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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - China, love and Oedipus at Wat Norkor Bachay

China, love and Oedipus at Wat Norkor Bachay


Incest, filial duty and the loneliness of exile are the themes of popular folk beliefs

surrounding Wat Norkor Bachay, located along Route 7 in Kampong Cham.

In the an-nals of Khmer legend, the temple was built by a prince named Preah Bath

Ba-chay Bachas.

When Bach-as' son was four years old, he was dispatched to the imperial Chinese court

to be educated in the arts of combat and statesmanship.

The ancient portals of Wat Norkor Bachay, on Route 7 in Kampong Cham province, attract Chinese visitors.

Unbeknownst to the son, two years into his Chinese training his father was taken

ill and died. The succeeding prince abandoned the temple built by Bachas and relocated

to an area untainted with the memory of his predecessor.

When the son eventually learned of his father's death and the dereliction of the

family temple, he made plans to return to Cambodia.

Anxious not to lose an apt student and potential valuable pawn in the machinations

of empire, the Chinese officials overseeing the boy's education misled him into believing

that it was unsafe or outright impossible to ever return to Cambodia.

By his early thirties Bachas' son had risen to a position of a valued adviser of

the Chinese emperor, and had bestowed on him the honorific "San Bau Kong"

(Man of Three Doctorates).

But the memories of his homeland and the family he left behind there haunted the

son, prompting him to eventually flee China to return to Cambodia.

Returning to his home village, the son hid his identity from the people for fear

of being seen as a threat to the area's new prince. Taking the name "Prom",

he took shelter with a kindly woman in her fifties, whose beauty and passion led

him to marry her in spite of her age.

Shortly after their marriage, Prom's wife confessed to him that she was the widow

of the realm's previous prince, with a son who decades before had been sent away

to China.

Realizing to his horror that he had married his own mother, Prom revealed his true

identity and begged her forgiveness for his sinful deception.

Neang Pov, Prom's mother stupa, at Wat Norkor Bachay.

Prom's wife/mother then instructed him to build twin, opposing stupas in the compound

of his father's Norkay Bachay temple to store their remains after their deaths in

order to minimize the potential damage their incestuous relationship had incurred

on their respective karmas.

Years after their deaths, emissaries of the Chinese emperor arrived at the temple

in search of their long-lost expatriate advisor. When informed of his death, the

emissaries had the honorific title "San Bau Kong" inscribed in the wall

of the temple as a tribute to their errant charge.

Popular with Chinese

The inscription remains in the wall to this day, and has made the temple a popular

destination for ethnic Chinese who make daily offerings there.

Regular temple-goers credit the temple spirits with answering prayers for assistance

in matters ranging from financial matters to fertility problems.

"My business is going very well," a temple regular told the Post of the

positive results of her offerings of fruit and incense. "I come to pray here

very often especially when my business has a problem."

Her sentiment was echoed by Ngoun Koth, 66, a member of the Wat Norkor Bachay, who

added that the temple spirits could be counted on to deliver on prayers "in

up to 90% of cases".

Sadly, like other ancient temples in the Kingdom, Norkor Bachay has also been victim

to artefact plunder and unalleviated structural deterioration.

 

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