Preah Thorani the Earth Goddess

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 9.54.38 AMKeith Kelly is a Cambodia-based photographer and graphic designer. He has a website here, and a very good collection of photos here on Flickr. I found the photo of Preah Thorani, the Earth Goddess, on his Flickr stream. (He spells her name Torani, which is a bit closer to the pronunciation – she’s also called Neang Kong Heng, “Lady Princess”).

When the Buddha was on the point of attaining Enlightenment the demon Mara attacked him, claiming that he was not the true Buddha and had no right to sit on the Diamond Throne. The gods were defeated by Mara and fled, but Buddha reached a hand down to touch the ground and called on the earth to bear witness. Goddess Earth (Thorani means Earth) appeared, a beautiful bare-breasted girl with her hair full of water. She told Mara that the water was from the countless libations the Buddha had poured out in all his past incarnations, and that he was indeed the Buddha. When she wrung out her hair Mara and his entire army were swept away in the flood.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 11.14.47 AMThorani, under various names all meaning Earth Goddess, is found from Burma to Laos to Thailand, not just Cambodia. (The Thorani water-fountain above is from Bangkok – she’s the symbol of Thailand’s Democrat Party, and also of the Bangkok Water Authority). But she’s not present in Indonesia or Malaysia, and not in India or Sri Lanka. Just those four countries. So she’s a very special earth goddess for mainland Southeast Asia.

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Once you start looking you’ll see her everywhere, wringing out her long hair while standing on or near a crocodile and/or an ornamental pool or fountain. She’s often found near a Buddha in the earth-touching pose, the gesture of calling the earth to witness – in the photo above you see Thorani on a pillar with a golden earth-touching Buddha at right-front. (The photo is from a blog called Wanderlust and Lipstick). Keith’s is at Wat Krong at Sihanoukville, and there’s a nice one inside Wat Penh (standing statue to the right-front as you look at the main altar), and a famous one outside Olympic Stadium, and even at many vihears (the central shrine-hall of a monastery), despite being not quite canonical. (She’s not quite canonical because her story doesn’t appear in the canonical Pali scriptures, only in one non-canonical text that’s found only in mainland Southeast Asia).

One final Thorani, from Prasat Banteay Thom at Angkor, as described on Andy Brouwer’s blog Andy’s Cambodia, just to show how old the goddess is. Bare-breaset Thorani stands on a lotus, destroying Mara’s army.

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