The following is a list of words which reappear often in descriptions of the history of Angkor and its temples.
Apsara: Celestial nymphs or dancers represented in the shape of flying figures; at Angkor, the stylisation is extreme and the apsaras are often represented in groups with finery and jewels. They are the "divine symbol of happiness" (Maurice Glaize).
Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara: "Compassionate bodhisattva", linked to the idea of Providence; often represented with four arms and bears Amitabha on his chignon; attributes: lotus, rosary, bottle and book.
Avatar: Literally "descent" in Sanskrit, the incarnation of a god in a human or animal being. The 7th and 8th avatars of Vishnu, Rama and Krishna, are the most famous cf. the Ramayana and Mahabarata.
Baray: Rectangular compensating reservoir; more than a pond, it is a dyke filled by rain and diversion of rivers. Its function is to ensure irrigation of the neighbouring fields and to supply the sanctuaries' moats. The baray is at the basis of the Angkorian hydraulic system; progressive silting up may have contributed to the weakening of the successive Angkorian kingdoms. It also bears a sacred and symbolic function, as well as an economic one, witnessed by temples erected at their centres (West and East Mebon).
Bodhisattva: A being poised to become a Buddha, but who renounces its own salvation in order to help humankind.
Brahma: One of the principal gods of the Brahmanic trinity, the "creator"; generally represented with four faces and four arms, mounted on the Hamsa or sacred goose; his attributes include: disc, ladle, book, rosary, vase, flywhisk and sceptre.
Cham: Ancient inhabitant of Champa, a Hindu kingdom situated along the coast of former Annam.
Chenla: Former Chinese name for former kingdoms of 'Land Chenla' and 'Water Chenla' that occupied areas that were later incorporated into the Khmer Empire.
Churning of the Sea of Milk: The devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) hold a huge naga (the naga King Vasuki) twisted around the Mandala mountain in order to accomplish the churning of the primordial ocean, thus extracting the Liquor of Immortality (Amrita) which each group covets. A famous bas-relief at Angkor Vat illustrates this episode extracted from Hindu mythology.
Devaraja: Cult of the 'god-king', created for Jayavarman II on Phnom Kulen in 802 by the Royal Brahmins; based on the tenet that the king was an emanation of a god, usually represented in Khmer art by a linga symbolizing the spiritual and royal essence of the king; the reigning monach became identified with the Hindu god Shiva.
Devata: A deity, celestial being; gods, male and female, of Buddhism and Brahmanism; a recurrent motif on Khmer architecture.
Dvarapala: Squatting or standing temple, door or gate guardian of Brahmanic or Buddhist temples usually armed with spear, mace or club, whose presence ensures protection from evil influences.
Funan: Former Chinese name for the ancient empire that precedes the Khmer Empire.
Ganesha: God associated with wisdom and knowledge, son of Shiva and Parvati; he is represented with a human body with an elephant head and trunk that often plunges into a bowl (symbolising the quest for knowledge).
Garuda: Divine bird with a human body, enemy of the nagas, mount of Vishnu. The garuda-naga is a recurrent motif in Khmer sculpture; the garuda is often represented mounted on the naga.
Harihara: A syncretic divinity combining the attributes of Hari (Vishnu, on the left) and Hara (Shiva, on the right).
Hinayana: "Hinayin", or 'Small Vehicle', Buddhist sect.
Kompong: Pier, port, or village on the bank of a waterway.
Krishna: 8th avatar of Vishnu, much venerated god in the Hindu pantheon.
Lakshmi: Consort of Vishnu, Goddess of Beauty, Wealth and Prosperity.
Linga: Symbolic representation of Shiva, in the shape of a phallus, often stylised; it is generally composed of three sections: the square base corresponds to Brahma, the creator, the octagonal middle section corresponds to Vishnu, the preserver, and the circular upper section, corresponds to Shiva; coupled with the Yoni, the whole symbolises male and female forces of Shiva.
Lokesvara: Alternate name for Avalokitesvara, the compassionate bodhisattva.
Mahayana: "Mohanikay", or 'Great Vehicle', Buddhist sect.
Mara: Evil spirit tempting the Buddha who reigns over a heaven of pleasure and sensual delights.
Meru: Mountain at the centre of the world, home of the gods.
Mudra: Symbolic gestures of gods and of Buddha.
Naga: Serpent king, mythic multi-headed serpent (5, 7 or 9 heads); in Cambodia, this serpent has long been associated with water and its benefits; it is symbolically the guardian of prosperity, and treasures; symbol of water, it is a decorative motif in many Khmer temples, where it decorates the entrance balustrades, bridges, moats and reservoirs; nagas of the 12th century are one of the most beautiful realisations of Khmer art.
Nandin: Sacred bull, mount of Shiva.
Nirvana: Final annihilation, supreme aim of Buddhism.
Parinirvana: Buddha's entry into infinity, also posture for reclining Buddha statues.
Parvati: Consort of Shiva, sister of Vishnu; Goddess of the mountains and of procreation.
Phnom: Literally mountain or hill, it is a privileged setting for temples, and later monasteries, due to its sacred and spiritual function.
Preah: "God", or sacred
Ramayana: Famous Hindu epic (Khmer: 'Reamker'); portraying Rama's struggle to find his consort Sita who is captured by the demon Ravana; thanks to the support of the monkey King Hanuman; scenes from this magnificent tale have been widely used in the ornamentation of temples throughout Southeast Asia.
Sampot: Fabric panel worn round the lower half of the body.
Sanskrit: Indo aryen language which extended over South East Asia, it is originally a scholar language reserved for royal or pincely genealogies, or for the panegyric of the monuments' foundations or the pious donators. It ceased to be scholar language used in India and Cambodia when Theravada Buddhism (which privileges the use of pali) became the main religion, starting from the 14th century. Sanskrit, through its diffusion in all the peninsula, vehicled cults and religions from India (Hinduism and Buddhism).
Shiva: One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity, at the same time 'creator and destroyer'; usually mounted on Nandin (sacred bull), he often bears a third eye and a crescent on his chignon; he is symbolized by the shape of the linga.
Srah: "Pool" or artificial pond
Stupa: Buddhist monument of funeral or commemorative nature, often containing relics or cremated remains.
Tcheou Ta Kouan: This Chinese traveler who accompanied his embassy in Angkor in 1296 - 1297, is particularly known for his detailed account of the Angkor temples during Jayavarman VII reign, when the Empire knew its apogee. It is the only testimony we have from this period, which depicts the Khmer capital city and its population from a realistic and lively point of view.
This journal entitled Memories on the customs of Cambodia has been translated in french and published for the first time in the Bulletin de l'Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient in 1902.
Tevoda: or Devata, usually female divinity.
Vat: Wat, or pagoda
Veda: Brahmanic laws
Vishnu: One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity, 'the protector' usually mounted on garuda; he generally has four arms, holding the disc, the conch, the the bowl, and the club; Vishnu has many avatars, such as Krishna.
Yama: The God of Death, or, Justice and the Underworld who judges the dead before they can enter the celestial palaces; usually mounted on a buffalo.
Yoni: Symbol of the feminine vulva; it is a square stone, always associated with the linga at its centre (Shiva); on one side, a channel enables the sacred liquid (water, milk or honey) to flow out.