Preah Khan Temple Khmer Devata Goddesses of Darkness

The Khmer temple of Preah Khan has hundreds of devata hidden in its dark inner chambers.
The Khmer temple of Preah Khan has hundreds of devata hidden in its dark inner chambers.

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Each day, hundreds of tourists walk the main paths of this 12th century jungle temple marveling at the glory of the Khmers. But just a few feet away from these busy paths there are many secret places that most visitors never see. These photos reveal a few of the “Devata of Darkness”: images of Cambodia’s sacred women called devata — sometimes inaccurately referred to as apsaras — hidden from the light of day in passages beneath the collapsed structure.Preah Khan Temple Khmer Devata Goddesses of Darkness

In her book Angkor the Magnificent, Helen Churchill Candee perfectly captures the mood and mystery of these passages:

Preah Khan Temple Khmer Devata Goddesses of Darkness
Helen Candee at Angkor Wat – Circa 1922.

In her book, Angkor the Magnificent, Helen Churchill Candee captures the mood of Preah Khan perfectly:

“The chambers are filled with a green light such as fills the caves of ocean, a light which is almost palpable. A small, square room is mysterious with its efflorescence, the carvings beside its one square window are veiled with it, a fallen pedestal is plated with the same green light grown tangible in the form of moss. It would scarce be surprising to see wide-eyed fishes floating in and out of the shaded window.

“In such a chamber the gods of Brahm seem dead, or fled with the vanished Khmers. Perhaps it is here that tigers and cougars make nocturnal visits. Through openings made irregular with heaped and leaning stones other shadowy green chambers show their mystery, and give hints of floating ghost-shapes, men, maids and gods.

“Through a far passage joy returns on a sun-ray.”

My apologies that these low light photos were taken without a tripod due to limited space. Still, theygive glimpses of the phantasmagoric secret world these mystical women have inhabited for more than 800 years.

All images © 2008 Kent Davis – High resolution images are available to educational and non-profit organizations at no charge.

Preah Khan Temple Khmer Devata Goddesses of Darkness 

 

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