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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Roeung Bororh Buon Neak Rien Sell-sah

Story of

Four Men Studying the Science of Magic

Once upon a time, there were four friends who were studying the science of magic at a school of magic in a country called Taka-Seymar which was very far away from home. They decided to specialise in different subjects involving the following skills: 

  1. Magic in fortune telling
  2. Magic in crossbow shooting
  3. Magic in diving
  4. Magic in resurrecting dead bodies

Five years later, having completed their studies, the four men went to see their teacher, the ‘Tissabamauk Brahman. They prostrated in front of him,  expressed their gratitude and thanks, and bid him farewell. Having packed their belongings and some dried food for the journey, they set out on their way back home together. One day, as it was getting dark, they decided to settle for a night’s rest under a tree by the sea.  The next morning, everyone woke up and was getting ready to continue their journey when the fortune-teller broke the silence by announcing: 

‘My friends, today is going to be our lucky day’, said he with a little smile. Almost at the same time, all of his friends asked with intrigue:

‘Really … Go on tell us what’s happening,’ whilst staring impatiently at him. The fortune-teller replied slowly with a thoughtful expression on his face:

‘There’ll be a giant eagle bringing in its beak a beautiful princess stolen from the ‘Pirean-nasey’ country,’ and he paused …

‘Well … then?’ the three friends urged him on. 

‘… the bird will fly rather low in the sky, not too far away from where we are sitting  …’  whilst saying this, he looked his friends in the eyes one by one, and continued; ‘we must do something to save the princess.’  They all nodded their heads to express agreement. At this idea, they became rather excited at the opportunity to try out their newly acquired skills. 

With great anticipation and excitement, they gazed at the sky in all directions.  Not long afterwards, there appeared a small dot on the horizon. The dot became bigger and bigger and before long they could see a giant eagle with a girl in its beak. The three friends were very impressed that the fortune teller had correctly foreseen the event. As the eagle was coming nearer, they prepared themselves for immediate action – for when their individual skills could be put to the test. 

As soon as the eagle had come within his shooting range, without wasting a single second, the man with the crossbow skill carefully aimed at the eagle and shot at it. As hoped for, he hit the eagle. Having been injured, the eagle could no longer hold on to the princess, and therefore lost its grip and dropped her into the sea.   

As soon as he saw this, the man with the diving skill immediately dived into the sea as fast as he could to try to save the princess. Unfortunately, by the time he found her and brought her out on to the dry land, she was already dead. Without wasting his time, the man with the resurrecting skill began to perform his magic on her body. All the other men were waiting nervously. They were hoping that the resurrecting man had really mastered his skill and would be able to bring the princess back to life. Time passed, and each second seemed like ages … they were waiting and praying … All of a sudden, the princess let out a very faint sound, started to move her beautifully slim fingers, and …. 

‘She’s come back … she’s alive again!’ was the cheerful shout from all the men. They were so happy and extremely pleased with themselves to have carried out something so amazing together. This proved that they all possessed genius talent and skills. 

The euphoria began to die out as they turned their attention to the princess. They could not believe their eyes as to how beautiful the princess was. Each one of them couldn’t help but falling in love with her. After an initial silence, they started to make their thoughts heard to each other. As one could guess, the conversation became intense with everyone claiming their right to become the princess’ husband. The fortune teller began by saying: 

‘She should be my wife because without me none of you would have known anything about her.’

‘Yes … but if I was not good at shooting, the eagle would have got away with her. So, she should be my wife,’ opposed the man with the crossbow skill.

‘Ok … but don’t you remember that, when she was dropped into the sea, it was me who dived in to rescue her? So, l should be allowed to be her husband’ claimed the man with the diving skill.

‘Please be quiet and listen to me,'  said the man with resurrection skill, ' … what all of you have done would not have made any difference if I did not bring her back to life, she would have remained a dead body. So, you must agree that I have ultimately given her new life. Therefore, she should be mine,’ he proudly and confidently announced. 

The dispute went on until eventually, they agreed to take the matter to the royal court of justice. No-one there could resolve it. And so the four men requested an audience with the King who was highly reputed as being very wise and having a supreme sense of justice. 

Upon hearing the full story, the King decided that the princess should become the wife of the man with the diving skill. The decision was made based on the fact that this man had touched, held and carried her body from the deep sea to the dry land. Then, the King turned to the other three friends, who had significantly contributed to giving new life to the princess, and credited each one of them with a special honour during the forthcoming wedding ceremonies:
  1. The fortune teller should be considered and respected by the groom as his mentor or elder
  2. The crossbow man should be considered and respected by the groom as his father
  3. The resurrecting man should be considered and respected by the groom as his mother


Pkar Slar -  Areca Palm Flower

The three friends agreed that the King’s judgement was fair, and therefore happily accepted the honours given to them.  In order that the groom-to-be could demonstrate his gratitude to his three friends, the King had a plan. He ordered that, during his wedding ceremonies to the princess, a formal ritual would have to be performed. And the ritual would be formalized as follows: 

At the couple’s wedding, a ritual called ‘Pkar slar bey(1) literally translated as ‘The three Areca palm flowers’ meaning ‘offering Areca palm flowers to the elders, fathers and mothers to show gratitude’ would take place according to the King’s order. Ever since, this ritual remains one of the many featured in Khmer wedding ceremonies until today.  

(1) This ritual starts with the groom, in a formal procession, carrying the whole Areca palm flower pod to the bride’s house. The master of the ceremony would then divide the flower into three bunches. Each bunch was intended to be given to each of the three men by the groom in a formal ceremony led by the master and accompanied by wedding music. The individual small flowers would then be separated from the stems to be used to sprinkle on the bride and groom (like confetti) during the Ptim Chorng Dey’ or the ‘pairing and tying the knot’ ceremony.

Please note that this ritual is also called ‘Sampaeh Pkar Slar’ or the ‘Areca palm flower symbolising respect and gratitude’ in some parts of Cambodia.