Kbal Spean – the river of a thousand lingas

Kbal Spean – the river of a thousand lingas

Kbal Spean (better known as the “River of a Thousand Lingas”) is a very special relief located in the bedrock of the Stung Kbal Spean stream, which occupies only a few centimeters of water height above the artworks, washing around them, so to speak, causing a very special appearance

Ansicht des oberen Teils von Kbal Spean mit Shiva Lingas und reichlichen Verzierungen

(Shiva) Lingas and patterns washed by water

The site is located not far from Siem Reap and is one of the sights of Angkor. Banteay Srei is located on the way to Kbal Spean and can be easily included in a trip there.

In the 11th century under the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, the first boulders were worked. Here it was mainly the hermits who had settled around the stream who chiseled the reliefs (this being part of their rituals to worship the river and its waters). Kbal Spean was rediscovered in the 1960s and has been open to visitors since the 1990s (in previous years, the area still contained many landmines from the Cambodian Civil War, so it was not safe to visit). During the Khmer Rouge dictatorship, the area served as a secret retreat for the ruling communists. The peculiarity of the representations (as reliefs under a stream) is partly one of the reasons why UNESCO has included the works on its World Heritage waiting list since 1992.

The surface of the stream is continuously designed with the representation of thousands of lingas, symbolizing fertility and creation, but also the destructive power of Shiva’s deity. The place in itself is one of the sacred sites of Buddhism in Cambodia. According to the transmissions, the Khmer also believed that drinking the stream water would lead to lifelong joy and happiness. The site is well protected in the Cambodian jungle, which contributes to a mystical atmosphere that captivates visitors and makes the origin story of the artwork tangible in its legendary nature. Other representations can also be found here.

Visiting Kbal Spean is definitely a unique experience for tourists, but due to the rather impassable and steep way there, untrained visitors should refrain from it. Furthermore, it is recommended to take an experienced guide with you, as the signage on the way can often be a bit misleading and it is good to avoid the risk of accidentally getting lost in the Cambodian rainforest. However, as one of the early relief collections of the Khmer Empire, the archaeological and cultural significance of the site is undeniable and should therefore be on the visit list of anyone who dares to make the journey.