Where: Near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
History: Folklore tells of an exiled princess’ rags to riches fame
Go There For: Amazing inscriptions and carvings make this site the centre of Hinduism
Where It’s At
Before Angkor became the focal point of power in the ninth century, two political factions ruled Cambodia, according to Chinese records: the Funan in the South and the Chenla in the North. The southern Funan Dynasty thrived from the first to the beginning of the seventh century and centred their political activities around the city of Angkor Borei, 50 miles south of Phnom Penh.
Religion, as well as politics, played an important part in the lives of the Indianized Funan and numerous Hindu inspired temples were built throughout this water-laced region of the upper Mekong Delta. One of the last religious temples to be built, around the mid-sixth century, was Phnom Da, set atop the capital’s neighbouring hill of Da. During the wet season, this hill transformed into an island, only accessible by boat, and represented the centre of the Hindu world – the Hill of Meru. Thousands of royal inscriptions, bas-relief and Hindu gods were carved into the warm-toned laterite tower of the temple, which still remain visible, allowing their stories to be told today.
Cambodian folklore provides a much more romantic explanation for the creation of Phnom Da temple. An ancient king, who took the throne of Bassac, had the most beautiful daughter, Princess Ak Or. Despite her royal status, she fell in love with a simple man and was shamed from the royal household. The King sent her and her peasant love in a boat down river, never to return to the kingdom.
After many days of endless floating, accompanied by the fear of dying in the big sea, the boat ran ashore on the hill of Borei. Here the Princess and her love were saved and left to make their home. Every night the Princess would pray that she could somehow find riches in this new land for her and her husband. One night, an honest man appeared in her dream and told her she would control all the riches of the land. Soon after, her common husband unknowingly found precious aloe-scented wood and gold within the forests. Ships began to stop at the island to trade for the precious goods and a bustling, productive city was quickly built to support this newfound industry. This city would grow to become the capital of Angkor Borei.
To thank the honest man for his foresight and blessing, Princess Ak Or had a temple built on the nearby hill so that they could show thanks everyday for their good fortune and remember what they had overcome through love.
Cambodian Folk Tales and Stories
Ancient stories behind places of interest as well as modern day Cambodian folk tales.
By Amy Jurries
main image: courtesy of Cambodia Travel Online