Preah Vihear, the Temple of the Auspicious One and the Many Faces
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Preah Vihear, the Temple of the Auspicious One and the Many Faces

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Shiva, represented as a handsome young man, meaning his victory over death and decay, dances upon Apasmara, the demon of ignorance.

Sihanoukville. The battle between Thailand and Cambodia for Shiva’s Temple at the top of the Dangrek Range is not new at all. If the Hindu god is regarded as the destroyer and the transformer among the Trimurti, thus his main Temple in the Indochina Peninsula resembles what his early worshipers knew of the Supreme Being of the Mountain, known also as Sikharesvara, the other name of the Temple. But Preah Vihear is as important as Angkor Wat, probably not as the capital of the Khmer Empire, but for its position.

When the Angkorian monarchs began the construction of what we know today as the Preah Vihear Temple, they did it just in the middle of their country: the Khmer Empire. They dedicated it to Shiva, the Auspicious One, as Sikharesvara, the Supreme Being of the Mountain. But it remembers also Bhadresvara, the cult to Shiva under the form of the Linga inaugurated by the Mỹ Sơn´s King Bhadravarman I (380-413.)

The construction of the temple began under the rule of the Khmer King Yasovarman I (r. 889-910), who intended to consolidate his power by the establishment of religious cults in different parts of the Empire. Sikharesvara was built essentially as a monastery, a place of repose and meditation for the wiser men of his kingdom. The Dangrek mountains that divide today Thailand from Cambodia, were venerated as Mount Meru, the sacred mountain of the Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. The stones to build it at the top of the hill, 625 meters above the sea level, were brought probably from Phnom Kulen, about 140 kilometers far to the south, near Angkor Wat.

But it was King Suryavarman I (r. 1010-1050)  the main monarch to finish the Temple and give to it its splendor as a part of the consolidation of his Empire. It is the king of the unity over several principalities and the conqueror of the Kingdom of Louvo, today the Thai province of Lopburi. As most of the Angkorian kings, Suryavarman I based his authority on religion, urbanization and commerce. His successor, Utyadityavarman II (r. 1050-1068) was a noticeable worshiper of Sikharesvara and after him division came once more to the Empire. It had to wait the advent of Suryavarman II (1113–1150), during whose reign Angkor Wat was built and the kingdom gained once more unity.

As most of the Angkorian temples, Preah Vihear slept in the jungle for centuries. When it was its time to wake up to the modern world, there was not more that Khmer Empire it knew, but it was amazingly in the middle of two Buddhist brother kingdoms claiming ownership over it. As a sign of the five faces of Shiva, the Temple is oriented south-north, unlike Angkor Wat, as observing the plains of the two modern countries, like a sign of the five faces of Shiva.

As a legacy of the ancestors, Sikharesvara should become a symbol of unity and fraternity among two kingdoms that have more in common than differences. Its name should return to that ancient one of Sikharesvara as the Auspicious One for both nations, a sacred spot of peace and wisdom. The creation of the demilitarized zone by the International Court of Justice is just a good principle that the Temple must be absolutely respected. Shiva, represented as a handsome young man, meaning his victory over death and decay, dances upon Apasmara, the demon of ignorance. The Temple, therefore, was created for the meditation and wisdom of the peoples. We hope that both countries will respect the international law and the memory of their ancestors for the best of both nations, which are definitely brother countries.