Phanom Rung Vandalised

A few months ago I visited Phanom Rung, a 12th century Khmer temple situated on top of a hill in the north east of Thailand. (My original Postcard is here.) Last week something awful happened there: the temple was vandalised. A large number of naga (mythical serpent) balustrades were smashed, as was the Nandi figure (the bull vehicle of the Hindu deity Shiva), two singha (mythical lion) figures and a couple of guardian statues. The Shiva lingam (stylised phallus) at the heart of the temple was moved from its yoni (female private parts) and turned to face the opposite direction.

Phanom Rung naga balustrade
Naga balustrade at Phanom Rung

Phanom Rung nandi figure
Nandi figure at Phanom Rung

Phanom Rung guardian
Guardian figure at Phanom Rung with Shiva lingam in background

There was apparently some sort of black magic ritual performed before the vandalism – a plastic glass of water and three cigarettes were found as well as candles and incense sticks – though the purpose of the ritual is unclear. One theory is that the ritual was to counteract the effects of a previous ritual performed by the current government at the site. Another is that the ritual was associated with the production of amulets.

The local people are stunned. Many of them were involved in the 10 year restoration project for the temple back in the 70s. They can’t believe that anyone local would do something so terrible. One of the archaeologists who worked on the original restoration said “I never thought that I would have to restore this temple again, especially as a result of vandalism. The feeling is so much different. The 1971 restoration work was conducted because of natural causes, but this time it is the work of a group of ill-willed people.” The site – like many similar sites in Thailand – was woefully poorly protected. The budget only allowed for three security guards to be employed to cover what is a large area.

Restoration will be swift – probably about a month – but the shock will take longer to fade.

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