The importance of the decorative lintel in Khmer art cannot be overstated. Here, more than anywhere else, Khmer artisans were free to display their superb stone-carving skills. Their imaginative depictions of deities, divinities, characters and events from Hindu and Buddhist mythology are recognized as some of the most exquisite art ever created. Early examples date from the seventh century, and as the styles and motifs have evolved over the centuries, experts are able to date lintels by comparing them to known works. The lintels at Wat Phou are listed below.
1 The god Krishna defeats the naga Kaliya In this story from the Bhagavad Purana, Krishna defeats Kaliya, a menacing water serpent that has been terrorizing villagers.
2 The god Vishnu riding the bird-man Garuda Although Vishnu on Garuda was a common theme in Khmer art, images of the two were rarely depicted on lintels.
3 Indra riding Airavata Despite being a Hindu god, Indra holds a significant place in Theravada Buddhist mythology. Until the Lao revolution Airavata, the three-headed elephant, was the official symbol of the Lao monarchy.
4 Indra on Airavata A larger and more detailed depiction of #3.
5 Deity atop Kala Although this deity is very commonly depicted on lintels, it is uncertain just who it is supposed to be. As the deity is holding a mace and sitting in the “royal ease” pose, perhaps it depicts a generic king or ruler.
6 Deity atop Kala (see #5) On the portico above the lintel is what is left of a scene from the Churning of the Sea of Milk myth, a contest between gods and demons for possession of the elixir of immortality. This scene is depicted most spectacularly on the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
7 Krishna killing Kamsa From the Bhagavad Purana, a gruesome depiction of Krishna tearing his uncle in half. According to this myth, it was foretold that King Kamsa’s death would come at the hands of one of his own family members. This prophecy launched the king on an orgy of killing which was only halted when his nephew put him to death.
8 Deity atop Kala (see #5)
9 Deity atop Kala (see #5) On the ruined portico above this lintel are the remains of a depiction of the god Vishnu in his incarnation as Narayana, reclining in cosmic slumber as he floats atop a naga on the waters of a vast primordial ocean.
10 Shiva as a rishi atop Kala Shiva is depicted as a wandering ascetic, perched above Kala.
11 Deity atop Kala (see #5) This lintel has been badly damaged, possibly by looters trying to remove part of the sculpture for the thriving stolen-antiquities trade in Thailand.
12 Deity atop Kala (see #5)