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Amidst more than 1,000 temples that dot the Angkor city, the Ta Prohm is a spectacular one, drawing crowds from all over the world to see the tumbled man-made ruins getting slowly engulfed by gnarled trees. It was Angelina Jolie who further shot this temple to fame in the 2001 film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” where she pays a visit to a hidden tomb in Cambodia. The movie didn’t fare well at the box office but it definitely helped the tourism industry boom in Siem Reap.

Tall trees loom over the ruins of Ta Prohm

The unfolding of the mightiness and magnificence of the Angkor Wat in the radiance of the soft sun rays is an experience not to be missed. After witnessing the exquisite Angkor Wat earlier at sunrise we were next looking forward to our stop at the Ta Prohm. Barely had we stepped down from the tour bus that the strong sun rays hit our eyes. For January, the 9 a.m. sun is pretty strong in Siem Reap. For once, I was glad for our decision of taking the early morning tour of the three majestic temples of Siem Reap – Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon Temple with the popular and highly recommended bus tour company – Siam Reap Shuttle Tours. Sunglasses covering our eyes and water bottles tucked under our arms the tour group followed Kha, our guide for the day to learn all about the wondrous Ta Prohm.

For more than 500 years the Ta Prohm lay abandoned in the midst of wilderness. Trees found their way through crevices, corridors and structures.

History of Ta Prohm

The history of the temple goes back to around 1186. It was built just after Angkor Wat, during the Golden age of the Khmer Empire, or what is now known as Cambodia. The original name of the temple was Rajavihara or the Royal monastery and it was dedicated to the Buddhist personification of wisdom. Ta Prohm was built when the Khmer empire was at its peak and its construction is credited to Jayavaraman VII. Ta Prohm has a traditional Khmer structure consisting of a series of gradually smaller enclosures, the largest of which is about 1000 by 650 meters. The sanctuary is spread around the huge, elevated stone face of Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom. It is said that the features of Prajnaparamita resemble closely to the king’s mother.

Why was the temple abandoned?

The capital city Angkor was the biggest urban center in the world in the pre-industrial revolution era. Known for its canals, reservoirs, and channels, it supported the best technology and water management system in that period. However, it is the failure of this sophisticated human technology in the face of extreme environmental conditions that caused hordes of people to shun this place gradually.

Ta Prohm built by Rajavarman VII

Abandoned for more than 500 years Ta Prohm merged with nature. Through its crevices and within its corridors, trees wound their ways. Shrouded in the wilderness, Ta Prohm lay forgotten till Angkor was rediscovered in the early 20th century by French archaeologists.

The beauty of Ta Prohm

A partnership project of Archeological Survey of India and APSARA National Authority, in cooperation with UNESCO, today sees Ta Prohm in better shape. Restoration work has been going on to fit the maze pieces strewn all over the place and to ensure that the structures are not further deteriorated. Nevertheless, a conscientious effort has also been done to maintain its raw appeal.

Centuries-old trees tower overhead, their canopy filtering the scorching sunrays and casting a greenish shroud over the temple. The patched padding made by lichen, moss, and creepers cast their hues on the walls. The eye-grabber of the many twisted root formations is the one on the easternmost gopura or the entrance pavilion of the central enclosure, popularly known as the Crocodile Tree. It is also known as the Tomb Raider tree after it was featured in the movie.

The Crocodile Tree or The Tomb Raider Tree is the most popular tree with its imposing roots and branches spreading over the structure

There’s a haunting feel to Ta Prohm. If it were not the chattering of the insane number of tourists that flock to see it at any point in time, one could actually take a quiet moment to envisage the life of the bygone era. There also dawns a message that despite man’s efforts to stronghold himself against nature, it is ultimately nature that has the last word. Neither the systematic water network nor the heavy stone walls that housed more than 3140 villages could fight against nature’s fury. The drastic droughts and raging floods crashed the existence of humanity in this monument. What remained was the might of nature in the kingdom of trees.

The carvings of the dwarapalakas and devtaas

What makes Ta Prohm spectacular is not just the architectural remains, the inscriptions or the carvings of the dwarapalakas and devtaas but the drama created by the wilderness and it’s imposing presence in the glorious ancient ruins.


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