WAT KOH, built on an island at the "Crossing of Four Rivers" by Phnom Penh last
year, also known as Koh Santepheap, is believed by some people to have brought
peace to the country. But now it is threatened with inundation by rapidly rising
The picture above shows the water-logged pagoda on August 4;
the picture at left as it was about six weeks earlier, just at the beginning of
the rainy season.
"You know, if this temple had not been built on time
our country would not be getting peace like nowadays. And a lot more people
would be continuing to die," says the Venerable Sin Say, the only Buddhist monk
staying in the pagoda, in reference to the coup of July 1997 and the opposition
demonstrations last year during which many people were killed.
Rising rivers threaten island wat
prasat, or temples, representing five treasures: gold, diamond, silver, and the
legendary Preah Ko and Preah Keo Morakat, were built to fulfill a Put Tumneay ,
or Buddhist prediction.
"Put Tumneay said Cambodia will be having a long
time of war, but the war will be completely finished while the Prasat Meas and
Prasat Prak [golden and silver temples] emerge from the four crossed rivers,"
The temple was built following the dream of a woman,
54-year-old Moy Seng, living in Kampong Cham.
She said one night she saw
an old man with a white robe floating in the sky, who told her that she must
tvoeu Bon "do merit" in all eight directions; thereby people in the whole
country, including her family, would be rescued from a huge impending danger.
Seng tried to follow her dream. But she is poor, and could not afford to
realize her vision on a grand scale.
So she began modestly, offering food
to monks and setting up religious flags in eight provinces representing the
eight points of the compass: north, northeast, east, and so on.
began to get support from Khmer communities overseas to which she had passed her
message - such as in the United States, France, and Australia. Expatriate Khmer
were happy to share their merit with her.
In Phnom Penh she was gradually
persuaded that the growing island at the meeting of the four rivers (Tonle Sap,
Tonle Bassac and the Mekong upstream and downstream) should be the site of her
flags. And so the prasat at the four crossed rivers emerged. Hundreds of people
came to help her set up the eight flags on the island, and 100 Buddhist monks
from around Cambodia attended the ceremony.
Since then, the message has
spread to the provinces. People come long distances to pay their respect at the
prasat. Some have brought Banyan trees to the temples and several tree-planting
ceremonies have been held.
Now the rivers are running high and the five
temples are under threat of inundation within the next few days.
lay people and the solitary monk on the island are relaxed about their situation
and believe the spirit power of the prasat can somehow stop the water from
"I was told in the night before that there will be no
problem," says the Venerable Sin Say, recalling a dream.
Say was told by
the spirit of the prasat that the waters will recede because of the spirit's
Say is praying, offering merit to lay people from Phnom Penh and
nearby villages as they offer him alms. They have crossed the river through big
waves to pay their respect. It was windy; water was spilling into the
A 67-year-old woman from Phnom Penh who was in the boat, Lay Moy
Kie, clasped her hands together, facing the prasat with her lips moving in
prayer for help because of the waves.
"I am not afraid of going
everywhere doing merit, because I believe in the Buddhist words that if you do
good, you are repaid with goodness; but do sin and you are repaid in sin."
The monk is busy with the lay people offering him alms. He prays on a
raised platform. The water is almost to the top. The sound of praying mixes with
the sound of wind and waves.
"The Lord Buddha teaches us that things in
the world are irregular," Say explains to the people around him.
are born, then they die; the sun rises then it sets; like that these waters will
rise then fall," the monk says, pointing to the water inching
Several old people are staying in the prasat. They seem to face
danger: the rainy season is only beginning; it has two and a half months to run.
Seth Vannareth, Acting Director of the Meteorology Department, said on
August 4 the water was already 8.8 meters above average, and would rise to more
than 10 meters this year.
Her forecast suggests that merit and the
prasat spirit may not be enough to save the pagoda from drowning.