Date Traveled, Auguest 2012
The Jayatataka was the baray, a kind of large artificial lake, of King Jayavarman VII, the greatest of the monarchs of the Khmer Empire. The Neak Pean in the center of the Jayatataka was a place of healing for pilgrims in the times of the Angkor Civilization.
The Jayatataka baray in flood
Every great King of Angkor had to do two things during his lifetime to establish his greatness on earth and as a legacy for himself after his time on earth was done. The first was to establish a state temple. This was not a trivial undertaking and it is no coincidence that the grandest ones were built by powerful Kings. The magnificent Angkor Wat of Suryavarman II is an example of this. The second expectation from the kings was to build a massive public waterworks project. These often took the form of the barays around the capitals of the empire which were built and subsequently expanded by succeeding monarchs. Today only a few barays still remain with the rest having dried up.
The waters of the baray were really high
The waters were almost over the boardwalk
The purpose of the barays is a matter of debate. Some argue that the barays were mainly used for agriculture and that they played a vital role in the growth of the empire and their subsequent drying up causing the Khmer empire to weaken. Others argue that the barays role in agriculture was not that significant with Cambodia's abundant rains and the waters of the giant Tonle Sap lake nearby. They argue that the barays were more spiritual as representations of the seas around the mythological Mount Meru, abode of the Gods of Hindu myth. In any case, Jayavarman left plenty of legacies behind in the form of many varied temples and monuments including the face towered Bayon temple and of course his baray, the Jayatataka. It is quite large and is accessible today by a long and narrow boardwalk. The waters of the baray were in flood when I was there in September of 2012. They had almost reached up to the height of the boardwalk and about halfway up to the height of many of the surrounding trees. It was quite exciting walking in these conditions to the Neak Pean.
The Neak Pean in an island on the center of the Jayatataka baray
The Neak Pean itself is actually the modern name of the fountain that is on the man made island on the center of the Jayatataka baray. It means entwined serpents and is named after the coiling serpent sculptors around the fountain. It was built by Jayavarman VII as a monastery and hospital, one of many he constructed in his lifetime. The waters of the fountain was said to have curative powers and attracted many people seeking healing in those days.
Serpent and Horse
We reached the island after a good 5 to 10 minute walk, but unfortunately the central fountain area appeared to fenced off because of the recent flooding. Not much of a true barricade and it was more of a warning as we saw a little kid come from the other side and hop right over. Other than the kid and a few caretakers or guards at the end of the causeway there was no one else there on the island. We spent some time looking at the fountain from a distance and also noticed what looked like a lion in the fountain. Later I read somewhere that this was actually a horse.
The walk across the Jayatataka baray on the boardwalk was more interesting than the Neak Pean site and that alone made a visit here worth it. On our return as the sun was setting amidst the cloudy sky and together with the flooded water la reaching high up to the trees and bushes we were treated to a truly memorable vista.