NEAK TA KHLAING MEOUNG
A hopeful lottery player paws the Khmer warrior's likeness for luck.
BAKAN, Pursat - A middle-aged woman and three youngsters pray to a gold statue of
Neak Ta Khlaing Meoung, asking the 500-year-old spirit who is believed to reside
in the ancient Khmer warrior's likeness for winning lottery numbers.
They pour powder onto their hands and caress the pockets of Neak Ta Khlaing Meoung's
statue, hoping the winning numbers will magically appear on their palms.
"Look more closely," one urges.
"It looks like number 2," another says uncertainly.
"I see number 5."
"Lok Ta, your children are very poor. Give us some money," they beg. "Lok
Ta's pocket is full [with money], but you don't drop any."
"There, you see! It's still 51."
"Hey, Lok Ta gave us too many numbers."
These four aren't the only ones who have come to ask for help from Neak Ta Khlaing
Moeung, whose statue in this district 5km west of Pursat town is now attracting vote
seekers as well as fortune seekers.
Local villagers say that virtually all of Pursat's 28 candidates - plus some party
leaders and candidates from other areas - have visited the 16th-century shrine to
the Khmer hero who martyred himself during a Siamese invasion.
Party leaders Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Sam Rainsy, Pen Sovann and Bour Hel have
all made personal appearances. CPP candidate Suy Sem, Reastr Niyum candidate Chea
Peng Chheang and a representative of the Buddhist Liberal Party President Ieng Mouly
also came to light incense sticks for Neak Ta Khlaing Meoung and to pray for rain,
peace and, secretly, for help to win the elections.
In 1502 under the reign of King Chan Raja there was a Khmer warrior named Moeung
who fearlessly fought against Siam, according to the Khmer-language book "The
Tale of Ancient History".
Unable to bear Siamese colonial dominance, the Khmer king ordered his men to kill
the Siamese king's son who was controlling Cambodia. The Siamese king found out and
sent troops to arrest King Chan Raja and his court. But Chan Raja's lady-in-waiting,
Pen, escaped with army chief Moeung, his wife and four children.
The Siamese prepared a massive attack. Chan Raja's son, Prince Chey Ahcha, had neither
enough troops nor weapons to fight them.
"Can you think of any tactics to win?" Chey Ahcha asked his men.
After a moment's silence, Meoung came up with an odd plan: to recruit a ghost army.
He ordered his men to dig a grave 4 meters deep and to plant spears and swords at
"Please use every effort in this battle to liberate Cambodia from the enemy,"
he told his troops. "If within seven days after I die you hear a thunder-like
cheering, we will win."
Upon that Moeung jumped into the grave and impaled himself. His wife and two sons
followed, killing themselves too.
Exactly seven days later, the cheering of the ghost army came from every direction
as Chey Ahcha's army advanced to stop the invading Siamese troops near Battambang.
"The ghost army went to the front to display their might and made the Siamese
troops dizzy, gave them stomach aches and made them vomit," the book says. "Chey
Ahcha's army killed all the Siamese soldiers."
After victory Chey Ahcha was crowned King Preah Chey Chehsda of Cambodia. He ordered
a ceremony to commemorate the spirit of his army chief, who earned the title "Neak
Ta Khlaing Moeung". The people in Pursat have repeated the ceremony every year
Locals believe that the spirit of Neak Ta Khlaing Moeung will give them everything
they pray for.
"We ask for rain, peace and investment so that the country can be developed,"
says Se Man, the 60-year-old caretaker of the shrine.
PRAYER BEFORE THE PLUNGE
Fabled army chief Moeung prepares to impale himself on spears and swords at the
bottom of a pit. His spirit is said to have raised a ghost army to defeat the Siamese.
People from everywhere and all walks of life visit him and pray for godly gifts.
Some pray that they recover from illness, others ask for winning lottery numbers.
"If you have luck he will give you the exact number," says Bun Phal, 44,
a local farmer.
According to the villagers, a Phnom Penh businesswoman named Sarameth won the lottery
with the numbers given to her by Neak Ta Khlaing Meoung earlier this year.
Sarameth was actually praying that her sick husband recover from a three-year illness,
they say. A year later the sick man could stand on his feet again.
Sarameth prepared a thanksgiving ceremony for Moeung's spirit in return, the villagers
say. During the ceremony Sarameth was given the number "7" - which she
bet on in a lottery in March and won 3 million riel.
That wasn't her only luck. Sarameth also won an additional 83 million riel on the
number "82" which was also given to her by the spirit.
Through hundreds of years, different miraculous events are said to have occurred
at the site of Neak Ta Khlaing Moeung, including the spontaneous growth of a hill
with three Angkor Wat-like towers on top of the warrior's grave.
After Cambodia gained independence from France, King Norodom Sihanouk built a hall
to shelter the grave. When Lon Nol staged a coup to overthrow Sihanouk, the villagers
say people saw scars appear on the hill, and blood running out of them.
"This was an indication that the country was in trouble," says 58-year-old
Pok Nath, who also takes care of the site.
For nearly five centuries the spirit of Neak Ta Khlaing Moeung rested on relatively
peaceful Khmer land. But more than 470 years later, he found a new enemy - not the
Siamese but the Khmer Rouge, who desecrated Neak Ta Khlaing Moeung.
One Khmer Rouge soldier left a truck of oranges near the statue and asked Moeung's
spirit to take care of them. But villagers stole the oranges. Blaming the spirit
for not taking care of the oranges, the furious soldier opened fire at the statue.
Vengeance was apparently quick. "The soldier fell down backward like someone
had hit him on the neck," recalls villager Se Man of the event that happened
The Khmer Rouge eventually succeeded in cutting off the statue's head and arms and
dumped the pieces into a nearby pond.
A year later, the Khmer Rouge ordered a canal be dug across the area. The centuries-old
Samroang tree, under which Moeung is said to have sheltered when he trained his troops,
was to be removed.
"They drove a bulldozer to push the tree, but it didn't fall down," says
Pok Nath. Instead, the chain of the bulldozer broke, hitting and instantly killing
a soldier, he adds.
Other soldiers ordered two pregnant women to saw down the tree. The tree swung in
a circle three times before it fell down and killed the soldiers who were standing
After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, the broken pieces of the statue were collected
from the pond and put back together.
Pok Nath says a provincial judge named Samnang built a wooden shelter to thank Neak
Ta Khliang Moeung after the spirit helped to release Samnang's wife from Khmer Rouge
Eleven years later, the villagers say Prince Ranariddh built a concrete hall to replace
the wooden shelter, probably in commemoration of the spirit of Neak Ta Khlaing Meoung
for bringing him electoral success in 1993.
"All those who came [to pray] won [Assembly seats during] the election,"
claims Pok Nath.
When it comes to this year's election, many people wondered what would happen when
more than 20 parties came to ask for the same thing.
One driver for a local NGO joked: "If there are so many of them, how can Neak
Ta decide who will win?"