Standing here with parrots squawking in the jungle all around me, I wanted to call this place the “Temple of Trees” as they most definitely are the current owners  (specifically Strangler Figs). Many tourists flock here because it was featured in the Laura Croft: Tomb Raider movie.

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Officially known today as “Ta Prohm” or “Old Brahma”, this monument was initially named “Rajavihara” meaning “Royal Monastery”. In 1186 AD, Jayavarman VII consecrated several statues here, the most important of which was that of Prajnaparamita, the personification of the Perfection of Wisdom, a figure whom the King identified with his mother.

Ta Prohm was built during the reign of Jayavarman VII, a great king who reconquered the Khmer empire from Cham invaders in the years 1177-1181. Needless to say, the war caused great damage to the ancient capital of Angkor. The ambitious king set about making it into a proper seat of power by ordering the reconstruction of a number of temples. Ta Prohm was the centerpiece of his masterplan, located roughly in the center of the capital. Though the temple covers barely 2.5 acres, its walls and moat encompass 148 acres, which would have sheltered a town attached to the temple. Here, 12,640 people lived, supported by a population of 79,365 who worked in nearby villages to provide food and supplies.

Ta Prohm housed the deity Prajnaparamita, the ‘perfection of wisdom.’ It was consecrated in 1186. Like many Khmer kings, Jayavarman had it carved in the likeness of his mother. The Prajnaparamita statue was surrounded by 260 lesser divinities, housed in their own sanctuaries.

Interestingly, the temple was also the headquarters of a vast hospital network created by the good king. From Ta Prohm, supplies filtered out to 102 hospitals located throughout the empire. The Khmer kings seem to have taken the Buddha’s call to mercy into their own hands.

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