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500-year-old spirit consulted by front-runners

500-year-old spirit consulted by front-runners

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

the bottom.

"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

since.

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

in 1976.

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

nearby.

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

custody.

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?"

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