
Site notes
Official nameTemple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Isanapura
Criteriaii, iii, vi
Designated2017 (41st session)
Reference no.1532
RegionSoutheast Asia

Sambor Prei Kuk (Khmer: សំបូរព្រៃគុហ៍, Sâmbor Prey Kŭh [sɑmboː prəj kuʔ]) is an archaeological site in Cambodia located in Kampong Thom Province, 30 km (19 mi) north of Kampong Thom, the provincial capital, 176 km (109 mi) east of Angkor and 206 km (128 mi) north of Phnom Penh. The now ruined complex dates back to the Pre-Angkorian Chenla Kingdom (late 6th to 9th century), established by king Isanavarman I as central royal sanctuary and capital, known then as "Isanapura" (Khmer: ឦសានបុរៈ, Eisanbŏreă [ʔəjsaːnɓoreaʔ]).[1][2] In 2017, Sambor Prei Kuk was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[3]

Located on the Eastern bank of the Tonle Sap lake, close to the Steung Saen River, the central part of Sambor Prei Kuk is divided into three main groups. Each group has a square layout surrounded by a brick wall. The structures of the overall archaeological area were constructed at variable times: the southern and north groups (7th century) by Isanavarman I, who is considered a possible founder of the city[4] and the central group (later date). The buildings of Sambor Prei Kuk are characteristic of the Pre-Angkorean period with a simple external plan. The principal material is brick, but sandstone is also used for certain structures.[5] Architectural features include numerous prasats, octagonal towers, shiva lingams and yonis, ponds and reservoirs, and lion sculptures. Sambor Prei Kuk is located amidst mature sub-tropical forests with limited undergrowth. The area has been mined and could still contain unexploded ordnance.[6]

The Clusters[edit]

A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

The whole compound is made of three clusters classified as group C for Central, N for North and S for South (Michon & Kalay, 2012).[citation needed] They are enclosed in a double-walled encircling 1,000 acre in which there were 150 Hindu temples today mostly in ruins.

  1. Group N: Prasat Sambor (ប្រាសាទសំបូរ) is considered the main temple and it dates from the 7th century. It was dedicated to one of the reincarnations of Shiva known as Gambhireshvara (from Sanskrit गम्भीर - gambhir, profound, deep, solemn - and शिव, shvara, Shiva, Śiva, The Auspicious One).
  2. Group S: Prasat Yeah Puon (ប្រាសាទយាយព័ន្ធ) includes 22 sanctuaries dated from the 7th century (600 - 635 AD) during the reign of Isanavarman I in dedication to Shiva.[7]
  3. Group C: It is occupied by the Central Sanctuary or Prasat Boram (ប្រាសាទបុរាម) with lion sculptures that had inspired the popular name of Prasat Tao (The Lions' Temple). It is, however, the newest group dating the 9th century. The other main feature is the Tower of Ashram Issey, but there were also other constructions (18 temples) now in ruined (Palmer, 2011).[8]


7th century[edit]

Isanavarman I reigned over the Chenla Kingdom between 616 and 637 AD, taking Isanabura as his capital[9] and it is argued that he built the main temple Prasat Sambor (Group N), as there is an inscription on the site attributed to his reign and dated 13 September 627 AD.[10] The king is also known for sending his first embassy to the court of the Sui dynasty in China (616-617). Chenla conquered different principalities in the Northwest of Cambodia after the end of the Chinese reign period yǒnghuī (永徽) (i. e. after 31 January 656), which previously (in 638/39) paid tribute to China.[11] An inscription dating from the reign of Isanarvarman I claimed that he was, “the King of Kings, who rules over Suvarnabhumi”.[12] Dr Vong Sotheara, of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, claimed that the inscription would “prove that Suvarnabhumi was the Khmer Empire.”

The last important king in Isanapura was Jayavarman I, whose death caused turmoil to the kingdom at the start of the 8th century, breaking it in many principalities and opening the way to a new time: Angkor. This site is also claimed as an early capital of Jayavarman II (O'Reilly & Jacques, 1990).[13]

20th century[edit]

After the Lon Nol's coup d'état to Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970, US President Richard Nixon ordered a secret bombing of Cambodia to fight the Khmer Rouge guerrillas and any influence of North Vietnam in the country. The US aircraft bombed positions inside the archaeological site, causing craters near the temples, while the guerrillas left several mines on the land that were cleared only in 2008.

This site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list on 8 July 2017.[14]

Official religion[edit]

The official religion at Sambor Prei Kuk city was Shaivism, one of the four most widely followed sects of Hinduism, which reveres the god Shiva as the Supreme Being and the Lingam (in Sanskrit लिङ्गं, liṅgaṃ, meaning "mark", "sign", or "inference") or Shiva linga representing Shiva to be worshiped in temples.[15] In Cambodia as it is in India, the lingam is a symbol of the energy and potential of god Shiva himself[16] and this phallic symbol is often represented with the Yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni, literally "vagina" or "womb"), symbol of goddess Shakti, female creative energy.[17]

Shaivism was the religion of Chenla (ca. 550 - ca. 800 AD), including elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and indigenous ancestor cults.[18] In the Sambor Prei Kuk temples, it is possible to contemplate stone inscriptions in both Sanskrit and Khmer, naming both Hindu and local ancestral deities with Shiva and several altars with the lingam.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Higham, C., 2014, Early Mainland Southeast Asia, Bangkok: River Books Co., Ltd., ISBN 9786167339443
  2. ^ Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella (ed.). The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.
  3. ^ "Sites in Cambodia, China and India added to UNESCO's World Heritage List". UNESCO. Retrieved 2017-07-08.
  4. ^ Higham, Charles (May 11, 1989). The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 265–267. ISBN 9780521275255.
  5. ^ Groupe de Sambor Prei Kuk - UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  6. ^ Gnarfgnarf:Sambor Prei Kuk : a pre-Angkorian gem in the forest, 20 November 2010, retrieved on 3 May 2012
  7. ^ Description Prasat Yeah Puon. Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia. Link retrieved on July 8, 2015 from
  8. ^ Palmer, B. The Rough Guide to Cambodia. August 1, 2011. p. 211. Link retrieved on July 6, 2015 from
  9. ^ “Coedès. ‟Histories of Cambodia”. Page 11.
  10. ^ IC, Vol. V, p. 23
  11. ^ Wolters, "North-western Cambodia in the seventh century", p. 356 and pp. 374-375
  12. ^ Rinith Taing, “Was Cambodia home to Asia’s ancient ‘Land of Gold’?”, The Phnom Penh Post, 5 January, 2018.
  13. ^ O'Reilly. Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia. December 21, 2005. Page 113.
  14. ^ "Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura".
  15. ^ Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices, by Jeanne Fowler, pgs. 42–43
  16. ^ Mudaliyar, Sabaratna. "Lecture on the Shiva Linga". Malaysia Hindu Dharma Mamandram. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  17. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich Robert (1946). Campbell, Joseph, ed. Myths and symbols in Indian art and civilization. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 126. ISBN 0-691-01778-6. But the basic and most common object of worship in Shiva shrines is the phallus or lingam.
  18. ^ Chandler, A History of Cambodia, pp.19-20.