Jayavarman VII's 'Resthouse Temples'

by Mitch Hendrickson

'People Around the Houses with Fire: Archaeological Investigation of Settlements Around the Jayavarman VII 'Resthouse' Temples'


Publication: University of Sydney. Abstracts in Khmer and French

Published: 2008

Author: Mitch Hendrickson

Pages: 17

Language : English

Recent researches on the 'dharmasala' buildings give us a better understanding of their social and religious functions.

On the main Angkorean roads (to Phimai -- northwestbound --, to Kompong Svay -- eastbound -- and to Laos-- northeastbound --), it has now been agreed that "fire shrines" or 'resthouse temples' were established and spaced along the way at regular interval, precisely 14.8 or 16.1 km depending on the orientation of the fareways.

After discussing previous interpretations, the author summarizes the latest findings by writing that "discovery of occupation, water storage and production centres demonstrates that fire shrines are not isolated temples ignored by travellers and pilgrims on their travels to and from Angkor. The fire shrines represent the most visible feature of a greater complex within the Angkorian landscape (...) Further work will no doubt shed more light on the important religious, political, economic and social roles that these buildings played in Angkorian society."

Other remarks in the study:

  • 'Evidence of “resting places” associated with the Cambodian transport system is commonly found from the Angkorian period to the modern day. During the dry season watering locations and shelter are an essential part of facilitating regional communication and are repeatedly mentioned in historic records. The late 13th century account of Zhou Daguan mentioned the presence of samnak (rest stops). While he does not actually describe the Jayavarman VII era structures, he compares them to Chinese post halts found along their main highways. Six centuries later, European explorers repeatedly refer to rest stops or salas during their travels through Cambodia. Bastian, for instance, records staying at wooden salas variably located beside ponds, rivers, monasteries or outside villages. Mouhot commented on the frequency of royal ‘stations’ spaced approximately 20 km apart for the king on the route between Kampot and Udong. Albrecht’s survey along one of the Southeast roads refers to a local tradition that the Southeast road from Angkor had a series of étapes d’éléphant (elephant stops) marked by a monument. Unfortunately, no trace of these buildings remains as locals informed Albrecht that the Thai destroyed these edifices during their control over the region." [1}
  • The regular spacing between the fire shrines not only provides evidence that they served a practical purpose but indicates how far people travelled in the Angkorian past. Groslier suggested that 25 km was an average distance per day; based on the data calculated here travel along the roads appears to be slightly longer at 30 km, with the fire shrines acting as midday and evening halts, or substantially shorter at 15-16 km. If we assume the former distance is a better correlate the real-time trip between Beng Mealea and Preah Khan of Kompong Svay would be approximately two to three days. Excluding the time required to travel up/down the Dangrek Range it would take four to five days to reach the escarpment from Angkor and a further four and a half to five and a half days to reach Phimai."

[1] Albrecht, M. 1905. « Reconnaissance de l’ancienne chaussée khmère ». Bulletin de la Societé des Études Indochinoises, Saigon: 3-17.

Main photo: a fire shrine at Preah Khan near Angkor.

Tags: royal roads, transportation, dharmasala, fire worship, fire shrines, Jayavarman VII

About the Author

Mitch Hendrickson

Mitch Hendrickson

Associate Professor at the UIC-Department of Anthropology (Chicago, USA), researcher at the Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney, Australia, Mitch Hendrickson is a landscape archeologist active on various Angkorean sites.

He is the Director of Industries of Angkor Project, Co-Director of the Two Buddhist Towers Project and the Iron and Angkor Project.