Sundial, calendar and Khmer temples

Astro-archaeology = archaeo-astronomy = Astroarchaeology = archaeoastronomy

Prasat Phanom Rung

14°31'55 east, 102°56'27'' north


I: General information
Page I: General information about the ancient Shivaite Khmer sanctuary Prasat Phanom Rung
Page II: Information with relevance for astro-archaeology
Page III: New Light on an Ancient Site. Article in Bangkok Post, March 23, 2000
Page IV: The four annual solar-lunar events at Prasat Phanom Rung
Page V: The author's theory on why the orientation is not 90° true east


     Prasat Phanom Rung is dedicated  Shiva of the Hindu pantheon Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu and is build on the top of an extinct volcano 200 metres above the Buriram plain in Southern Isan (North East Thailand).
     Most of the present structure is build by a local Khmer lord,
Narendraditya, in the 12th century AD, when Suryavarman II ruled in Angkor Wat.


     Unique for Phanom Rung is the 15 doorways spanning 75 metres through the temple complex allowing the rays of the sun to penetrate the temple casting its light on the lingam in the central sanctuary four times a year.

History of construction:

The first phase: Koh Ker style

     The first building was the base of the two brick buildings north-east of the main prasat. The pattern on the colonettes are by art-historians dated to Bakheng to early Koh Ker style (early 10th century AD).

     ''Phanom Rung Inscription No. 3 mentions King Rajendravarman II (rule: 944-968 AD) as ''dedicating the red roof to the temple for decoration. He built ponds. He made piles of bricks...'' This last sentence could mean that he restored a brick temple already in existence'' (F.A.D.)

  Above: Colonette
  Above: The ruined brick-towers seen from east

The second phase: Khleang - Bapoun style


Above:  The Prang Noi or ''little tower'' was constructed in the second phase. The lintels are regarded by F.A.D. to belong to Khleang (c. 968 – c. 1050 AD)  and Baphoun style (1050 – 1080 AD). The heads of the nagas are without any ornaments (crowns) and therefore regarded as belonging to Baphoun style.

The third phase: Angkor Wat style

     The central sanctuary, the surrounding galleries with gopuras (entrance pavilions), the staircases, the naga bridges, and the causeway were al built in early 12th century preceding Prasat Phimai and Angkor Wat a few decades.

     ''The Phanom Rung Inscriptions Nos. 7 and 9 from 1150 AD are from the end of the reign of Suriyavarman II (rule: 1113-1150) and refer to the families that were connected with Phanom Rung, especially Narendraditya who constructed the main temple and his son Hiranya who continued with the construction and also made the inscription in honour of his father. Narendraditya was of the Mahidharapura dynasty and played an important role in the campaigns of Suryavarman II and was rewarded with the governorships of cities under the power of the Mahidharapura dynasty. After his rise to power he built the main temple of Prasat Phanom Rung.'' (F.A.D.)

Right: Central sanctuary seen from SE


     The central sanctuary is set on a square base with redenting corners. The superstructure has 5 tiers, each smaller then the one below. On the sides and at the corners of each tier there are carvings on pediments and antefixes of the guardians of the cardinal directions, hermits, female deities and nagas.

     An antarala (vestibule) is connecting the central sanctury to the mandapa (front pavilion).

Right: The antarala and mandapa seen from south



The eastern gopura (entrance pavilion)

Eastern gopura
(entrance pavilion)

Right and below: Meditating Shiva, the Supreme Ascetic (pediment above the lintel)

Below (right): Indra on Kala demon (lintel above eastern doorway)


The mandapa (antechamber)

Above: Shiva Nataraja above Vishnu Anantasayin on the eastern front of the mandapa.

Right: Sunset through 11 of the 15 doorways, October 5, 2004.


Shiva Nataraya (right)

Shiva Nataraya is the term for the dancing Shiva. It was believed that the dancing of Shiva symbolized both the creation and destruction of the universe. If he danced in a balanced manner, there would be peace and happiness in the world, but if he danced furiously in anger, the world would meet with disasters to the point of complete destruction. It was necessary for people to worship, praise, plead and make sacrifices to his satisfaction, so that he would bestow blessing and happiness.
     Shiva's Dancing occurs several times. On one occasion, he dances in the Taragam forest to punish the heretical hermits. On the other occasions he dances in the Chidambaram district in the middle of the universe at the request of Ananta nagaraja, the serpent king, and on Mount Kailasa for the deities who want to see it.
     The Shiva Nataraya at Prasat Phanom Rung carved on the pediment in front of the mandapa (front porch) is the scene of the dance on Mount Kailasa. Shiva with ten arms wearing a crown is dancing on a throne. Although the section with the deities is damaged, Ganesha, Brahma and Vishnu are visible. One of the two female figures on the right is probably Kareikalammeyar, a Shiva's devotee (F.A.D.)


Vishnu Anantasayin (above)

     On the bas-relief above Vishnu is depicted reclining on the Ananta serpent on the Ocean of Milk. The posture is known as the Vishnu Anantasayin posture. Lakshmi, his consort, is seated at his feet and Brahma springs from his navel. The variation of the Ananda serpent shown here is called a gajasimha (gaja for elephant and simha for lion).

     Vishnu is the god of preservation and one of the Hindu trinity of deities (trimurthi): Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva). In the Vaishnavite sect, Vishnu is worshiped as the highest god. Lakshmi is his consort, and Garuda is his vehicle. At the end of the cosmic era (kalpa), he rests in meditative sleep on a serpent known as Ananta on the Ocean of Milk, waiting for Brahma to recreate the cosmos. At that moment a lotus springs forth from his navel, with Brahma seated on it (see picture above). Brahma would be responsible for the re-creation of the world and in a new cosmic era.


The Puranatanyaka Ceremony


     At the base of a pilaster at the eastern doorway of the mandapa,  there is ''a carving of a lady standing hanging onto a branch of a tree with one hand and lifting an object from a receptacle given to her by a man with the other hand. This probably represents a ceremony in connection with agriculture and abundance. It is called Puranatanyaka'' (F.A.D.).


The Defloration Ceremony

     ''The carving on the half-pediment on the southern part of the gable of the mandapa in front of the main temple shows a female figure reclining on her back and a person in front holding one of her legs with one hand and a cylindrical object with the other. They are surrounded by four other persons. It is surmised that this is the scene of a deflowering ceremony.'' (F.A.D.).

     This ceremony is described by Zhou Daguan who lived at Angkor in the beginning of the 14th century: The ceremony ''is called zhentan [tchen-t’an]. Each year the authorities select one day in the month, which corresponds to the fourth Chinese moon, and announce this throughout the country. Every family where a girl has to submit to the zhentan is warned in advance by the authorities, and they give the household a candle on which a mark has been made.


Above: The Defloration Ceremony

     On the chosen day, when night has fallen, the candle is 1it and, when it has burned down to the mark, the moment of the zhentan has come'' ... ''I have heard that, when the moment comes the priest enters the girl’s pavilion; he deflowers her with his hand and receives the blood in some wine. It is also said that the father and mother, the family and neighbours place some on their foreheads or taste it. Others maintain that the priest really couples with the girl; while others deny this. As Chinese are not allowed to witness these things, the exact truth is hard to come by. (5). When day is about to break, the priest is led back with palanquins, parasols, and music. The girl must then be bought from the priest with presents of cloth and silks; otherwise she will be his property forever and could marry no one else.''

(5) This is an important admission by the Chinese author; the whole section is somewhat suspect.'' ... ''This account raises many questions; however, it should be pointed out that there existed a Buddhist sect, the Ari (whom many considered non-Buddhists) who are known to have participated in such ceremonies.'' (p.35)

Zhou Daguan, The customs of Cambodia. Bangkok, 1992


Above:Miniature lingams found at Phanom Rung



Above: Five rishis (hermits) in the inner chamber (garbhagrha) of the antarala sitting in a meditative posture known as yogasana. The rishi in the middle should represent Shiva reincarnated as Nakhulisa, the founder of Pasupata sect, and also representing Narendraditya, the builder of Prasat Phanom Rung. (F.A.D.)

  Above (left): A Nandin replica in the mandapa facing the 5 rishi, the lingam and the setting sun.
Above (Right)
: The original Nandin at Phimai Museum

Umamahesvara is a depiction of Shiva and Uma seated on the bull Nandin, Shiva holding the trident in one hand and embracing Uma sitting on his knees with the other.

The Umamahesvara scene at Prasat Phanom Rung is one of the first pediment of the front porch (mandapa). This carving is damaged, but the figure of the bull Nandin is still clearly visible. On the bull are Shiva and Uma, with followers carrying regalia.

Rihgt: Umamahesvara scene



The central sanctuary

  Above: The richness of depictions on the southern side of the central sanctuary
  Above: Indra on Airavata facing east
  Above: Kubera on Gajasimha facing north
  Above: Naga and pond at the upper terrace
  Above: Crowned 5-headed naga and makara
  Above: Naga bridge and causeway. March 9, 2004

The fourth phase: Bayon style

     The final construction phase was in the reign of Jayavarman VII (rule: 1181 - ca. 1220 AD), who was a fervent Mahayana Buddhist and as so many other Hindu temples he added 'libraries' to the existing structure and turned the sanctuary into a place of Buddhist worship. The 'libraries' are in typical Bayon style, built of laterite with only door and window frames made of sandstone.


 'Library' in the SE part of the compound seen from west.






14 November 2004 © Asger Mollerup



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