The Riverside shrine from the Royal Palace. It’s Khmer name is Preah Ang Doung Kar, meaning Sacred Royal Flagpole. The pavilion in the centre is NOT the shrine – it’s for the king and invited guests to watch the boat races over the three days of the Water Festival in November. The shrine is the small building on the far right, and the steel mast between that and the pavilion is the royal flagpole – it has the royal flag flying from the top
This is the image inside the shrine. The shrine custodians have twice told me it’s a Vishnu, but the experts say it’s Avaloketishvara, a type of Buddha. The Khmer Rouge destroyed both the shrine and the statue some time after 1975, but the shrine was rebuilt in 1991 and a copy of the image installed. In any case, he’s never called by any other name but Ang Doung Kar.
He has six arms because he’s very old – the original, the one the the KR destroyed, dated from the 11th/12th centuries. It was in the possession of King Norodom when he transferred his capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh in 1866. I’d love to know why he brought this with him, and what significance it had, but I haven’t been able to find anything.
At the back of the shrine is a small image of Yeay Tep. She’s a neak-ta, an important guardian spirit. I’m not sure where she’s from – there’s one from Siem Reap and another from Pursat, and I don’t know whether these are two Yeay Teps or one.
That completes the first shrine. The second is identical, but far less popular. It contains seven images, all of well-known neak ta from around the country.
The seven are arranged in two rows, the front row hiding the second. On the far left is Lok Ta (means the same as neak ta) Red Neck, who got his neck from a battle with a naga. He’s from Takeo province. Next is Lok Ta Strong Iron Rod. The guardians told me that he’s from Takeo too, from Mount Chisor (site of an ancient Angkor-period temple), but I always thought Iron Rod was the protective neak ta of Battambang. On the far right is Lok Ta Commander of Cambodia. This is new to me. The guardians said he’s from Wat Phnom, which suggests he’s the companion of Daun Penh, whose home that is.
I don’t know whether being in the second you means you’re less important, but the images there are a bit smaller.
On the far left is Yeay Mao. Her area is the coast, and she has her main shrine at Pich Nil on the road to Sihanoukville. She’s quite a fearsome lady, and I don’t think her statue here at Preah Ang Doung Kar does her justice. She causes whirlpools to swallow the boats of people who displease her, and is said to be the modern version of the goddess Kali.
Next is Daun Penh from Wat Phnom. I asked why she’s here when she has her own shrine on the hill just a tuktuk ride away, and was told it’s just to make it easier for people to pray to her.
After her comes Lok Ta Eisei from a place that sounded like Phnom (meaning mount) Serong. I’ve heard of Eisei but never of Phnom Serong, so probably I have that name wrong.
Finally, on the far right, Lok Ta Khleang Moeung from Pursat province. He’s famous for sacrificing his life for his king in order to call up an army of ghosts to defeat the Siamese.
Preah Ang Doung Kar on a Holy Day
As I said before, the flagpole shrine is the more popular . People come especially on the Holy Days of each month, the 7th/8th and 14th/15th. (It’s to do with the waxing and full moons). Students pray for success in exams, lovers pray for happiness, business people for success. Striking workers gather here to ask the god for help in wage negotiations, and at the funeral of the late king this was where the procession formed.
People also release birds, which they purchase from vendors at the shrine. The idea is to buy two birds. If they fly away together, your relationship will be happy. The ones in this cage seem to be swallows, which seems cruel. The one thing I’d like at the shrine is to have this thing with birds banned.
Kids around the shrine have empty coconut shells filled with melted candles with a burning wick. For a small fee you can get them to light your incense. The incense must never be blown out, always shake the sticks.
When making your prayer, you should promise something to the god in return for his help. Often this is music: “I promise seven songs if this is granted.”