Posted by khmernews on November 8, 2006

Wat Botum is one of the more important pagodas in Phnom Penh, as judged by the number of rich politicians who are buried there.

In fact, I sensed an element of competition between Wat Botum and Wat Ounalom for the number one spot. I was told by one monk that although Wat Ounalom has more monks, Wat Botum is actually bigge,  202 m by 260 m for the entire Wat complex. Another monk told me that although Wat Ounalom is the seat of the King’s monk, Wat Botum is the seat of the monk of the King’s main deputy (Preah Po Ti Veang).

Wat Botum is not well-know to tourists, but Cambodians revere it as one of the most historic pagodas in Cambodia. At the front entrance is a green-faced monster with a dagger in its mouth, flanked by two large nagas. This is the picture on the cover fo this book, although the green monster is in the shadows. In front of the Vihear are seimas engraved in beautiful old Khmer writing with the history of Wat Botum. The plaque states that :

– the Wat was founded by king Ponyea Yat in the Buddhist year 1986, which by my calculations is the Western year 1442, and was called Wat Tayawng.
– In 1865 King Bat Norodom offered the pagoda to the head of the Dhammayut  sect, the monk Kantie Topodae, and it was renamed Botum Wathei ( the Pali for Wat Butum, which means Pagoda of the Lotus Pond, as there was formerly a lotus pond on the site).
-The present structure was built in the year 1937 by Bat Samdech Sisowat Monivong.
-In the 1970’s, the pagoda was closed by the Khmer Rouge, but was not destroyed
-After 1979, the pagoda was reopened for use, but this time by the Mohanikae sect.

 There are a few remarkable statues around the outside of the vihare. To the left of the main entrance is a large stupa guarded by green giants with daggers in their mouths, along with ferocious nagas. Behind the vihara are lifelike tigers and lions. Since the Wat is old and important, many important monks and government are buried in grandiose stupas which make good photographs glittering in the sunlight.

Inside the vihara are the usual recognizable scenes from the life of the Buddha. They are rather recent, so the colors are fresh and bright. Among the more uncommon stories shown are excellent pictures of the Ou l i rie n (=G l ard of fingers’) story, the mad elephant bowing before Lord Buddha, and Cheng Cha the prostitute with her wooden doll, claiming the Buddha has fathered her child. Two even rarer scenes show the Buddha levitating along with some rocks to demonstrate his power to his royal relatives, and a scene of the Buddha telling his disciple Mokalean to fight a naga by transforming himself into another naga.

A scene which to appears to confuse two stories shows the Prince Anaan (or Nanda in Sanskrit ) foresaking his fiancee to become a monk. But beside him are the pair of golden sandals usually used as the symbol of Yasa, the rich man who left his family and offered his sandals to the Buddha. The young monk describing  the scene to me translated the inscription as meaning that Anaan left his fiancee and became a monk  to avoid suffering  Is this an anti-marriage statement ?
In a small shrine outside the vihara is a good representation of the five Buddha as animal reincarnations : cock, turtle, naga, ox, and lion-dog. The shrine is guarded by two ferocious white tigers. The shelter also contains a large portrait of Angkor Wat. During the 1996 floods, homeless people used this shrine to sleep in at night.
The jataka stories are the stereotypical scenes instantly recognizable in most pagodas. The Mahasot story shows him with his rural wife under a tree. The Puritoat story shows the naga-tamer with a heart-shaped object, perhaps a fan. This mysterious object appears in many Cambodian versions of the story, and I have been unable to learn what it really is. Finally, note that the Promenart story shows the god coming from heaven with two golden orbs, not the bowl and vase shown elsewhere.
At the altar is a curious candle holder which looks more like an ox-yoke, as well as a large, ornate  pagoda /throne, along with the usual collection of Buddha.


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