Wat Damnak Center for Khmer studies library – A library in a Buddhist oasis

Written by Rut Costa Fornaguera

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Located at the east side of the river Siem Reap in Cambodia, Wat Damnak is a peaceful Khmer microcosmos. It houses the largest pagoda in downtown, a primary school, two charities, a sewing academy for young local women and the Center for Khmer Studies. During the reign of King Sisowath (1904–1927) it was a royal palace and became a military depot for Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

Wat Damnak Pagoda is a quiet place with a pond, frangipani trees, Buddhist sculptures, quote signs and Khmer style buildings. A retreat from the hustle and bustle of the town where you can also interact with monks and get to know about Buddhism.

As a complement to deepen into Khmer culture you can visit the Center for Khmer Studies library (CKS) managed by an international Research Consortium and integrated to the temple complex at Wat Bo Road. The second largest public academic library in the country outside Phnom Pehn was created in 2010. It has over 20.000 documents including books, journals, encyclopedias, maps, guidebooks and daily national newspapers in English, French and Khmer languages.

Main entrance at CKS Library

The CKS is a pink building with plain columns and capitals decorated with floral motifs.  A detailed carved pediment shows Apsara dancers surrounded by two naga (the multi-headed king cobra from the Hindu and Buddhist mythology), lotus flowers and other symbolic details like the chatra (umbrella). Before entering you should take your shoes off, an extended practice in South Asia when visiting temples or sacred sites.

Detail of the carved pediment at CKS library

The library is a rectangular-shaped building with one room. Natural light is abundant thanks to the large quantity of windows. The front desk is at the entrance, long tables and shelves are distributed on each side. On your right hand side a big mural of the Pure Land is exposed.  On your left you can find tablets with an app donated by Bophana Foundation explaining the history of Khmer Rouge. In addition, you can have access to a multimedia station to listen Khmer music or watch videos. A variety of local and foreigners visit the library, including monks, children, researchers and tourists. It is not allowed to borrow materials from the library unless you have a special purpose and permission. The schedule is from 8.30 am to 12 pm and from 1.30 pm to 5.15 pm and it is closed on Sundays. Free Wifi.

Mural depicting the Bodhi tree and the Pure Land

A quiet and respectful study environment at the library. From the terrace you can see a white rectangular-shaped building that is the section housing the Center of Khmer Studies office, the Collection Room with its Rare Book Room and a private Study Room. Thanks to Sivleng, the research librarian, I had a tour and I signed the book of visits.

The Collection Room includes mainly journals, history and culture books about South Asia and Mekong area, dictionaries and newspapers. A small room called The Rare Book Room includes over 300 ancient and fragile books donated by the French mission Pavie. All of them are in French or English and related to history and culture during French Indochina colonization. The Study Section is a small private room to study or research.

View of the CKS headquarter building from the library terrace

Rare Book Room at the Collection Room

Residents reading outside at the porch or under the straw umbrella.

The library promotes educational, research programs and a catalogue online. Last but not least, you can buy a book from the book sales table or contribute with a donation at the box next to the exit door. After filling your soul with books and history you can explore the picturesque Wat Bo area full of street vendors, convenience stores, coffee shops, the Hard Rock Cafe or hotels with swimming pool to fill your body.

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