According to the Lonely Planet Cambodia, if the Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple are testimonies to the brilliance of ancient Khmers, the Ta Prohm is a testament to the equally powerful jungles of Cambodia.
Although people are usually familiar only with well-known temples such as Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, there are many other smaller yet equally gorgeous temples around the area, one of which is the Ta Prohm. Directly translated to the Tree-Strangled Temple, this temple is around 800 years old and is filled with enormous and beautiful trees making it a great example of nature and manmade structures intertwined into one.
Ta Prohm was built by Jayavarman VII, a great king who conquered the Khmer Kingdom and wrested control of the place from the Cham invaders. Because the war caused great damage to the ancient capital of Angkor, the ambitious king ordered the reconstruction of many temples in Angkor. Ta Prohm was the centerpiece of the king’s master plan that was roughly located at the center of the capital.
The temple housed the deity Prajnaparamita which means the “perfection of wisdom”. Like many of the Khmer Kings, King Jayavarman carved the deity in the likeness of his mother. Aside from the prime statue, the temple is also surrounded by 360 lesser divinities that are housed in their respective sanctuaries.
Interestingly enough, the temple served as the headquarters of a broad hospital network that was created by the good king. From the temple, supplies were distributed to 102 hospitals located all throughout the empire. Nowadays, the temple is in a sad state of disrepair as insatiable trees called Strangler Figs have caused much damage to the complex.
When Angkor was discovered by French archaeologists in the early 20th Century, many temples had become overgrown but none as spectacularly as Ta Prohm. As the French men excavated and restored many other temples, the archeologists had to make sure the root of the giant tree that was enveloping the temple did not further deteriorate the structure to a point of making it a dangerous destination. Although the temple may look like nature devouring the structure, the appearance of neglect is in fact meticulously maintained.
The beautiful entrance and the quadrangle of the temple are both complex and exciting as several trees are seen reaching for the skies. The tree roots twist around and on top of the temple, like tentacles of a giant sleeping octopus. The trees and roots blend into the temple at every turn, making it a sight to behold. The unique appearance of the temple draws in thousands of crowds every year. Furthermore, the 2001 Hollywood film Tomb Raider helped spread interest about this amazing piece of architecture.
Unlike most temples of Angkor, the Ta Prohm has been left for the clutches of the living jungle to take care of it. The popularity of Ta Prohm has soared in recent years mostly due to the atmosphere of the temple, which brings to mind the haunts of adventurers like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. It projects a superior example of what should be included in every temple itinerary in Siem Reap.