Landmarks in Asia
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If you are observant enough, you may find names of "Phnom Penh" & Wat "Phnom" share some common words. Yes. The capital city's name of Phnom Penh is more or less interrelates with a small hill-top Cambodian temple of Wat Phnom with "Wat Phnom Daun Penh" in its full name. Wat means temple (as with the Thai), Phnom, in native Khmer is equivalent to a "hill"; so, most people referred it as hilltop temple or a temple on the hill. The temple's location on this greenery hill is also the highest spot in the capital city but the hill was a actually a man-made formation. The legend said a wealthy widow lady whom the local affectionately referred her as Grandma (or Madam) Daun Penh who was settled on a high land at the west river bank of Sap River had uncovered four bronze and one stone Buddha statues inside a hole of a floating big koki tree down from upstream which hit her compound during high flooding season; in respect of the her belief, she thought it was a good omen and has decided Lord Buddha should be placed over the ordinary, hence, she ordered her people tp piled up earth to create a man-made hill and used the original Koki tree trunk to construct a small temple on top to house the discovered Buddha statues and that was how the original shrine was constructed. As local historians can trace with the source, this event could probably be happened in the year 1372 which it is now 633 years old (2005 A.D.). Besides, she has a also built a hut at northeast section to keep another Preah Chao image as a guardian of the spirit. Yes, it was also occurred long before Khmer King Ponhea Yat came and made the capital city as his new kingdom where Angkor Thom being invaded by the Thai in and around year between 1422/1431 (his first selection was Srey Santhor but moved on a year later to Phnom Pehn). The Khmer King reign had contributed 73 years of city reconstruction from 1432-1505. And during his reign, many Pagodas have been built, like Preah Puth Meanbon Pagoda, Wat Preah Puth Khosa, Wat Koh , Wat Khpop Ta Yang, Wat PeamPhlong , Wat Thoam Langka etc. Prior to that, Phnom Penh was called "Chaturmukha" * (longer version is like “Krong Chaktomuk Mongkul Sakal Kampuchear Thipadey Sereythor Bovor Inthabath Borey Rath Reach Seima Moha Nokor”), a name deprived from its strategic location at a cross section between the three Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers. The famous Cambodian temple has been improved during this stage where it went through a process of reconstruction expansion and bank up the hill higher some bronze Buddha statues which was from Angkor was added too. King Ponhea Yat probably creatively merging names of this transitional capital city from a mix of two words between the hill (Phnom) and its creator (Madam Penh). King Ponhea Yat, after relocating his capital here, Buddhism was deep rooted in the country then, the Khmer King wishful thought in using religion to unite his followers and relating the floating Buddha as a good omen which may protect his people from hostile neighbors and provide a shield on his political life. So, more or less, the significant of this Wat Phnom is, it is like the founding place of the City of Phnom Penh.
The hill is not very high up, probably measuring 20-30 metres from the general flat land or sea level of Phnom Penh city. Over the years, records shown from various sources stating the shrine has been rebuilt many times until up to its current state (some references I got from a local friend who claimed these re-construction probably could have happened between the years of 1434, 1806, 1894 & 1926). Behind the temple is a large royal Stupa which can be seen from a far from many other parts of the city; the people I talked to said it was built by his first son, H M Chao Ponhea Yat to keep the ashes of King Ponhea Yat who died in 1467. With years that followed, Chaktomuk City has once been abandoned as the capital due to frequent change of the Royal Palaces as well as power struggle for reign; so, it actually involves other cities such as Tuol Buol Basan, Pursat, Lungvek, Lavear Em, Udong, etc. under the reign of King Norodom I, Phnom Penh was eventually being officially reinstated as capital city again from Udong City during this period (1865 A.D.), that was when the great current Royal Palace was first molding in its early construction). The official announcement in this term of King Norodom I also indirectly marked the transformation for Krong Chaktomuk (City of Four-Faced Directions* - another Khmer word for old city of Phnom Penh) from a place of human settlement to a great ancient city in the making. Today, between the shrine and the Stupa of Wat Phnom still locates an altar for Yeay Penh ("grandmother Penh or Madam Penh"). Next to it, at lower section is another shrine probably constructed at later stages which was dedicated to a figure named "Prah Chao" - it comes with a heavy flavor of Chinese temple-style statues and houese many traditional decorative legendary personalities.
* Chaturmukha; a word probably deprived from Indian religious origin. For an example, Chaturmukha Brahma, is a small FOUR FACED metal-cast represents Lord Brahma, the Creator of the universe and one of the great God-trio of Hindu pantheon,
The stairway leads to Wat Phnom on top of the hill is flanked by 5 pairs of Naga (snake/dragon) and Chinthe (Singa or lion) - a popular image form often used on balustrades of temple causeways and platforms. A wall and another figure depicts ancient story lines of war and battles (click for enlarged detailed view(s)).
There is a huge active ground-clock clicking on and illuminated at night and above it stood a monument of Khmer King Ponhea Yat. The lush greenery surrounding the Pagoda behind and walking path has become one of Phnom Penh's landmarks and weekend go-ers.
Yeay Penh or Mdm Penh - the creator of this landmark and a legendary figure where locals worship her as symbol figure for wealth, prosperity and protection. It is particularly favored by the female worshippers to this shrine who may sort for advice, direction on personal matters and other matters.
I provide another full-scale view of the much admired Madam Penh to let you observe the local practice in how to prepare various elements for worshipping the figure. Note the digital clock which keeps clicking on for the time and Buddhist calendar year. With the wish of petitioner is fulfilled, thank giving gifts like coconuts, rice and fruits will be served to repay the mercies of Madam Penh.
The little side-temple which host the primary Prah Chao figure, I was told the original was a hut and was installed by Madam Penh as guidance of spirit. It was probably a popular religious personality worships by the Vietnamese. So, it actually hosts both representation of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. The CD that I archived the photos went corrupted with many files, some of them are the internal views of this temples to show the various forms of images. Too bad ...
The black-bodied three lions (or leopards ?) is another popular spiritual spot for local to perform family matters (mainly protection from evil and intrusions by others). One popular mean is to feed the leopard with eggs. I witnessed a even of spiritual ceremony where you can also ask the temple's assistant to perform the task for you. The black leopard (still wondering was it a leopard..) has a green crystal in its eyes.
This landmark, along with the riverside is one of the most popular spot for locals. Admission are free - except for foreigner where USD1-00-00 is charged. Around the site is full of constant activities as it is also a roundabout with a steady stream of traffic flows. Cameramen offer their services for visitors as well as elephant rides are available. Wat Phnom is the busiest pagoda in town during New Year's Eve for locals of Chinese and Vietnamese origin.
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