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Phanom Rung Historical Park Buri Rum Thailand

Phanom Rung Hindu Temple

  • Phanom Rung Historical Park is mounted on a volcanic hill 1,257 feet high in Buri Ram Province and is perhaps the most beautiful and important of the Khmer sites in Thailand.
  • The location was originally a main stopping centre on the ancient Angkor Thom to Phimai laterite road. Built in the 12th century it was dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva, the supreme Hindu Deity.
  • The design of the complex on the hill is intended to symbolize Mount Kailasa, the Indian heavenly residence of Shiva. The main tower is 23 meters tall and 9.5 meters wide and is made of pink sandstone.
  • It is understood that the complex was originally a palace and the buildings were designed to house elephants.
  • The festival of Phanom Rung is celebrated on 13th April on which day as the plane of the ecliptic is aligned with the axis of the Temple, the Sun's rays shine through the doors and rooms of the Temple, one after another, from the east gopura to the west.

Naga and Phanom Rung

Khmer Symbolism And Mythology At Phanom Rung

  • Phanom Rung has similar features to those at Phimai, it has access via a long causeway with terraces, the stone balustrades of which are shaped as serpents (or Nagas). These Nagas have multiple flaring heads which are crowned, and act as guardians of the earths' waters and are said to represent the rainbow, the link between the world of men and the Gods.
  • Accordingly when one approaches these sanctuaries (or Temples) via these Naga causeways one is reminded that as a devotee he or she is leaving the earthly plan, physically and spiritually, for higher levels of enlightenment.
  • Phanom Rung has large and small ponds to represent the oceans. The central sanctuary is enclosed by narrow corridor galleries. Cruciform entrances (or Gopuras) are installed at cardinal points. Carvings of Hindu Gods ornament the pediments and lintels of these entrances.
  • Within the sacred area the central ogival tower (or prang) culminates in a lotus bulb shaped finial and represents Mount Meru. This is built of sandstone.
  • The Prang is many tiered and rests on a base, which is a tall re-dented cube like structure which itself is set on other re-dented and ascending sandstone platforms. Below the tiers of the tower and set in the cube re-dented base was placed the Linga, or phallic emblem of the God Shiva.

Phanom Rung Historical Park

Prasat Phnom Rung
  • Prasat Phnom Rung is one of the most significant ancient monuments of Thailand locating on the top of an extinct volcanic Phnom Rung hill. The hill rises over 383 meters above sea level. With the location on the top of Phnom Rung hill and its gigantic constructions, Prasat Phnom Rung stands magnificently like the  residence of god that located on the Mount of Kailasa, as recounted in the scripture.
  • Prasat Phnom Rung faces the east, a direction that is believed to bring prosperity. Its perfect layout, meticulous design and construction as well as its splendid stone carving have reflected the highest worship of human beings to their Gods and the great power of the founder.
  • Two pools are situated in the north-east of Prasat Phnom Rung. The pools were the craters of the volcano and later on were modified for religious functions at the time of the construction of the monastery.
  • The Lower Stairway was made of laterite and divided into 3 sets of stairs starting at the eastern slope of the hill to the first cruciform platform, which marked the first ascent to the eastern entrance. The entrance had similar shape to the last eastern gateway; however, there was no clear evidence or remains that could confirm that they were identical. The platform was assumed to be the base of the outer gateway pavilion, which was constructed of wood with a tiled roof. From the Lower Stairway, there was inclining causeway leading to the Upper Stairway to the main sanctuary. Originally the inclining causeway may be paved with laterite or sandstone stairs. The evidence from the excavation of the stairways in 2000 showed that the inclining causeway was constructed into multiple level slopes from volcanic stone.
  • The Inner Gallery was walled, covered with roof and consisted of several long and narrow rectangular rooms surrounding the main sanctuary. The eastern and the western walled galleries were identical and made of laterite measuring 2.6 meters wide and 59 meters long. The northern and the southern walled galleries were similar and a little longer, 68 meters long. The eastern walled gallery roof was carved in stone to imitate a tiled roof. The roof peal was decorated with prali or finials. The northern walled gallery was built of laterite with sandstone door and window jambs. Numerous tiles found during the restoration suggest that the roof had its wooden structured and tiled.
  • At the end of the causeway is the second cruciform platform or the first Naga Bridge that connects the causeway to the Upper Stairway and to the sacred pond. It was built of sandstone measuring 8.2 meters wide and 20 meters long and raised up about 1.5 meters. There are wing-shape stairs at the front and at both sides of the platform while the back side is a patio connecting to the Upper Stairway. The platform of the First Naga Bridge is supported by exquisitely carved sandstone pillars. The balustrades of the terrace are in the form of Naga bodies with five-headed Naga that was richly crowned and arched up at the corner. The Naga’s diadem was carved in the horizontal floral design of Angkor Wat style (1100 to 1175) dated back to the 12th century. To its north, which is the left exit of the First Naga Bridge, is a path to the sacred pond. The path was constructed with well- compressed soil with laterite edge on both sides.
  • Another point of attraction on the First Naga Bridge is the eight- petal lotus design carved inside a double-line circle on the floor at the centre point of the bridge platform. There are so many interpretations to this design. Some said the eight-petal lotus represented the eight directions of the universe and the Hinduism Gods for each direction. Some said this was a magical symbol for prosperity and preventing possible enemies and danger. Some said the design marked the center of the universe because the lotus design was the center point when measuring from the top of the tower. Some said the design set a point to worship and pray to God.
  • There are two more Naga bridges at Prasat Phnom Rung. One is at the eastern gateway while the last Naga bridge connects the eastern entrance to the Main Sanctuary. From architectural perspective, it could be interpreted that a Naga bridge is meant to be a connector between important entrances or structures where a level is changed.
  • However, in religious place construction methodology a Naga bridge has more symbolic implication. According to Hinduism rainbow is the bridge connecting between human being’s world and the God’s world. In East Asia and in India the rainbow can be associated to a Naga who is raising up to the sky or drinking from the sea. This legend is sometimes mentioned with 2 Naga because it is quite normal to have 2 rainbows at the same time. Therefore, a Naga bridge can be the bridge that connects between the 2 worlds. The Last Naga Bridge connects the eastern entrance to the eastern door way of the antechamber of the Main Sanctuary. The last Naga bridge shares the same characteristics of the previous Naga bridges; however, it is a bit smaller measuring only 3.4 meters wide and 9.9 meters long and instead of having a eight petal lotus motif carved in the middle it had three open lotuses carved on a door step of the eastern entrance to the antechamber of the main sanctuary.
The Two Libraries
  • To the southeast and northeast of the main sanctuary are the remains of the laterite rectangular structures. Each has only one doorway with a corbelled arch roof. The southeast structure faces west measuring 11.6 by 7.1 meters and 5 meters high. The northeast structure faces south, probably to avoid the two old sanctuaries at the area, measures 14.5 by 8.5 meters and 3 meters high. This style of structure is known in Khmer art as the library, as it is believed to be used to store sacred manuscripts. The structure was built of laterite, which was the most popular material used during the Bayon period. It was therefore assumed that the two Vihara were built in the 13th century.

Phanom Rung Historical Park

The Main Sanctuary
  • The Main Sanctuary, which is the most important structure of Prasat Phnom Rung precinct, is located on the hilltop as the center of the monastery. Its plan is in square shape measuring 8.2 meters wide and 27 meters tall. It has a double porch in the north, south and west. In the east lies an antechamber or Mandapa measuring 8 by 10 meters by a short corridor or an antarala. Prasat Phnom Rung plan is dated back to the 11th to 12th centuries, like Prasat Phimai. The architectural element of Prasat Phnom Rung is consisted of 3 main parts: the base, the Garbhagrha [ the inner sanctum ], and the superstructure and its roof. The base is a plain platform carved with lotus-petal and diamond designs.
  • The Garbhagrha or the inner sanctum is the most important room of the main sanctuary used to enshrine the most important structure of the religious place, which in this case is assumed to be the Linga, the phallic symbol of Shiva’s creative power. The northern entrance has a sandstone drainage channel used to drain away sacred water during religious functions.The superstructure of the main sanctuary is a five tiered roof adorned with relief of Naga, Rishis, Goddesses, directional Gods, and guardians on pediments and antefixes.
  • The roof of the antechamber and the northern, southern, and western porches has a corbelle arch roof, which is the same as that of the gateways of the walled galleries. The ceiling is made of carved and painted wood, which was probably painted. The red ceiling was referred to in one of the inscription found at Phnom Rung as the presentation to Gods as the decoration of the monastery.
  • The main sanctuary and all adjacent elements have their doorways in the same line. It is possible that the northern and southern doorway once has a two-wooden door panel with similar style to the false doors carved on the walled gallery. Outside on both sides of the gateways there are holes used to install door guardians, Dvarapala, to protect the abode of god. On the floor in front of the platform, there are stairs carved with lotus petal designs,  similar to those on the Naga bridges.
  • All the gateways may not be able to use as entrance. Inside of the eastern gateway of the main sanctuary, there are holes used to install the sculpture. From the size of the holes, it is believed that the sculpture is quite massive and it should block this entrance. Therefore, only the northern and southern gateways are presumed to be the cardinal entrance. Several parts of the main sanctuary, such as, upper and lower part of the wall, decorative pillars, pedestal, lintels, pediments, porches, and antefixes are decorated with carved designs of flora, figures of Hindu Gods and Goddess as well as a famous Hindu legend, Ramayana and Mahabharata From the architectural style it could be presumed that the main sanctuary it was built in the 12th century.
Lintel and Pediment Depicting Ramayana Legend Ramayana is one of the scripture in Hinduism.
  • It is about Rama, one of incarnations of Narayana (Vishnu),called Ramavatara or Ramajandhravatara, coming to earth to defeat Asura. These Asura was leaded by Ravana (ten-headed Asura). The oldest version of Ramayana in Sanskrit was written by the Brahma, yogi Valmiki since 2,400 years ago. Ramayana in Thai version is slightly different from Sanskrit version, in parts of locations in the scenes and the names of the characters.
  • The depicting Ramayana at Phnom Rung should be based on the Sanskrit version which was written before Thai version. Thai version was just written during Ratanakosin period. Aranya Kanda or Rama wanders in the forest. Rama, his wife, Sita and his brother, Lakshmana set out of Ayodhya to wander in the forest for 14 years. In “Thanthaka” forest, they faced Viradh, an Asura who intended to kidnap Sita. Rama and Lakshmana fought with Viradh (picture B)and Viradh was killed eventually. Three of them continued  their  journey to the hermitage of Panjavardi. Ravana, the ten-headed ruler of Lanka who was so powerful, devised plan to abduct Sita. He sent a magical deer to seduce Rama and Lakshmana to go off the hermitage for hunting the deer. Rama draws his bow at the deer). Ravana appeared as a hermit to seduce Sita, however, Sita did not believe. Ravana, then, returned himself to his own shape [ ten-headed and twenty-handed ] and carried Sita off to Lanka. The king of vulture, Jatayu, tried to save her from the hands of Ravana but Ravana defeated him finally. Kishkindha Kanda or Rama defeated Palee, the ruler of Kiskindh Palee, the king of monkey had fought with his brother, Sugriva. Palee banished his brother from the city. Rama and Sugriva had met and they promised to help each other. Finally, Palee was killed by Rama’s arrow: two monkeys are fighting, signifying Palee and Sugriva. Rama is on the left, drawing his bow at Palee. Sugriva claimed over the throne of Kishkindh and promised to send the band of monkey to help Rama fighting with Ravana.
  • Sundar Kanda or Hanuman is in Lanka to find Sita Rama sent Hanuman, the king of monkeys, flying to Lanka in order to find Sita. Sita was in the grove, going to kill herself. Hanuman saved her in time and offered Rama’s ring to her Sita refused to go back with Hanuman because she concerned for her reputation.
  • Yuddhaphanda or the battle between Rama and Ravana.
  • The battle between two armies (monkey-asura) happened many times in Ramayana. The pictures demonstrate one of the important battles called “Indhrachit Battle”. Indhrachit fought for Ravana. He was very powerful. Once he bound Rama and Lakshmana with Naga (the rope was made of Naga). Ravana ordered Trichada to take Sita to the battlefield. Hanuman was trying to release Rama and Lakshmana from the Naga rope. Then, a Garuda, flew over the battlefield, and thus made the naga to run away (Garuda and Naga were enemies). Then, Rama, Lakshmana and everyone are survived from the battle.