The Devatas of Chau Say Tevoda Temple

The remarkable devatas of a precious temple in Angkor Thom

Chau Say Tevoda ប្រាសាទចៅសាយទេវតា, "prolific grandchildren of a deity", is a fascinating temple just east of Angkor Thom, south of Thommanon across the Victory Way. Built in the mid-12th century, it is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu with unique types of female sculptures of devatas enshrined in it, and includes a central sanctuary, two libraries and four gopura (gateway) structures, one for each cardinal point.

Two of the Khmer civilization’s greatest kings, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also installed the greatest number of sacred female images, or devata, in their temples. The style and unique qualities of the devata at Chao Say Tevoda are remarkable. Thommanon also features prominent devata in fine condition but there are significant stylistic differences in the women populating the two temples. Several distinctive decorative elements of the Chau Say Tevoda devatas, including their crowns, have still to be further studied.

The Buddha images are thought to originate from the reign of Dharanindravarman, Jayavarman VII's father, who ruled from Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. The temple was in a dilapidated state with 4,000 of its elements lying scattered on the embankment and in the Siem Reap River. Many of these elements were used in the restoration work carried out by a Chinese team between 2000 and 2009 under a project sponsored by the People's Republic of China. The temple was reopened in late 2009.

The Chinese restoration project was controversial because they chose to totally reconstruct the temple buildings by including newly fabricated stones. While American and Japanese teams rejected this approach it conformed to UNESCO and ICOMOS guidelines allowing for their use of 2-9% of modern replica stones in heritage reconstruction.