Phnom Chiso Temple
Phnom Chiso Temple is a historical site located on Chiso Mountain which is 130 meters high in Sla village, Roveang commune, Samrong district, Takeo province. Traveling from Phnom Penh by nation road number 2, passing Tonle Bati, Phnom Tamao, and Neang Khmao temple. It’s about 60 km from Phnom Penh and 27 km north of Takeo provincial.
Phnom Chiso temple has another name called Surya Paravata (the mountain of the Sun). It was built in early 11th century by three kings who worship Brahmanism. King Suryavarman I (AD 1002-1050) was the first king to build this temple. After his death, King Udeyaticvarman II continued the construction and King Suryavarman II was the last to finish Phnom Chiso temple.
To reach Phnom Chiso temple on the top of mountain, people usually climb the west staircase with 198 steps and descend by the south staircase with 412 steep steps. There is another stair set in front of the temple links the temple, Sen Thmol or Sen Nimol (សែនធ្មល់ឬសែននិមល) the second gopura, Sen Phuvang or Sen Ravang (សែនភូវាំងឬសែនរ្វាំង) the first gopura, and Tumle Om in a straight line. So Phnom Chiso temple is a temple with 3 gopuras and included a big lake, Tonle Om, which was believed as a sacred lake used for washing away sins in Brahmanism.
Standing on the top of the mountain faces east, Tonle Om is far away at the foot of the mountain. About 100 meters from Tonle Um, nearer to the temple, the first gopura of Phnom Chiso temple named Sen Phuvang or Ravang. The temple made of laterite, lintel and pillars are made of sandstone with impressive carvings of Hindu divinities such as Shiva, and Rahu. Inside this gopura there is a small Buddhist shrine (added later) located in the middle, containing a Nirvana Buddha statue.
Sen Thmol or Sen Nimol is the name of the second gopura temple located about 100 meters from the first gopura. It’s built in the same style to the first one, most parts of the temple are damaged and covered by many trees. After the second gopura, there is a causeway made of laterite of 100 meters long and about 15 meters wide. Half of the causeway is the stair that allow visitors climb up the mountain before reach the third gopura. However, this stairway is not the regular stairway for visitors to climb the mountain.
The third gopura was built with 3 entrances. The middle one is higher and decorated with carving of dancing Shiva as requested from Kareikkalammeyar , a beautiful widow. The legend relates to this said that, Kareikkalammeyar was a very beautiful woman which her beauty was well known through out the three world. Many angels were fighting for her. This caused Kareikkalammeyar become frighten and seek Shiva for help. So Shiva started to dance destroying her beauty, Kareikkalammeyar then become an old lady. The carving of Shiva dancing for Kareikkalammeyar could not be found in any other ancient temple of Cambodia, only this one at the fronton of first gopura of Phnom Chiso temple. Behind this fronton is a lintel with carving of Indra on his three-head elephant, Airavata.
Inside the complex of the third gopura there are 8 separated temples including the main temple and the two libraries, all are built on terrace. The main temple faces east, while the two libraries faces west. The main temple is now very ruined, the roof is covered with zinc to protect from rain.
At the west entrance of the third gopura, the fronton talks about Shiva and his wife, Uma (Pavati). They are on sacred bull Nandin and Uma is still on Shiva’s thigh. The carving shows the pleasure and caring of husband toward his spouse and also the happiness of the couple.
Beside the ancient temple, on Chiso mountain has a pagoda called Wat Phnom Chiso, built in 1917. It’s a worship place for Buddhists.
There is a legend relates to the cause of construction of Phnom Chiso Temple that there was a king named Soryatevesa who reigned for a long time built a royal palace near the foot of the Chiso mountain with a big pond called Tonle Om in the east. The royal residence was in the forest which was called Sen Phuvang forest.
After the construction of the royal palace, the king celebrated the hair improving ceremony for his new born son. The splendid ceremony was held by presence of Brahman and many elderly who came to give wishes to the prince. There was an old Brahman as presiding the celebration came to give three wishes which were differed from other.
1. Having strength as ants do
2. Having power as the ghosts do
3. Having great braveness as women do
After listened to the old Brahman, the king immediately got furious. The Brahman then asked for making experiment to make the king understand.
For the first wish, the Brahman ordered a figure of human body to be made of iron and asked a person to carry it. But no one can carry it at all. Then the Brahman took a needle which was as big as an ant, painted with honey and was put to be taken by ant. Suddenly, an ant carried the needle away. So the Brahman told the king: “This is the strength as ants.”
To explain the second wish, the Brahman ordered seven dead bodies to be buried in rows away from the village. Those dead bodies were died of unusual reasons such as: died during giving birth, died by snake biting, died by buffalo used its horn attacked, died by thunder, died by falling down from the tree, died by drowning, died by committed suicide. Then he asked for beautiful silver bowl to be buried between each corpses. He also prepared the offerings for the ghost like red and white rice, pig head, and crucified chicken. At night, the Brahman asked soldiers who wanted the silver bowls, which were buried with the corpses, to dig and take them. But no one dared to take them. That is the power as the ghosts which cause other afraid of them without doing anything.
As for the third wish was experimented like this: At first he ask the king to invited a poor man and tell him that “You are a very poor person. If you kill your wife in next three days, I will appoint you as a high ranking official. Do you agree?”
The man thought carefully and replied: “I cannot do that, because my wife has been with me and sharing with me sorrow and happiness even I’m poor. She is so good to me, I dare not to kill her.” The next day, the wife of that poor man was invited secretly, the Brahman talked to her that, “Your husband is very poor, you cannot depend on him for future. So if you dare to kill your husband in next three days, I will regard you lawfully as my wife and give all valuable things to you.”
She kept quite, so the Brahman asked she to think and come back the following day with answer. In the next morning she came, in front of the Brahman and the King she said, “I agree with you to do so, that I have no hope in my husband.”
As soon as she finished answering, the Brahman turned to the King and said, “Your Majesty, this is the proof to show about the braveness as women do.”
The king has fully understood after the experiments. He appointed the Brahman as the great scholar of the kingdom and agree to give whatever he wanted as reward. So the Brahman asked the king to built a temple on the mountain top near his royal palace as worship place for Brahman.