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Sundial, calendar and Khmer temples

Astro-archaeology = archaeo-astronomy = Astroarchaeology = archaeoastronomy

Prasat Phanom Rung

 

กุฏิฤาษีบ้านโคกเมือง

VI: Festivities and ceremonies
 

     The ceremonies (ngan) at Prasat Phanom Rung can be split up in two groups: The traditional ones and the modern ones.

     The main traditional ngan took place every year at full moon in the 5th lunar month, April, when the locals ascended the mountain from all nearby villages and districts to perform Hinayana Buddhist rites followed by musical shows (mawlam) and dance. The participants were the local ethnic Khmer and Lao farmers and this traditional festival is still the one the elder people remember with most reverence.

     The full moon festival did not coincide with the days when the rising sun is visible through 15 gates the temple. The full moon in April falls on different dates in succeeding years, but the solar event fall on the same date in the beginning of April – some years differing 1 day.
     Ascending mountains for merit-making ngan at the full moon in April is not a phenomenon limited to Phanom Rung. At many other ancient Khmer sites in Isan the locals choose the same day for performing their traditional ceremonies - alternatively at the Water Festival (songkran) starting 13 April.
    Other rituals of a more private character are conducted throughout the year, mostly in connection with full moons. The author has often met traces of nightly ceremonies, when arriving early morning for solar observations.

     Right: Bangkok residents performing Brahmin rites at sunrise at the western gate of Prasat Phanom Rung in October 2000 waiting for the rays of the rising sun to penetrate the temple.

     The author visited Prasat Phanom Rung to evidence that the sun rises aligned with the structure of the temple twice a’year and was surprised to meet people being aware of this before it was officially promoted - initiated by the author.

 

     After 17 years restoration Prasat Phanom Rung was finally re-built from ruins in 1988. The name was changed to Phanom Rung Historical Park and the traditional annual lunar festival was changed to a solar and fixed to a date in the beginning of April, when the rays of the rising sun penetrates the 15 doorways of the sanctuary. The old festival followed the full moon in April which falls on different dates in succeeding years, but the solar event fall on the same date in the beginning of April – some years differing 1 day.

     The reason for this change was probably due to that an archaeologist observed the sun rise through the doors of the temple during the restoration of the temple. This should not have surprised anybody: With a few exceptions all Khmer temples are orientated so that the rays of the rising sun enter the eastern doors on two occasions a’ year. Prasat Phanom Rung only differs from other temples in Isan on two matters: 1: The sanctuary has western doors as well, thus allowing the rays of the sun to penetrate the construction when the (not re-constructed) wooden doors were opened. 2: The temple is beautifully located of a mountain top. 

     Until 2004 only one solar event was taken into consideration: The sunrise in April. Actually there are four solar events; the other three are a sunrise in September and two sunsets in March and October as described in an article by the author in Bangkok Post, March 2000, after an observation of the sunset through all 15 doorways the 7th of March 2000: New Light on an Ancient Site.

     The article did not change the annual festival until 3 years after, when the author invited the director of Phanom Rung Historical Park, Nongkram Suksom, to watch the sunset in March 2003. Next day the governor of Buriram province was present and luckily the sun broke through the clouds just before reaching the horizon. This impressed the governor to an extend that the month from the sunset in March 2004 to the sunrise in April was declared for ''The Holy month of Prasat Phanom Rung'' and rituals were preformed at both occasions.

 

 

 

Above: Sunset, March, 7, 2003

Sunset 7 March 2000 Sunrise 3 April 2002 Sunset 6 March 2003 Sunrise 3 April 2006 Sunset 7 October 2006


Festivities and ceremonies in 2002
 
Above: Brahmin ceremony held in front of the eastern door-way of Prasat Phanom Rung, 4th April 2002


Festivities and ceremonies in 2003
 
Above: Khmer dancers, apsaras, 3 April 2003
Above: Brahmin rites, bun suang 3 April 2003.
Above: The Thai TV Channel 9 covered the sunrise in April 2003


Festivities and ceremonies in 2004

     In 2004 the annual festival started at the sunset visible through the 15 door-ways of the temple in March and the period from the sunsets in March until the sunrises in April was announced as 'The Holy Month of Buriram Province'. The period counts app. 28 days and is equal to one lunar month.
     A Bun suang ceremony was held the 5th of March (the 13th waxing day of the moon) followed by a Shiva Ratree Ceremony (the holy night of Shiva) even normally held on the 13th waning day of the moon.
 
 
Above: Shiva Ratree ritual invoking Shiva, 5 March 2004.   Above: Vice-governor Suphachit, 5 March 2004.
 
Above: Waiting for the sun, 5 March 2004.   Above: Waiting for the sun - that did not come...

The 6th of March a TV-crew made a feature on Prasat Phanom Rung:
 
 
Above: Set-up for the TV-crew   Above: The author among actors.
Left: new and old...

Right: Dancing apsaras below Shiva Nataraya, the 'King of Dancers'.

First day of the annual Light and Show Festival at Prasat Phanom Rung, April 2:
 
 
     
 


Festivities and ceremonies in 2006

     On the first of the 3 days when the sunset was visible through the gates of Prasat Phanom Rung it was full moon; which was celebrated un-officially by the local residents:
 
Above: Local school-children, 7 October. Above: Local farmers doing merit, tham bun, 7 October.


Festivities and ceremonies in 2007
 
Above: Rehearsing for the Light And Sound Show, 1 April Above: School-children, 4 April

 

     2007 was special in one respect: The date of the full moon coincided with the solar events.
     The sun rose visible through all 15 doorways of Prasat Phanom Rung from the 2nd of April to the 4th and it was full-moon the 2nd of April so the dates of the old and new costumes coincided in 2007 - only one day apart. The next time this will happen will be in April 2026 and after that every 19-years.

Right: Sunrise 2nd April

     Several groups held their Brahmin rites independent of one another.

     At sunrise a group of Bangkok residents performed a Brahmin in front of the temple and in the central sanctuary at the linga:
 
   
     

     In the afternoon a second group performed Brahmin rites:
 
   
Right: Soma-sutra

A soma-sutra leads the holy water, soma, from the deity (here the linga representing Shiva) over which it is poured, out to be collected north of the sanctum,

     

     In the evening and night a third and more prominent group held Brahmin rites:  A propitation ceremony, buan suang. The participants were The former governor of Buriram Province, the local military top-brass, and as a special guest: Now retired Air Chief Marchal Chalit Pukbhasuk, aides and family:
 
     
     
     
   
     

Festivities and ceremonies in 2009
 
Above: After the sunset 6 March 2009 the governor had arranged a Khmer dance performance

Festivities and ceremonies in 2010

The sunsets in March: After the iconoclasts in May 2008 where several artifacts were partially destroyed, all kind of religious ceremonies were prohibited in the and around the temple's upper terraces. The opening ceremony of the Holy Month of Buriram Province was moved to the lower terrace at the end of the processional path. The governor presided the Brahman ceremony after which he led the participants up to the eastern gate to watch the sunset.
 
     
   
   
     
   

The sunrises in April: The National Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) visited Phanom Rung for the second time and set up an exhibition about astro-archaeology. NARIT also set up cameras in the doorways of the sanctuary so the the visitors had the option to watch the sunrise on large screen. The solar event was also transmitted via the Internet in real time so that the event could be watched all over the world:
 
     
     

The author is consultant on astronomy and Khmer sites for the governor's office of Buriram;
all texts and photos on this web-page are on his own initiative and responsibility.

INDEX

14 May 2010 Asger Mollerup

macsida@thai-isan-lao.com

www.thai-isan-lao.com


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