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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Phnom Chiso temple built for a Brahmin priest

Phnom Chiso temple built for a Brahmin priest

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Drive 50 kilometers south on National Route 2 and you will see a mountain not

far from the town of Takeo. After another five kilometers along a dirt road that

trails through tiny villages and the country's ubiquitous rice fields, you

arrive at Phnom Chiso.

The ruins of Phnom Chiso temple are now an important Takeo tourist attraction.

This legend refers to King Sorya Te Ves, who

built the temple on the edge of Chiso mountain near Tonle Oum in the middle of

Sen Phou Vang forest. It concerns an unusual blessing the king's son received

from a Brahmin priest on the boy's birthday.

At the celebration, many

guests stood and delivered their respects and wishes to the young boy. The last

guest to bless the child was a Brahmin priest, who bestowed three unusual

blessings: first, he wished the boy would have the power of an ant, second the

effectiveness of a ghost, and third the passion of a woman.

His speech

angered the king, but he decided to allow the priest to explain his

words.

To explain the first blessing, the Brahmin ordered the king's

subjects to sculpt from metal a life-size statue of a human. He told each of the

king's citizens to try

and lift the statue, which none could do. Then he

ordered one man to cut an ant-sized fragment from a metal needle. He coated the

fragment with honey, and the people watched in admiration as an ant carried it

away.

To explain the second blessing, said the priest, required seven

bodies: the first, a woman who had died in childbirth, the second a snakebite

victim, the third from stabbing wounds, the fourth gored by a buffalo, a fifth

who had drowned, a sixth who had been hanged, and the last who had been struck

by lightning.

He instructed the people to bury the seven bodies with

valuable objects to see if anyone would defy the ghosts of the dead to steal

what was with them. None dared go near the site, proving the effective power of

the ghosts.

To explain the last blessing, the priest called on a poor

couple. He asked the man if he would kill his wife in exchange for great wealth,

but the man refused. Next, he told the woman he would marry her and make her

rich if she would kill her husband. She returned the following day agreeing to

do so, saying that as her husband was too poor to take care of her, she would do

what was necessary.

The king was so impressed with the priest's

explanations that he appointed him Preah Krou (Royal Master) to his son. The

Brahmin then asked the king to build a meditation spot for him on the top of the

mountain. That is the present-day Chiso temple. The temple's linga and yoni

statues covered by cloth remain, surrounded by an ageing walled compound.

 

So much for the legend: according to the history books, the temple was built

by King Sorayak Varaman I between 1002 and 1049. Much of Phnom Chiso temple was

destroyed by bombs during the Lon Nol regime (1970 - 1975).

The caretaker of the temple, 67-year-old layman Nop Kong, who lives nearby,

said that during the war the area was shelled for three days and two nights

after reports that Viet Cong soldiers were hiding there. Although two bombs came

through the roof landing in the center of the temple, neither exploded.

The temple committee has restored the old pagodas, built new ones, and

cut back encroaching vegetation to protect the stonework.

The temple is now one of the most popular tourist sites in the area.

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