Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Preah Vihear Temple, A Khmer Cultural Legacy

Posted: 15 Feb 2010 10:50 PM PST

(Photo: EPA)

PREAH VIHEAR TEMPLE, A KHMER CULTURAL LEGACY

2.14.10
By Khmer Surin
ชาวแขมร์จังหวัดสุรินทร์

What is a Thai Unilateral Map? Is Preah Vihear Temple a Hindu Temple or a Khmer Temple? Who Built Preah Vihear Temple? Let's observe some facts...
Sarit Thanarat

The Thai unilateral map was a map produced by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat government of Thailand to counter the verdict of the International Court of Justice on June 15, 1962, which granted Cambodia full ownership of the Khmer temple and the 4.6 km2 adjacent land. The map showed a new Thai boundary line abutting against the Preah Vihear temple, which did not coincide with UN recognized map of the two countries. The ICJ verdict sent a rippling shock for the rest of Thailand as if it were struck by 9.0 earthquake with the Khmer Preah Vihear Temple as being the epicenter. Many Thais were asked to contribute at least one Baht per person to help contribute to the World Court case at The Hague in the Netherlands under the Thai legal team of Seni Pramoj. The Thai defense team at the time argued that the mixed French-Siamese border commission did not follow the watershed line which was to be used for the delineation of the boundary between Cambodia and Thailand. The French understood the importance of the Preah Vihear temple to the people of Cambodia; and in recognizing the historical significance, France felt that the temple belonged to Cambodia and therefore indicated as so on the Annex I map that it was located inside the territory of Cambodia. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) of Siam acknowledged the map at the signing of the Franco-Siamese Treaties of 1904-07.

To understand why Preah Vihear is so important to the people of Cambodia, we must look into its history. Preah Vihear was one the earliest Khmer temples built on an unusual breathtaking site on top of 525 m high cliff. Construction began in the 9th century and into the 10th century A.D. and it was dedicated to Hindu god Shiva and his manifestations as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. An interesting note to this is that a small Khmer Buddhist temple of 'Wat Kaew Sikha Kiri Svarak' on adjacent land was named after the mountain god. Construction of the temple began under the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1002-1050) and Suryvarman II (1113 -1150). An inscription found at the temple provides a detailed account of King Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual advisor, the aged Brahman Divakarapandita. In the wake of the decline of Hinduism in the region the site was converted to use by Buddhists.

Many Cambodians today feel that the Preah Vihear Temple is a Khmer heritage left behind by their great god-kings and ancestors. It bears no legacy or cultural heritage whatsoever to Thailand except the fact that the Siamese had conquered the area in the 15th century and placed under direct Siamese rule in the 18th century. The Khmer Empire was a great empire that ruled most of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th century as witnessed by the grandeur of the ruins at Angkor. Power struggle within the Khmer ruling class and foreign invasions led to its decline. The first recorded Thai kingdom of Sukhothai (1238 till 1438) was established under the rebellious yoke of two Siamese chieftains Khun Po Bangklanghao and Khun Po Phameung on Khmer territory. The Siamese were newcomers migrated from Nanchao, Southern China, during the wake of the Mongol invasion. They migrated South toward the Chao Phraya and Mekong regions of the Khmer kingdom. Through years of slave labor and breeding with Khmers. The once Tai 'sino-phenotype' had transformed into a better and stronger Siamese society, adopting almost everything from their Khmer masters. This explained as to why the Thai culture and language bear alot of Khmer influences over the years. And Subsequently, as the Khmer power declined in the region, the Siamese felt embarrassed and want nothing to associate with the Khmers. In doing so, they rewrote history as they see fit to glorify themselves. Many Thai historians rejected the idea that 'Khom' (a Thai term for ancient Khmers) bear no relationship to present-day Cambodians. However, this view was not shared by Professor Charnvit Kasetsiri, a highly distinguished Thai historian at Bangkok Thammasat University. The Thais admired 'Khom' culture but hated Khmers.

As Thailand progress since the 1950's, many Thai nationalists began to eradicate and distance themselves from the heavy Khmer influences in all aspects of Thai society. It was started with Plaek Pibulsonggram by his enforcement of a new Thai social culture based on the west, and then later with Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat at the height of Khmer-Thai conflict of Preah Vihear in the 1950's and 1960's. Many Thais were preeched to hate Khmers as inferior, not intelligent, lazy and ugly with dark skin. To the contrary, these racist ideas are not true at all. Thai school children were taught with a one-sided history based on incorrect informations. Western scholars believed the 'Tai' people migrated down from Yunnan province in southern China. However, some Thai history books suggested that they were native to Southeast Asia long before Khmer people at Ban Chiang. Even though 40% of the Thai language contained Khmer words, Khmer (or 'Khom' in Thai) writings were eradicated from Buddhist scriptures all over the country. Former King Norodom Sihanouk was often mocked in ridicules. Students were asked what color (si in Thai) that the Thai people hate---and their reply was 'Si-hanouk'. Thais admired the Khmers and their culture when they were a power in the region. When the Khmer empire diminished, everything changed over night and they hated Khmers and wanted to own everything that belonged to the Khmer people, including temples. There are currently about 45 Khmer temples in Thailand, and now they so desire to own other Khmer temples of Preah Vihear, Ta Moan Touch, Ta Moan Thom, adjacent land, etc.

Mon-Khmer people were one of the earliest inhabitants of Southeast Asia. Today, Khmer people call their homeland 'Suvarnabhumi' (a Sanskrit term for Golden Land). Many scholars believed that 'Kambuja' was a name given by the Kambojas a group of people who originally lived in the Pamir mountains of Afghanistan. They migrated to Gujarat (northwestern India), made their way to Sri Lanka and finally came to the Indochina peninsula and established the Khmer kingdom of 'Funan' between (4th century B.C.E-1th century A.D.). A Kambuja Kshatriya named Kambhu Svayambhuva married the local Naga tribe's daughter named Mera, together they established the 'Nokor Phnom' kingdom or 'Funan' (in Chinese: 扶南) as recorded by Chou Ta-kuan, a Chinese envoy to Cambodia. Many Indian customs, culture, religion and language were introduced and mingled with the native Naga tribe via this union period. Following the decline of 'Nokor Phnom', another Khmer kingdom of 'Chandra' emerged. 'Chandra' kingdom or 'Chenla' (in Chinese: 真腊) (550-802 A.D.), was a successor kingdom to 'Funan' or 'Nokor Phnom' kingdom. The Khmer Empire (802– 1431AD) was the second greatest recorded empire in Southeast Asia in terms of land mass after Srivijaya, present-day Indonesia. It covered all of present-day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, parts of South-Vietnam and Burma). The term 'Khmer' (adjective for the people of Cambodia) was created a result of the conjugation of the two names in recorded Khmer history 'Kambhu + Mera'. A Khmer proverb stated that "If Khmers unite, Khmers survive, if Khmers divide, Khmers will perish." The Khmers have always been a proud and enduring race with great ancient history, echoing in the Khmer national anthem 'Nokor Reach' by the supreme Buddhist patriarch, Samdech Chuon Nath. They so desire to exist peacefully with all its surrounding neighbors. 'Suvarnabhumi' will always be golden as Khmer people come together in the defense of what it is rightfully hers.

---Khmer Surin
---ชาวแขมร์จังหวัดสุรินทร์
2.14.10

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