Glossary

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Below are some terms and names, frequently employed in Beyond Angkor, that you may not be familiar with.


Airavata (Sanskrit) - Mythological white elephant, ridden by the god Indra. Often represented in Angkor-period temple carvings with 3 heads. In Thai, Erawan.

Angkor/Nokor (Khmer/Sanskrit) - Derived from the Sanskrit word nagara, (holy city). In Thai it is nakhon/nakhorn and in Cham, nagar, meaning city or capital. See Angkor Thom (Great City) and Angkor Wat (Temple City).

Aninditapura (Sanskrit) - 8th-century Chenla capital, possibly located to the west of Siem Reap Town.

Apsara (Sanskrit) - Celestial or heavenly dancers. (The Apsara Authority is responsible for the management of the Angkor Archaeological Park since 1995.)

Arogyasala (Sanskrit) - Hospital chapel or chapel of the hospital, associated with Jayavarman VII, who is recorded as having constructed 102 such sites throughout his empire.

Asura (Sanskrit) - Demon from Hindu mythology.

Avalokiteshvara/Lokeshvara/Lokesvara (Sanskrit) - 'The Lord who looks down'. A Boddhisatva important in Mahayana Buddhism.

Banteay (Khmer) - Fortress or citadel.

Baray (Khmer) - Generally refers to the larger, man-made reservoirs. (Their precise purpose is still debated.)

Bas Relief (English) - Low relief carvings, usually on sandstone, but occasionally on brick and even laterite.

Bhavapura - Late 6th-century Chenla capital founded by Bhavavarman I at, or close to, the present-day site of Sambor Prei Kuk.

Boeng/Beung (Khmer) - Usually a natural lake, although in the case of Prasat Beng Mealea refers to a man-made baray.

Brahma (Sanskrit) - The Creator and one of the 3 principal Hindu gods with Vishnu and Shiva.

Buddha - The historical figure, Siddhārtha Gautama, is thought to have lived in India between 583-463 BCE.

Buddhism - Founded in the 4th-5th centuries BCE, Buddhism subsequently split into 2 main strands, Theravada and Mahayana.

Chakravartin (Sanskrit) - Universal monarch; a title commonly adopted by the kings of Angkor.

Cham - Early inhabitants of Champa. Cham people are ethnic Malay, speaking an Austronesian language, and considered to have migrated to coastal Vietnam from present-day Indonesia over 2 millennia ago.

Champa - A series of city-states located in coastal areas of central and southern Vietnam. Champa was at certain times a rival and others an ally, of Angkor.

Chedi/Chedei (Sanskrit) - A circular Buddhist shrine, broadly interchangeable with the term stupa. May contain relics or ashes.

Chenla (Chinese) - An early Khmer civilization of the late 6th to late 8th centuries, falling between the Funan and Angkor periods. Various capitals include Bhavapura and Ishnapura (both present-day Sambor Prei Kuk), and Purandarapura (west of Siem Reap). Chenla or Zhenla was the name given by early Chinese traders - what the people called themselves is not known.

Cola/Chola - The south Indian Chola culture was an important influence on Southeast Asia from the 9th to 13th centuries.

Churning of the Ocean (Sea) of Milk - Creation myth commonly seen in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography.

CISARK (French) - 'Carte Interactive des Sites Archéologiques Khmer'; an online catalogue of Khmer archaeological sites. Some of the site numberings, photos and descriptions are accessible to the public, others, plus interactive maps, are restricted access only.

Colonette (English) - Round, square, or octagonal sandstone columns on either side of door frames.

Damrei (Khmer) - Elephant.

Decorative relief - Lintel or pediment carving lacking figures or narrative designs.

Deva (Sanskrit) - Minor, male deity.

Devaraja (Sanskrit) - King of the Gods or God-king. In Khmer, this translates to kamraten an ta raja.

Devata/Tevoda (Sanskrit) - Minor female deity, often confused with apsaras.

Dharmasala (Sanskrit) - A rest house for travellers, also used to refer to so-called 'Fire Temples'. Some 120 were constructed at key points throughout the empire by Jayavarman VII.

Dvarapala (Sanskrit) - Carved temple guardians - usually seen armed with a club or sword.

EFEO (French) - Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Translated as The French School of the Far East it was founded in Hanoi in 1900 with the goal of furthering archaeological studies in FRench Indochina and Southeast Asia.

Funan - Early city-state based in the lower Mekong area during the 1st to 6th-centuries CE. Oc Eo (modern-day Vietnam) was the principal port and Vyhadapura, (Angkor Borei (?)) the capital. DNA indicates the aristocracy and rulers seem to have been ethnic Malay (Cham), while the majority of the population was Khmer.

Ganesh/Ganesha (Sanskrit) - 'The Lord of Obstacles'. Son of Shiva, depicted with an elephant head and human body.

Garuda (Sanskrit) - A half-man, half-bird figure from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. The vahana of Vishnu.

Gopura (Sanskrit) - A temple entrance pavilion or gateway.

Gupta (Sanskrit) - A north Indian civilization that was the principal early influence on Southeast Asia from the mid-4th to mid-6th centuries.

Hamsa (Sanskrit) - Sacred goose from Hindu mythology and the most common vehicle of Brahma.

Hanuman (Sanskrit) - A monkey general who fought for Rama in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. (Known in Khmer as the Reamker).

Harihara (Sanskrit) - A Hindu god popular in the pre-Angkor period, combining Vishnu and Shiva in a single figure.

Hariharalaya (Sanskrit) - Jayavarman II's third capital located in today's Rolous area.

Heraldic relief - Lintel or pediment carving featuring a deity and/or mythical beasts but lacking narrative structure.

Hindu - Ancient religion brought from India to Southeast Asia by Brahmin priests and traders at least 2000 years ago.

IK Number - Numbering system used to denote historical sites by French archeologists.

Indra (Sanskrit) - Important Hindu god from Vedic times and often seen in Angkor reliefs astride the elephant Airavata. As the god of the east, he's mostly seen on east-facing lintels and pediments.

Indrapura (Sanskrit) - Was the first capital of Jayavarman II, and probably corresponds to the site of Banteay Prei Nokor in today's Tbong Khmum province.

Ishnapura (Sanskrit) - Ishnavarman's 7th-century capital situated at present-day Sambor Prei Kuk.

Jataka (Sanskrit) - Buddhist texts recounting events from the previous lives of Buddha. (Frequently depicted on late-period temples.)

Jayendranagari (Sanskrit) - A late-10th-century city established by Jayavarman V, west of his father, Rajendravarman II's capital, which was based around the East Baray.

Kala (Sanskrit) - Demon figure whose head is a ubiquitous feature of temple lintels.

Kampong (Sanskrit) - A town, settlement or specifically river town (port) in Khmer, related to the Malay word Kampong or Kampung. The term is derived from Sanskrit and as such could be a cognate of the modern English word 'compound'.

Khet (Khmer) - Province. Cambodia currently has 25 provinces including the Phnom Penh special administrative region.

Khleang (Khmer) - One or 2 halls or pavilions usually sited before the main entrance to a temple enclosure and a common feature of larger, mid to later period sites. (e.g. Prasat Phanom Rung, Wat Phu, Prasat Chau Srei Vibol.) Their exact purpose is not known but the word translates roughly as storehouse.

Khom/Khum (Khmer/Sanskrit) - Commune level administrative division between district (srok) and village (phum). The word is probably of Sanskrit origin and as such a likely cognate of the modern English word commune.

Kok/Kuk (Khmer/Sanskrit) - Refers to a dry or raised area and usually implies the presence of a tuol or mound and/or temple foundations.

Krishna (Sanskrit) - The 8th avatar of Vishnu and a popular subject for temple reliefs - particularly during the Khleang period.

Kroes (Khmer) - A commonly used Khmer colloquial term referring to foundations or ruins. (You'll see it frequently used in our listed site names.)

Laterite - A red-coloured sedimentary rock formed by the natural oxidization of iron-rich clay. Sometimes called lava-stone because of the Swiss cheese effect caused by gas bubbles during the drying process, laterite soils are found widely across Cambodia and the air-baked bricks form the basis and foundations of many temples, walls and bridges.

Library - A common feature - or features - of larger temples, these structures are generally placed off-centre, between the main shrine and main entrance. They are widely considered to have housed sacred texts - hence the term 'library' - but so far, to our knowledge, this has never been confirmed 100% thus the 'inverted commas'.

Linga/lingam (Sanskrit) - A phallic-shaped sculpture symbolizing the god Shiva.

Lingapura (Sanskrit) - City of Lingas. Several sites with this name can be found in the region including Jayavarman IV's capital Koh Ker and the site of Wat Phu in southern Laos.

Lintel - Weight-bearing rectangular block - usually sandstone - lying horizontally above a doorway. Carved reliefs on these blocks evolved during the Angkor and pre-Angkor periods and are often used as dating methods for temple sites.

Mahabharata (Sanskrit) - Indian epic text, thought to have been compiled in Sanskrit some 2,000 to 2,500 years ago and said to be the longest known poem with some 1.8 million words.

Maharahadhiraja (Sanskrit) - King of Kings, the title adopted by Jayavarman II at a ceremony on Phnom Kulen in 802.

Mahayana (Sanskrit/Pali) - Mahayana Buddhism was predominant in Cambodia during the late 12th to early 13th centuries.

Mahendraparvata (Sanskrit) - A late 8th, early 9th-century city founded by King Jayavarman II on top of Phnom Kulen, Siem Reap Province.

Makara (Sanskrit) - Sea dragon or water monster and a legendary creature in Hindu and Buddhist iconography, frequently seen on lintels and pediments at Angkor temples. In Angkorian reliefs, the Makara is usually half lion and half dragon or lizard but artistic license is often applied.

Mebon (Unknown) - A temple located on an artificial island in a man-made lake or baray.

Mount Meru (Sanskrit) - a 5-peaked sacred mountain in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, considered to be the physical and spiritual centre of the universe.

Mukhalinga (Sanskrit) - A linga or lingam bearing a carved human face.

Naga (Sanskrit) - A multi-headed serpent figure from Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

Nandi/Nandin (Sanskrit) - A sacred bull from Hindu mythology which also served as the mount of Shiva and Uma.

Narrative Relief (Sanskrit) - A carved lintel or pediment depicting an event or scene - usually mythological or religious.

Neak Ta (Khmer) - Animist shrine, relating to spirit or ancestor worship.

Pali (Pali) - Indian language, related to Sanskrit, but generally used for Buddhist, rather than Hindu texts and scriptures.

Pallava (Sanskrit) - The Pallava dynasty of southern India was the main influence on Southeast Asian culture, religion and language from the late 6th to late 9th centuries.

Pediment - The triangular area above a door lintel. Later temples featured staggered, double, or even triple pediments which formed important canvases for narrative reliefs. (See also tympanum.)

Peung (Khmer) - Cave or more like a rock shelter.

Phnom (Khmer) - Hill or mountain. (Phanom is the Thai rendition of the Khmer word).

Phum (Sanskrit/Khmer) - Village, from the Sanskrit phum(i) meaning land.

Prang (Thai) - Thai name for a temple tower, dating mainly to the Sukhothai and Ayuthaya periods, considered to be influenced by Khmer architecture.

Prasat (Khmer/Sanskrit) - Ancient tower or temple.

Preah (Khmer) - Sacred or holy.

Preah Ko (Khmer) - Sacred bull. The term generally refers to Nandi from Hindu mythology.

Prei/Prey (Khmer) - Forest.

Prohm (Khmer/Sanskrit) - Derived from the Sanskrit word Brahma.

Purandarapura (Sanskrit) - Late 7th, early 8th-century capital, possibly founded by Jayavarman I and possibly located in the region of today's West Baray.

Rahu (Sanskrit) - Body-less head of the demon Rahuketu, decapitated after stealing the elixir of immortality and subsequently condemned to eternal servitude. One of his roles was as a guardian and the ubiquitous Kala heads above doorways could actually represent Rahu.

Ramayana (Sanskrit) - Hindu epic recounting the story of Rama. Only slightly shorter than the Mahabharata, scenes feature ubiquitously on both Hindu and Buddhist temples. Known in Khmer as the Reamker and in Thai Ramakien.

Ravana (Sanskrit) - The demon king of the realm of Lanka and main opponent of Rama in the Ramayana epic.

Reachisey (Sanskrit) - Mythical water monster combining various aspects of lizards, crocodiles and dragons.

Rishi(Sanskrit) - Mythological, enlightened sage or hermit. (In temples he often features at the foot of pillars and columns.)

Sanskrit - Indo-European language and the language of Hindu scriptures and texts that arrived in Southeast Asia during the first millennia with Brahmin traders and priests from India. The language strongly influenced Khmer and to a lesser extent Cham, Malay, Bamar and Vietnamese. Modern Thai also borrows heavily from Sanskrit though this is indirect influence, via the Khmer language, rather than first-hand.

Sema (Sanskrit) - Sema stones are boundary markers around sacred Buddhist areas.

Shiva (Sanskrit) - 'The Auspicious One'. One of the pantheon of 3 major Hindu gods along with Vishnu and Brahma and the principal god of Shivaism. In Angkorian temples, he is more often represented by a linga although if in figure form can be recognized by his 3rd eye.

Singha (Sanskrit) - See also Singh or Sinha. Sanskrit word meaning lion and used in several Southeast Asian languages, including Thai. (See for example he name Singapore from Singha-pura.)

Soma Sutra (Sanskrit) - Channel seen on linga plinths, used to collect water purified during cleansing ceremonies. Corresponding holes are often seen in north walls of shrines and presumably, a wooden or bamboo pipe would have connected the 2.

Spean (Khmer) - Bridge.

Srah/Sras (Khmer) - Term for a man-made reservoir; usually smaller than a baray but larger than a trapeang.

Srok (Khmer) - In its widest sense land or country although for administrative purposes srok is a district-level division, between province and commune.

Stele/Stela (latin) - Stone slab featuring an inscription.

Stupa (Sanskrit) - Dome-shaped tower or structure synonymous with chedi. Generally associated with Buddhism they may also contain relics or ashes.

Surya (Sanskrit) - Hindu god of the sun and a regular feature in Khmer reliefs as well as being the source of the name Suryavarman. (Also sometimes written Suriya or even Sorya.)

Ta (Khmer) - Grandfather or male ancestor.

Tao (Khmer) - Lion.

Tapestry Relief - Repetitive flower or leaf pattern often seen carved on walls, pillars, and false windows.

That (Lao/Thai) - A dome or spire-shaped Buddhist shrine, broadly synonymous with chedi or stupa. (A phra-that is claimed to contain Buddha relics.)

Theravada (Sanskrit/Pali) - The form of Buddhism prevalent in Cambodia from the 14th-century until today. (As with Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka.)

Thom (Khmer) - Great or large.

Toch (Khmer) - Small or lesser.

Trapeang (Khmer) - Generally refers to a man-made pond or reservoir, smaller in size than a baray.

Tuol (Khmer) - Mound or hillock. In archaeological terms, it would contain foundations or ruins of a structure.

Uma (Sanskrit) - Consort of Shiva, often seen seated on the sacred bull, Nandi.

Vahana (Sanskrit) - An animal or mythical beast associated with, and acting as a mount for, a Hindu god. e.g. Vishnu - garuda, Brahma - hamsa, Indra - Airavata etc

-Varman (Sanskrit) - A Sanskrit suffix added to a (royal) name meaning; shield, armour or 'protected by'. (e.g. Indravarman - 'shield of' or 'protected by' Indra.) (Some linguists still debate whether 'protector of' or 'protected by' is the more accurate.)

Varuna (Sanskrit) - Ancient Hindu, Vedic god of the skies and oceans.

Vihear/Vihara (Khmer/Sanskrit) - From the Sanskrit term meaning sacred shrine. It generally refers to Buddhist shrines and would be the main worshipping hall of the temple. (See Viharn in modern Thai.)

Vishnu (Sanskrit) - Known as the 'Preserver' or 'Protector', Vishnu is one of the main trilogy of Hindu gods with Shiva and Brahma and the principal deity of Vaishnuism.

Vishvakarma (Sanskrit) - Usually considered a minor god in the Hindu pantheon Vishvakaram is important in Angkorian temples due to his role as the 'architect of the gods'. As a small central carved figure, the god features on myriad heraldic lintels.

Wat (Khmer, Lao, Thai) - From Pali, meaning Buddhist temple.

Yama (Sanskrit) - Hindu god of death and the underworld. A popular lintel figure in Angkorian temples, often mounted on a buffalo.

Yasodharapura (Sanskrit) - Yasovarman I's 9th-century capital based around Phnom Bakheng, covering some 16 square kilometres.

Yeay (Khmer) - Grandmother or female ancestor.

Yoni (Sanskrit) - Literally female sexual organs in Sanskrit and used to refer to the hole in a pedestal into which a linga is inserted. As the linga symbolizes Shiva, the Yoni then symbolizes the god Brahma.