Phnom Oudong – A Historical Tourist Site
Phnom Oudong is a cultural historical tourist site in Kandal province which has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list on Sep 01, 1992 in the cultural category. Phnom Oudong locates to the north west of Phnom Penh, to arrive there, drive on the nation road No.5 of about 40km, there will be a signage to the site at the left hand. From far away on the nation road, Phnom Oudong raises above of all, creating a great natural view consist of building, mountain, forest, flood plains, and green rice fields.
Other Names of Phnom Oudong
Phnom Oudong is also called Phnom Edthareus or Phnom Preah Reachtrop.
It’s called Phnom Oudong because the area was the capital city of Cambodia during 1618-1866 after Longvek was invaded by Siamese. The capital city was formally called ‘Oudong Mean Chey’, home to several Kings after Longvek. Until 1866, in the reign of King Norodom, the capital was moved to the present day Phnom Penh. The remain parts of the city is now located on top of three hills lining from southeast to northeast in a length of 1500 meters.
It’s called Phnom Preah Reachtrop (Royal Wealth Mountain) because a 16th century Khmer King is said to have hidden the national treasury here during a war with Siam.
It’s called Phnom Edthareus because the mountain is top by a sanctuary named ‘Preah Vihear Edthareus’ which house a 18 cubit Buddha.
Visiting Phnom Oudong visitors will first arrived at the main stair set with 509 steps leading to the highest stupa at Oudong, which is new built, containing relic of Buddha God. There is another stair set with only 160 steps at the south end which will first lead you to Edthareus temple. Visitors may choose to climb the 160 steps stair and descend by the 509 steps stair set that we would save us some energy. And in this article, we will start to describe about the construction on Phnom Oudong from South to North.
Preah Vihear Edthareus
Start by climbing the 160 steps stair set (usually called ‘women stair’), at the end of the stair set, turn left is the 43 steps stair toward Edthareus temple, the biggest construction on Phnom Oudong with 40 meters long and 23 meters wide. The temple was built to house a 18 cubit Buddha which faces north instead of the traditional direction of east. There is a legend relates to the history of this temple.
In the 13th century, a Chinese emperor sent his people out across Asia to identify potential threats. When they arrived Phnom Oudong, they saw the hills shaped like a naga with a large cave underground at the top end of the mountain. The Chinese astrologer told their emperor that under Phnom Oudong there is an animal which Khmer called Makara (Makara is an mythical animal, its head and body like dragon, but also have trunk like elephant), if the animal appear through the cave, the Khmers would be strong enough to rule the region as they’ve already wealthy and powerful. To avoid their prediction to become true, the Chinese astrologer suggested their emperor to ask the Khmer King build a Buddhist temple above the cave with a huge Buddha faces China (north) in order to turn the power of the animal toward their empire. By doing so, they believe that the animal could not appear forever. Because of the respect in Buddha, the Khmer would not destroy the temple.
According to the inscription in front of the temple, Edthareus temple was restored by King Norodom and re-inaugurated by King Sisovath in Oct 1911.
During the civil war (1970-1979), the temple was used by Khmer Rouge as their hiding place. In 1973, the temple was almost completely destroyed by bomb. The temple remain only the eight huge columns rise into the sky, the roof was completely destroyed. The Buddha has only one arm and part of one side body remains. Currently, the temple and the Buddha statues are being rebuild. The temple has three entrance doors, one big at the middle (completely damaged) and two smaller at both sides that still have the fronton, lingtel, and pillars. Inside the shrine, the original Buddha is already fully restored and added one small statue of Maitreya Buddha in the front. However, inside the temple and the roof are not ready by the time I was there. And I would like to have a picture of inside temple when it’s completely restore.
Back from Edthareus temple at the end of the previous 160 steps stair, follow the stair at the right side, just about 10 meters apart, there are two small shrines. The front one is the shrine of Preah Ko, the back one is the shrine of Preah Keo. Preah Ko and Preah Keo are the brothers which Khmers believed that they were divinities that once helped the country. So the shrine of Preah Ko Preah Keo is very commonly seen in most religious sites in Cambodia. The statues of Preah Ko and Preah Keo on Phnom Oudong is somehow special, because they were built not only for worshiping, but also to remind of their statues made of marble which were taken by Siamese when Angkor was over controlled in 1420.
Follow the path along the ridge, we are now arrived at another shrine called Vihear Prak Neak. Inside, there is a large statue of Buddha protected by seven headed naga (prak neak means protected by naga). Next we will arrived the shrine of Lok Ta Dambong Dek (Lok Ta= grandfather, Dambong Dek= Iron cane). Lok Ta Dambong Dek is regarded by Cambodians as a great commander who sacrificed this life for fighting and protecting the Khmer territory. After he died, Lok Ta Dambong Dek has become a sacred spirit which continue his mission of protecting the Kingdom.
There is also a new built shrine, inside there is also a huge Buddha.
One remarkable stupa built with four faces of Brahma on top is the stupa of King Sisovath, also called ‘Chetdei Muk Pruhm‘ (Brahma- face stupa). But according to the inscription on the stupa says that, this stupa is named ‘Chetdei Tray Treung’, it was built by King Sisovath Monivong (1927-1941) to house the remains of his king father, King Sisovath (1904-1927).
Down from this hill, climbing the next one, we will see there are two stupas built very close to each other. The first one we reach is the stupa containing remains of King Ang Doung (1840-1859), built in 1891 by King Norodom (1859-1904).
The next one is called ‘Chetdei Damrei Sam Porn‘. It was named so because of the construction architecture with elephants supporting around the base of the stupa. This stupa was built by King Chey Chetha II (1618-1626) in 1623, to house the remains of his king father, King Srey Soryopor (1603-1618).
The large stupa in the row is the new construction located at the north end of the mountain ridge. The construction started in 1998 and completed in 2002, to hold relics of Buddha God which previously housed in a small stupa in front of the railroad station in Phnom Penh. The relics of Buddha God were moved to the new stupa on Phnom Oudong by King Norodom Sihahouk and Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk on Dec 19th 2002. The stupa is built with many stories. The relics of Buddha God is hold at the top level. At the ground level there are many Buddha statues with various size, retained by Buddhists. There are some important scenes related to the life of Buddha depicted on the frontons of the stupa.
The east fronton is the scene of Queen Mahamaya giving birth to Buddha God under Sala tree in the Lumbini garden.
The north fronton is the scene of the first sermon of Buddha after attaining enlightenment for fulfilling the request of angels. And after this, Buddha has decided to seek for the five ascetic followers in the Dear Park at Benares.
The west fronton is the scene of Buddha in Parinivana.
The south fronton is the scene of Buddha in teaching as his hands are in Dharmachakra Mudra, the gesture of teaching the Wheel of Law and the Four Noble Truth.
Preah Ang Chol Nipean and Chetdei Ang Chan Reachea
There is another small hill also in the rank of Phnom Oudong, but most visitors will not reach this place. At the back of Edthareus temple, there is another stair set that we can descend from the Edthareus temple. The stair set to that small hill is locates near by, just several meters apart. To reach the hill top, we must climb two sets of stair. The first set is normal, and the second set is the stair with nine-headed dragon balustrades. On top of the hill, there is a remarkable stupa and the ruined statue of Buddha in Nirvana. The stupa contains the remain of Borum Reachea III or Ang Chan Reachea (1516-1566). The date of construction is unknown, the architecture of the stupa is simple but look very attractive.
Next to the stupa, there is a small concrete shrine, inside house Buddha sanctuary. Right at the side of this small shrine, a terrace (about 7 meters) of reclining Buddha made of sandstone with many disciples sitting in front. But we now just can see a pair of Buddha foot, other parts of the body are in ruined or were taken away. This reclining Buddha may be built in the reign of Ang Chan Reachea, because he was also a Buddhist king who interested in carving. As the lingtel we see in present day of the main sanctuary of Ta Pruhm temple Tonle Bati, was added by Ang Chan Reachea.
At Oudong mountain base there are many food stores and resting huts which visitors can have lunch and take rest after climbing the mountain. Some people like to climb the mountain after their lunch, but it’s hot after. However the view from the hill top is worth climbing, fresh cool air would refresh the hot within a movement after arrived the top. Most of all would smile with pleasure after arrived, as if they have achieved one great task.
Around Phnom Oudong there are many modern Buddhist temples included the Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Center of Cambodia.