Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat in Cambodia
the world's largest religious monument built in the 12th century
now a world heritage site
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 throne hall - royale palace
Royal Palace - The Thone Hall

The Origin of Phnom Penh
The Capital City of Cambodia

According to legend, this story took place in 1372 AD. Then, there was an elderly lady called ‘Penh’who was very wealthy. She lived near the bank of a river called Tonle Chaktomuk(‘The Four Faced River’ which is the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Basac, Upper Mekong and Lower Mekong rivers). Her house was built on a small hill above the river. She was known to everyone as ‘Daun Penh’ (Grandma Penh).  Like most of the villagers, she was a devout Buddhist.

One day, it rained torrentially which caused the river to overflow. After the rain had stopped, Daun Penhwent down to the riverside to see if the flood had caused any damage. The first sight that greeted her was a huge Koki tree (Hopea Odirata) floating in the river. Due to the changing currents, the tree did not appear to move away – instead it seemed to stay a fixed distance from the river bank.

Upon seeing that, Daun Penhordered her servant to go and gather a number of strong men from the village to come and help pull the tree up to the bank. Once the tree was securely on the ground, Daun Penhwent round to inspect it. As it was covered with mud resulting from the recovery process, she used a wooden stick to scrape it off. Unexpectedly, she found a hollow in the tree trunk. As she looked closer, she could see the hollow contained four small bronze Buddha statues in a meditating position and a deity statue made of stone. The latter was standing holding a cudgel in one hand and a conch shell (normally used by Brahmin priests) in the other; and his hair was rolled up in a bunch.

Daun Penhand the villagers were very pleased to have found these objects of veneration. They therefore organised an impromptu procession to invite those venerated statues to stay at Daun Penh’s compound where a temporary hut was constructed for them. Meanwhile, Daun Penhordered that a permanent temple and an altar should be built to house these statues.

Due to the highly venerable value given to the Buddha statues, Daun Penhand the villagers decided that they had to be placed higher than everything else in the village. So the villagers got together and created a small mountain on top of which the temple would be built.    

Daun Penhhad the Koki tree trunk sawn into timbers and used as columns for the new temple. She then arranged for it to be covered with thatch made of ‘Sbov Phlang’– a kind of weather-resistant tall grass. Once the temple was finished, Daun Penhand the villagers organised a solemn procession to take the four Buddhist statues to their new home in the temple. They then worshipped the statues and truly believed in them. According to local people, if anyone earnestly prayed or wished for something at that temple, their prayers would be answered and their wishes would come true.

As for the deity statue, Daun Penhhad an altar built for it at the foot of the mountain. This was because Daun Penhbelieved that, from its appearance, it was Laotian in origin and had nothing to do with Buddhism and should not be housed with the other statues. She and the villagers named this statue ‘Neak Ta Preah Chav’(the spirit of Preah Chav) because they were also superstitious and believed in the power of spirits. (That statue too still exists today and is worshipped by many.)

A temple without Buddhist monks was not complete. So, Daun Penhinvited a number of monks to come and live in the temple in order to help the villagers worship the statues. The temple became very well known in the area as ‘Wat Phnom Daun Penh’(Daun Penh’s Mountain Pagoda). The name was eventually shortened to Wat Phnom’ (Mountain Pagoda) and the surrounding area was also shortened from Phnom Daun Penh(Daun Penh’s Mountain) to just ‘Phnom Penh’(Penh’s Mountain).

Around sixty years later, King ‘Preah Bat Ponhea Yat’who reigned over Cambodia at the time decided to leave his Tuol Basanpalace in Kampong Cham province due to recurring floods. He had his new palace built to the southeast of Wat Phnom in 1434 AD and called it ‘Krong Chaktomuk Mongkul’ after the river Chaktomuk. However, four years later, after the King’s death, the Crown Prince, left Phnom Penh palace and built himself a new palace in Chrouy Roluos. The Phnom Penh palace was therefore abandoned though ‘Wat Phnom’remains the worship place for many.  

A few centuries later in 1865 AD, King Norodom, seeing the economic benefits of the Chaktomukriver, decided to relocate to Phnom Penh and built his new palace on the same location as the original palace. Phnom Penhhas been the capital city of Cambodia ever since.