Located in the centre of the, now dry, East Baray (the Yashodharatataka built by Yashovarman I), the intrepid traveller Helen Churchill Candee imagined how the temple must have looked when the baray (reservoir) was full:
“Could any conception be lovelier, a vast expanse of sky-tinted water as wetting for a perfectly ordered temple.”
East Mebon has the trademark Angkorquincunx-tower arrangement and temple-mountain profile (see below), yet maintains traditional Indian-inspired square-plan sanctuaries. It stands on the cusp of an entirely unique Khmer style that would begin fifty years later, at the very start of the 11th century CE.
East Mebon has a pyramid structure consisting of three tiers. Guarding the corners of the first and second levels are beautifully sculpted elephants (the best one is in the southeast corner).
The upper terrace contains the five towers, the northwest tower features Ganesha riding his own trunk; the southeast tower shows an elephant being eaten by a monster and the central sanctuary’s lintels depict Indra on his mount and Varuna the guardian.
The East Mebon and Pre Rup Temple were the last monuments in plaster and brick; they mark the end of a Khmer architectural epoch. The overall temple construction utilises all materials that were available at the time: plaster, brick, laterite and sandstone.
Although many believe East Mebon to be a temple-mountain, that wasn’t its original intention, it just appears that way now that surrounding waters have disappeared. Instead, it was built on elevated ground that was an island in the middle of the East Baray. This island-temple reinforced the symbolic purpose of the baray in Khmer religious life, representing the seas of creation that surround Mount Meru, represented by East Mebon, home of the Hindu gods.