Glossary of Terms

The restoration of a ruined monument or building by reassembling fallen parts and, when necessary, incorporating new materials.

Connecting chamber/passsage.

Arogayasala are structures built within temples that served as medical facilities. A hospital.

A baluster is a small pillar, column, or post, a number of which make a balustrade.

A structure used to store religious documents.

A baray is an artificial body of water associated with Prasats. The purpose/function of barays is not definitively known. The current theory is that they were used to store water.

Bas Relief
A bas relief is an artistic technique that involves lightly carving a design into a surface.

One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity – the creator, generally with four faces, mounted on the Hamsa (goose or sacred bird).

The earliest Angkoran structures were made mainly of brick.

A Chedi or Stupa is a reliquary (receptacle for sacred items) tower, sometimes referred to in the West as a Pagoda. It is a monument worthy of veneration.

Covered walkway in a monastery, university, cathedral or institution, with a wall on one side and a colonnade open to a quadrangle on the other.

A colonnette is a narrow decorative column that served as supports for the lintels above doorways or windows. Depending on the period, they were round, rectangular, or octagonal.

Shaped like a cross.

A shelter for the free use of wayfarers or pilgrims. Aligned in the direction of the road rather east. Contemporary term is sala.

Dvarapalas are human or demonic temple guardians, generally armed with lances and clubs. They are presented either as a stone statues or as relief carvings in the walls of temples and other buildings, generally close to entrances or passageways. Their function is to protect the temples. Devatas are female guardians.

Khmer temples were typically enclosed by walls, sometimes multiple, with the central sanctuary in the middle. Enclosures are the spaces between these walls, and between the innermost wall and the temple itself.
Walls defining the enclosures of Khmer temples are frequently lined by galleries. Access to enclosures is by way of gopuras aligned with the cardinal points.

An entablature is a horizontal architectural element that rests on top of columns. Khmer architecture incorporated elements that serve a similar function to entablatures, but they are not identical to the classical Greek and Roman entablatures.

False Doors
Also known as Blind Doors. Angkoran style temples frequently opened only to the east. The other three sides featured false or blind doors to maintain symmetry. These false doors were similar in size and design similar to doors on the eastern side of the prasat. False or blind doors became a typical element of Khmer architecture.

A gallery is a passageway running along the wall of an enclosure or along the axis of a temple, often open to one or both sides. They often contain bas-relief.

Ganesha – divine bird with a human body.

A half-man, half-bird figure from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. One of the ten principal vahana (avatars) of Vishnu.

The entrance gateway to a Hindu temple enclosure. Gopuras got larger and more elaborate in the latter stages of the Empire, often surpassing the prasat in grandeur.

Guardian Figures
Representation of lions were used  as guardian figures on the approaches to temples.
The naga (national emblem of Thailand) was often used as guardian figures.
See also Dvarapala.


Khmer Deities

Khmer Empire
The Khmer Empire prevailed in what is now northern Cambodia. It grew out of the former civilisation of Chenla and lasted from 802 to 1431. It is known as the Angkor period, after the empire’s most well-known capital, Angkor. The Khmer Empire ruled or subordinated most of mainland Southeast Asia and stretched as far north as southern China.

Kompong Preah
The third of three pre Angkoran styles of architecture (700-800CE).
1. Sambor Prei Kuk (610-650CE).
2. Prei Khmeng (635–700CE).

An avatar of Vishnu.

An ancient stone tower (Thai). Used interchangeably with prang, prasat, or chedi.

A reddish clay material that dries hard. It was used by Angkoran builders for foundations.

A catch all, modern-era word assigned to any structure inside the Enclosures.

A lintel is a beam (a horizontal structural element – sometimes decorative) that spans openings such as portals, doors, windows and fireplaces.

Mythical serpent. Balustrades are often decorated with Nagas.

A container or room where the bones of the dead are stored, cf crypt which is an underground vault, especially one beneath a church that is used as a burial place.

An open, sometimes ornamental structure used for shelter, entertainment or gatherings.

A pediment is a roughly triangular structure above a lintel.

A Prang has the same function as a Chedi/Stupa. Prangs are found all over central Thailand and are shaped like a corn cob standing on top of a square or cruciform building, with an entrance on one side. Also Ku and Prasat.

A term in the West for a Chedi or Stupa (a reliquary tower). A monument worthy of veneration.

Prei Khmeng
The second of three pre Angkoran styles of architecture (635–700CE). Evidence of this period was found at Prasat Phum Phon.
1. Sambor Prei Kuk (610-650CE).
3. Kompong Preah (700-800CE).

Redenting of a structure is a feature where the corners are cut back into successive right angles, giving the appearance of the teeth of a saw.

A reliquary is  a receptacle for tiny bundles of sacred items.  Reliquaries provide a means of protecting and displaying relics. While frequently taking the form of caskets, they range in size from simple pendants or rings to very elaborate ossuaries. The relics were enshrined in containers crafted of or covered with gold, silver, gems, and enamel.

Sambor Prei Kuk
The first of three pre Angkoran styles of architecture (610-650CE).
2. Prei Khmeng (635–700CE).
3. Kompong Preah (700-800CE).

The only stone used by Angkoran builders was sandstone (but see Laterite), obtained at considerable difficulty and cost from the Kulen Mountains about 40 kilometres to the north. This meant that sandstone only gradually came into use (bricks were used prior), and at first was used only for particular elements such as door frames. The 10th century temple of Ta Keo in Cambodia is the first Angkoran temple to be constructed entirely from sandstone.

A boundary or perimeter stone placed upright in the ground.

One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity – the creator and destroyer. Worshipped in the form of the linga.

Angkoran stairs are notoriously steep with the height of the riser exceeding that of the tread. This produces an angle of ascent somewhere between 45° and 70°, allowing the entire structure to have a smaller footprint. From a religious perspective, a steep stairway can be interpreted as a ‘stairway to heaven’ – the realm of the gods. (The optimal angle for stairs is typically considered to be around 30° to 37°)

Stone foundation of temples (taller than wide) on which the political and religious deeds of the kings are inscribed.

Stucco or render is used as a decorative/artistic coating for walls, ceilings, and exterior walls.

A Stupa or Chedi is a reliquary tower, sometimes referred to in the West as a Pagoda. It is a monument worthy of veneration.

Styles of Ankoran Architecture
There are eleven styles of Angkoran architecture covering 825 to 1431. A discussion of these styles is not within the scope of this Glossary however, the information is readily available elsewhere.

Big. See Ta Muen Thom.

A monastery.

Vishnu is one of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity, ‘the protector’ usually mounted on a garuda. Vishnu has many avatars, such as Krishna.

Vat or Wat




A Guide to Understanding Khmer Architecture




© Kim Epton 2024
1080 words.

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