APSARA Glossaries


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.

Banteay: ‘citadel’.

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.

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.

Srei: ‘woman’

Stupa: Buddhist monument of funeral or commemorative nature, often containing relics or cremated remains.

Tevoda: or Devata, usually female divinity.

Thom: ‘big’

Trapeang: ‘pondl’

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 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.

Glossaries: Guide to Angkor, Maurice Glaize, translated by Nils Tremmels


Asrama: Monastery.
Airavata: Elephant, the mount of Indra.
Amitabha: Buddha of the higher spirit, represented on the headdress of bodhisattvas.
Amrita: Elixir of life, from the churning of the ocean.
Ananta: Serpent on which Vishnu reclines on the ocean.
Angkor: City.
Apsaras: Celestial dancers.
Asura: Demon with power equal to that of the gods.
Avatar: Incarnation (or manifestation) of Vishnu.
Avalokitesvara: The compassionate bodhisattva, responding to the idea of Providence, with four arms and carrying the amitabha on his head-dress: attributes; lotus, rosary, bottle and a book.
Balang: Pedestal.
Banteay: Citadel.
Baray: An area of water enclosed within mounds of earth.
Beng: A pool.
Bodhisattva: One in the process of becoming a Buddha.
Buddha: The Sage who has achieved ultimate wisdom.
Brahma: One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity - the creator,
generally with 4 faces, mounted on the Hamsa (goose or sacred bird).
Cham: The inhabitants of Champa, kingdom of the Hindu civilisation on the coast of what is now Vietnam, earlier than the Annamites.
Chedi or Stupa: A funerary or commemorative monument usually containing the remains of incineration.
Chenla: Of water and earth, ancient Chinese name for Cambodia.
Damrei: Elephant.
Deva: A god.
Devaraja or god king: The essence of Royalty, supposed to reside in the royal linga.
Devata: Feminine divinity.
Dharmasala: House of fire or shelter for pilgrims.
Dhyana-mudra: Meditative posture of the Buddha (with hands crossed in the lap).
Durga: One of the wives of Shiva.
Dvarapala: A guardian of the temple (deva or asura).
Ficus religiosa: Sacred tree (Buddhist religion).
Funan: The Chinese name of an ancient Indo-Chinese empire preceding the kingdom of Cambodia.
Gajasimha: Lion with a snout.
Ganesha: Son of Shiva, god with the head of an Elephant.
Ganga: One of the wives of Shiva (goddess of the Ganges).
Garuda: Divine bird with a human body, enemy of the nagas and the mount of Vishnu.
Gopura: Entry pavilion to the various temple enclosures.
Guru: Master.
Hamsa: Sacred bird, the mount of Brahma.
Hanuman: The white monkey. Chief of the army of monkeys.
Harihara: A god unifying in the same figure Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva).
Hayagriva: Secondary god of the family of Shiva, represented with the head of a horse.
Hinayana: Or small vehicle - a Buddhist sect.
Ishvara: One of the names of Shiva.
Indra: Brahmanic god, master of thunder and lightning; his
mount is Airavana the elephant (usually three-headed) and his attribute, the thunderbolt.
Kailasa: One of the mountain peaks of the Himalaya where Shiva resides.
Kala: The head of a monster, supposed to represent one aspect of Shiva.
Kali: One of the names of the sakti of Shiva.
Kama: The god of love.
Ko: Ox.
Kompong: A port or village by the water.
Krishna: Manifestation of Vishnu.
Kubera: The god of wealth, dwarfed and deformed, mounted on a Yaksha or a rat.
Lakshmana: Brother of Rama (from the Ramayana).
Lakshmi: The wife or sakti of Vishnu.
Lanka: The island of Ceylon, home of the rakshasas.
Linga: Phallic symbol, one of the forms of Shiva.
Lokapala: Guardian of one of the four cardinal points.
Lokitesvara: Other name for Avalokitesvara, the compassionate bodhisattva.
Mahabharata: Grand Hindu epic.
Mahayana or Large Vehcle: A Buddhist sect.
Maitreya: Future Buddha (a sort of Messiah).
Makara: Sea monster with the head of an elephant, who, in ornamentation, often disgorges the naga.
Mara: Evil spirit who tempts the Buddha.
Men: A light pavilion used for incineration.
Meru: Mountain, centre of the world and residence of the gods.
Mucilinda: Naga sheltering Buddha in meditation.
Mudras: Symbolic gesture of gods or Buddha.
Mukhalinga: A linga adorned with a face.
Mukuta or Mokot: The conical head-dress worn behind the diadem.
Naga: Stylisation of the Cobra - a mythical serpent, usually multi-headed. Genie of the waters who shelters the Buddha in
meditation with his fanned heads.
Nagaraja: King of the Nagas.
Nagi: Female naga.
Nandin: Sacred bull, the mount of Shiva.
Narasimha: The God Vishnu, with the lower part in human form and the head of a lion.
Neakta: Popular local spirit, or the shelter that contains it.
Nirvana: The ultimate enlightenment and the supreme Buddhist objective.
Pala: Dynasty ruling in Bihar and Bengal between about AD 750 and 1196.
Parinirvana: The entry of the Buddha to enlightenment, the pose of the statues of the reclining Buddha.
Parvati: Wife or sakti of Shiva.
Peshani: Millstone intended for grinding.
Phnom: Mountain.
Phtel: Bowl.
Pradakshina: A circumambulation ritual always keeping the monument to the right.
Prajnaparamita: The mystical mother of the Buddhas, symbol of wisdom.
Prasat: Sanctuary in the form of a tower.
Prasavya: Circumambulation funerary ritual, in the opposite manner to the pradakshina.
Preah: Saint, sacred.
Preah patima: A metal leaf stamped with the image of the Buddha.
Prei: Forest.
Pourana: Historical Indian legend.
Puri: Town.
Rahu: Head of the monster demon of eclipses.
Rakshasa: Inferior demon joining with the asuras against the devas.
Rakshasi: Feminine form of rakshasa.
Rama: A manifestation of Vishnu (Ramayana).
Ramayana: Grand Hindu epic, the history of Rama and of Sita.
Rati: The wife of Kama, god of love.
Ravana: King of the rakshasas, with multiple heads and arms.
Rishi: Brahman ascetic.
Sarasvati: Wife of Brahma, goddess of eloquence.
Sarong: A length of cloth wrapped around the lower body.
Seima: Steles (inscribed stones) placed on the axes and corners of Buddhist terraces to define the sacred platform.
Seng: Lion.
Saka: The Indian era the most commonly used in the
inscriptions, preceding the Christian era by 78 years.
Sakra: The wheel of the Buddha, signifying immortality and power.
Sakti: The wife or feminine energy of the Hindu gods.
Shiva: One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity - the creator and
destroyer, mounted on Nandin (the sacred bull), generally with a third frontal eye and a crescent on the chignon, worshipped in the form of the linga.
Sri: Sakti of the god Vishnu (or Lakshmi).
Sita: Wife of Rama (Ramayana).
Skanda: God of war, son of Shiva, mounted on a peacock or on a rhinoceros.
Snanadroni: An ablution slab with a beak, always orientated to the north, placed on the pedestal of the idols for the flow of lustral water.
Somasutra: Channel for the evacuation of lustral water out of the sanctuary.
Sras: Pool.
Srei: Woman.
Stupa: Or chedi, a funerary or commemorative monument usually containing the remains of incineration.
Sugriva: King of the monkeys, dethroned by his brother Valin and ally of Rama (Ramayana).
Surya: God of the sun, haloed with a ring of light and mounted on a horse-drawn chariot.
Tandava: Dance of Shiva separating the cosmic periods of the creation and destruction of the worlds.
Tantrism: Buddhist sect from the Mahayana.
Tara: Feminine energy of Lokesvara, similar to the Prajnaparamita.
Tevoda: Or devata, a feminine divinity.
Thom: Large.
Trapeang: Pond.
Tricula: Trident, the weapon of Shiva.
Trimurti: Brahmanic trinity (Shiva between Vishnu and Brahma).
Tripitaka: Sacred Buddhist texts.
Uma: Wife or sakti of Shiva.
Ushnisha: Protuberance from the skull crowning the head of Buddha.
Vajra: Thunderbolt, the attribute of Indra.
Valin: King of the monkeys, brother of Sugriva and overcome by him with the help of Rama (Ramayana).
Varaha: Manifestation of Vishnu (wild boar).
Vasuki: The serpent in the churning of the Ocean.
Vat or Wat: Temple.
Veda: Brahman rules.
Vihara: Monastery.
Vishvakarman: The divine architect, son of Shiva.
Vishnu: One of the gods of the Brahmanic trinity - the protector. His mount is Garuda and he generally has four arms that hold a disk, a conch, a ball and a club. Numerous manifestations.
Wat or Vat: Temple.
Yama: God of death and the supreme judge, mounted on a buffalo.
Yakshas or Yeaks: Genie of good or evil.

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