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Khmer legendary: Koh Ker temple

Khmer Legend cover

Koh Ker was an important capital during Angkor Empire between 921-944 [constructed] by King Jayavarman IV, who reigned between 928 and 941. It was 140 kilometers northeast of Yasodharapura capital (the City of Angkor).

The former capital is currently located in Koh Ker Village, Srayang commune, Koulen district, Preah Vihear province. King Jayavarman IV eracted such several small and big temples (Prasat) as Prang Temple, Kraham (red) Temple, Linga (penis) Temple, Krachap Templet, Banteay Pi Choan Temple, Damrey (elephant) Temple Pram Temple, Banteay Pi Choan Temple, Damrey (elephant) Temple, Pram Temple, and Neang Khmao Temple. Of the temples, Tower is the biggest part; therefore, some call it Prasat Thorn (big temple) and other Kampeng Temple (stone wall temple). With it surrounded by long and big stone walls, it is called Koh Ker Temple, the island of honor or fame. Koh Ker Temple is of pyramid shape and conical-shaped sides different from temples previously constructed by Khmer ancestors. It is of up to 35 meters high [and its height ranks second] after Angkor Wat temple. Prasat Thorn or Prasat Prang is a temple mountain and support of the devaraja (king of the gods)’s linga the height and diameter of which are 18 meters and 15 meters, respectively (made from metal or covered by metal) and which was uprooted and currently, no information about it is available.

Koh Ker ” The Lost Wonder “

As per event, geography and character of Koh Ker Temple, ancient wise persons made up a story titled ‘Sdech Damrey Sar (king of the white elephant)’, the content of which is as follows: In olden days, a village was suffering a famine, ofr the wather was so hot, soil was completely dry and there was no rain at all. Villagers went into forests in search of maniocs and wild yams for food. Of all the villagers, an orphan virgin girl walked away from others in search of waters. In a few minute walks from them, she saw in a distance a Damrey Sar (white elephant) walking and the elephant left its footprints on the path. In a few minutes walks, she suddenly saw puddles of water in the elephant’s footprints. She was so glad that she knelt down, dipped water with her hand for drink and felt it was the elephant’s urine.

Upon her arrival at home, she commenced her pregnancy since that day [the day on which she drank the elephant’s urine]. Having seen her get pregnant without getting married, the villagers thought [this] Would bring about bad luck in the village; thus, they chased her out of the village to a remote area where she lived alone. Later on, she delivered a beautiful baby girl. When teenage, the girl went to play with the villagers’children, but it was pity they kept insulting her ‘fatherless child’. [As a result], she was Always in tears and ran to tell her mother about their insult’and asked for her father, but her mother had no words to tell at all.

Later on, the mother was so seriously ill she told her story with the Damrey Sar to the daughter and that she then died. Having conducted the mother’s funeral, the daughter went, following her mother advice, in search of the Damrey Sar. After she had walked to eery comer, she saw people flee the chase by Sdech Damrey Sar, which she ran to rather than running away and she earned great admiration from people in general. Owing to their destiny as father and daughter, Sdech Damrey Sar then had pity and love and put her on his back using his trunk to hold her in an embrace. Sdech Damrey Sar then raised and named her Sratun Sastra.

When Sratun Sastra reached the age of puberty, she was very beautiful that Sdech Damrey Sar got very worried about her. Following his serious consideration, Sdech Damrey Sar constructed a single-column temple as he didn’t want he paid attention to the most was her hairdressing. He loved and was so satisfied with her that he always arranged his daughter’s hair in a brightly shining manner. Whenever he arrived at the temple, he always nicely said to her: “Sratun Sastra”, may you please drop your hair as I arrive. [I will] put flowers on the front of your head, comb your hair at the back and scent your hair, Sratun Sastra.”

A hunter who went hunting and got to the temple heard the nice words spoken by Sdech Damrey Sar. The hunter then told the news to a prince. The prince, having heard the news, went into the forest with an aim to peek at Sdech Damrey Sar who nicely spoke to Sratun Sastra, who was so beautiful that the prince fell in great love with her following his view of her. After he memorized all of Sdech Damrey Sar’s words, the prince Grasped an opportunity to approach Sratun Sastra’s temple and spoke out the words when Sdech Damrey Sar was not available. Sratun Satra when hearing the words dropped her hair. The prince when seeing the opportunity arise walked up to the temple through the hair; comforted her so affectionately that they mutually understand each other’s heart; and took her to his temple.

Sdech Damrey Sar had. looked for fruits and every kind of fragrant flower for his only one beloved daughter for three days. When [fruits and fragrant flower] collected, he walked in a great hurry to his daughter. Upon arrival at the temple, he spoke out the same words as usual, but his daughter didn’t drop her hair from the temple, so he thought she was sleeping. He then spoke out the same words out loud again and again, but his daughter didn’t appear. [As a result], he got so worried that he decided to walk in a great hurry in search of his daughter back and forth repeatedly from one temple to the next; shouted out loudly in the forest; and cut off the top of each temple so as to look for his daughter.

He then arrived at the temple to which his daughter was taken by the prince. Sratun Sastra and the prince when hearing Sdech Damrey Sar’s shout came out quickly, knelt down and begged him: “[We] would like to pay homage to you, father. May you please forgive us two.” Sdech Damrey Sar seeing so felt so extremely shocked he fell down in tears and spoke discontinuously: “Sratun Sastra, if you love me, why have you broken traditional patterns?  [You] make me hopeless and very ashamed. Please take these fruits, water container and flower from me for the last time. May you two take care of each other. I would like to say goodbye to you, [two].”

Feeling so embarrassed and disappointed, Sdech Damrey Sar fell down and died shortly behind the temple. Currently, after we have visited Prasat Koh Ker, we should go to the back of Prasat Thorn to look at the higher ground piled by ancient persons to be served as the symbol of Sdech Damrey Sar. Nowadays, there are many elephant­ shaped trees growing and sinking to the south. Moreover, local people have hoisted a flag (shaped roughly like a crocodile) near the northern foothill so as to be served as the symbol of the death of Sdech Damrey Sar.

The End

Socheat Mom

Hello, My name is Socheat Mom and I’m Angkor Nation blog founder. I work for a private company in Cambodia as a Public Relations Manager. I was a former Sale and Marketing executive for a website development company in Phnom Penh. Read more

3 thoughts on “Khmer legendary: Koh Ker temple

  1. Hello my name is Natalie and I just wanted to drop you a quick message here instead of calling you. I discovered your Khmer legendary: Koh Ker temple – Angkor Nation page and noticed you could have a lot more visitors. I have found that the key to running a popular website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your website topic. There is a company that you can get keyword targeted traffic from and they let you try their service for free for 7 days. I managed to get over 300 targeted visitors to day to my website. Check it out here: http://janluetzler.de/9zw

  2. Dear Socheat Mom- thank you for this fascinating essay! I am a PhD student in the US researching Khmer folklore and my recordings of rural storytelling include a version of the story very close to the one you have written above. However, the print book “The White Elephant King” is very different (it is staged in terms of the rivalry of two kings…) and instead of being named Sratun Sastra, the woman is named Kon Ton Sastra. I was wondering if you would be able to share the source of the version of the story you wrote here, because I have a feeling that the written edition has a lot of Thai influence (and makes no mention of Koh Ker), whereas your version involving the Elephant Tomb at Koh Ker may come from an earlier Khmer source… any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Dear Jacob O Gold,  I appreciate you taking the time to read my article on my blog. I have written The “Khmer legendary: Koh Ker temple” base on Khmer legendary collection book series part six published by Buddhist Institute of Cambodia. There is nine parts of the Khmer Legendary Collection books from part 1 to part 9. And also the Buddhist Institute have posted all Khmer Legendary on their website. Moreover, you can download the book from this page. All those documents are written in the Khmer Language. I apologize that I could not provide you the accurate and more detail the source of the story  “White Elephant King, “. Because I’m not pretty sure about the source but if you would like to find out more information, please contact Buddhist Institute by contact information here (https://www.budinst.gov.kh/អំពីវិទ្យាស្ថាន.html). Thank you.

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