Preah Vihear: An Introduction to the World Heritage Monument

by ​Sachchidanand Sahai

An erudite and intimate study on Preah Vihear and its cliff, "an open air theater for the cosmic dance of Shiva".

Preah Vihear Sahai

Type: paperback

Publisher: Cambodian National Commission for Unesco, with the support of UNESCO Phnom Penh and the National Authority For Preah Vihear

Edition: Courtesy of UNESCO Phnom Penh

Published: September 2009

Author: ​Sachchidanand Sahai

Pages: 215

ISBN: 9789996303005

Language : English

Whether it comes from their natural background, their historic significance or their obvious status of spiritual landmark, there are few places more inspiring than Preah Vihear, the temple-monastery long disputed between Thailand and Cambodia, nowadays recognized as an intrinsic part of the ancient Khmer culture and as a UNESCO World Heritage monument.

The author, a distinguised Sanskritist and Asian art historian, revisits the works by French explorers and archaelogists such as Etienne Aymonier and Henri Parmentier, corrects them when needed, and expands the archaelogical approach to Preah Vihear in order to develop a very well-documented, and profundly intimate vision of the vihear as an open air theatre, background for the cosmogonic performance of Shiva the wandering, non-conforming and pre-historic Yogi”.

His vast knowledge of Indian culture, and of the Khmer apportation to the Shivaist traditions, illuminates the role of the temple in the clouds” within the development of the Angkorean dynasties, and the symbolic, religious high status it has always retained in spite of its apparent remoteness”.

We found particularly fascinating his considerations on one aspect that has always puzzled Western researchers: the intimate relation between ascetism and performing arts. According to him, the mountaintop situation does not only induce to insulation, self-removing from the world: it is an exalted place where cosmic forces can converge.

Notes the author: It is obvious that Shiva dances at the peak of Preah Vihear to destroy the evil forces threatening the Angkor Empire (…) Shiva says of himself: I am the originator, the god abiding in supreme bliss. I, the yogi, dance eternally”.” Shiva Nataraja, or Natakhesvara (kamrateng an ta ram in Khmer) usually translated by the King of Dancers, literally means the Lord of Theatre: Both at Angkor and Preah Vihear, the north Indian version of the ten-armed Shiva was popular.” But above all, he remarks, the Khmers were consummate dancers in the Mekong Valley long before the arrival of Indians in the region. Dance is their intrinsic skill, their second nature.”


Correcting Aymonier’s earlier map, the author remarks the southernmost source of water is not a rectangular man-made basin but a natural cavity collecting water.


All architectural elements are directed toward the centrality of the dancing Shiva, asserts the author.


Tags: Preah Vihear, Suryavarman II, Shiva, ascetism, dance, Shaivism

About the Author


​Sachchidanand Sahai

Sachchidanand Sahai (6 March 1941, Bihar, India) is an Indian epigraphist, scholar and writer who wrote several essays on Angkorean civilization, and served as scientific advisor to the Government of Cambodia for the restoration of Angkor Wat and the Temple of Preah Vihear. His study on the latter temple (2009) helped to secure its inscription on UNESCO World Heritage List.

After studying Indian history, culture and archaeology at Banares Hindu University, Varanasi, he presented his doctoral thesis under the guidance of George Coedes at Sorbonne University in 1969 (Les Institutions politiques et l’organisation administrative du Cambodge ancien). He then taught in Laos (19701972), the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (1988 to 1990), the Epigraphy Department of the Indian Institute of Archaeology, the Department of Ancient Indian and Asian Studies, Magadh University (vice-chancelor 1992 – 2010).

A scientific advisor to the Government of Cambodia, Dr. Sahai published several books on Angkor Thom, the Bayon, Preah Vihear. He is also the author of a five-volume work on the Lao Ramayana (Gvay Dorhabi), the Hindu temples of Southeast Asia, The Mekong River: Space and Social Theory, Pablo Neruda and India, India seen by the Siamese. Since 1976, he is the founder-editor of the South East Asian Review, founded with his late wife, Dr. Sudha Verma.