The Terrace of the Leper King, or Preah Ponlea Sdach Komlong, holds an important place in the rich historical tapestry of Cambodia. Located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square within the larger Angkor Thom complex, this enigmatic structure is part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that spans over 400 square kilometers.
The Terrace of the Leper King was constructed in the late 12th century under the reign of Jayavarman VII, one of the most prolific builders among the Khmer kings. The terrace is named after a statue found on top of it, which was wrongly identified as a ‘leper king’ due to its discoloration and moss growth that resembled leprosy. However, this statue is more likely to represent Yama, the Hindu god of death.
The terrace itself is an intriguing structure made entirely of finely carved sandstone. Its exterior walls are adorned with intricate bas-reliefs depicting mythological scenes and historical events. Uniquely, there is a hidden inner wall with similar bas-reliefs, a feature not found elsewhere in Angkor. The walls form a narrow passageway that allows visitors to explore this hidden gem in detail.
The Terrace of the Leper King is more than just a historical monument; it’s a testament to the architectural prowess and artistic creativity of the Khmer Empire. The complex bas-reliefs are not only visually stunning but also provide invaluable insights into the social and political life of the Khmer period. They depict scenes from daily life, royal ceremonies, wars, and mythological tales, serving as a window into Cambodia’s glorious past.
Despite its name, there is no evidence to suggest that any Khmer king had leprosy or that the terrace was built in honor of a ‘leper king.’ The origins of this name are shrouded in mystery and folklore. One popular legend suggests that it was named after King Yasovarman I, who supposedly had leprosy. Another theory posits that the ‘leper king’ refers to a character from an ancient Javanese epic who was cursed with leprosy.
The history of the Terrace of the Leper King is complex and multifaceted, echoing the cultural richness and depth of the Khmer Empire. Today, it continues to captivate visitors with its detailed carvings and mysterious aura. As part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, the Terrace of the Leper King allows us to delve into Cambodia’s past and experience a piece of its ancient heritage. It stands as a silent yet poignant reminder of the grandeur and sophistication of the Khmer civilization.