Ensemble of Phanom Rung, Muang Tam and Plai Bat Sanctuaries
Thailand National Committee on the World Heritage Convention
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The Phanom Rung sanctuary or “Vnam Rung”, meaning “Big Mountain”, first appeared on stone inscriptions written in Pali and Sanskrit. (H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, 1978). The sanctuary complex, constructed of pink sandstone, is situated on top and close to the crater of Phanom Rung Mountain, an extinct volcano on the Phanom Dongraek Range. Rising to 200 metres above the surrounding plain, it dominates the landscape in every direction.
The Phanom Rung sanctuary compound was constructed over several phases, dated by means of iconography of its art and architectural styles together with its inscriptions. These comprise two foundations of sacred brick buildings of 10th century C.E., the minor sanctuary of 11th century, the central sanctuary built by king Suryavarman II’s relative Narentratitaya in 12th century and two Bannalais (libraries) of the 13th century. Further sacred buildings built in the reign of King Jayavarman VII in 13th century, including the Royal attire Changing Pavilion, the Kudi Rishis of Nong Bua Ray, the medical centre or hospital (Arokayasala) and Prasat Ban Bu, a rest house with fire where travelers could shelter (Dharmasala) on the plain at the foot of Phanom Rung, alongside the road linking Angkor and Phimai. These evidence an important vice-regal centre on and around the mountain that flourishes from the 10th to the 13th centuries.
Phanom Rung was built for the worship of Shiva, the supreme Hindu god. The sanctuary compound was architecturally well planed, starting from the staircase at the foot of the mountain up to the main temple on top of the volcano. Next to the staircase is a cruciform platform and a typical 160 metre long processional walkway bordered by seventy sandstone posts decorated with lotus buds. The walkway leads to the three Naga Bridges, five sets of upper stairway and the main sanctuary encircled with both square external wall and gallery on top of the mountain while at the axis of their four directions are placed the entrance gates or Gopuras.
Phanom Rung temple and its gallery were constructed of pink sandstone employing tried and tested Angkorian construction methods such as corbel-vaulting. The building has survived well, and can be easily renovated by applying the Anastylosis method. The decoration of stone pediments and lintels of the main tower and gallery are distinctive and outstandingly crafted. They depict episodes of the classic Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. The most elegant are the dancing Shiva and reclining Vishnu (Vishnu Anantasayin) on the pediment and lintel of entrance porch of the main sanctuary.
The symbolism and location of the site relative to the annual movements of the sun are remarkable. Commanding the mountain top, the temple metaphorically represents Mount Kailash, the dwelling place of Shiva. The divine linga, symbol of Shiva in the main chamber, is illuminated by the sun as its beams pass through the main entrance gopura, thereby stimulating and renewing its life force and ensuring the wellbeing of the surrounding land and communities.
Prasat Muang Tam, a Hindu sanctuary of Shiva, was constructed on the plain eight kilometres south east of Phanom Rung. This temple complex presents a unique architectural style and marvelous stone decoration. It comprises a cluster of five towers on a laterite foundation. The towers were surrounded with two square walls and a gallery. The walls are of laterite with gopuras on the four axes. Four L -shaped ponds with Naga-headed no decoration, were placed at four corners turning the five main towers of the sanctuary into an island. This undoubtedly represents the Hindu mythical concept of Kailash mountain and its four principal rivers. To the north lies a massive reservoir or Baray known as Muang Tam Sea, measuring 510 by 1,090 metres.
Archaeological work during the Muang Tam Conservation Project encountered a Shiva Linga from the main brick tower, revealing that the sanctuary was built for the worship of God Shiva. Decoration on the pediments and lintels depict mythical story of Shiva, Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu and other Hindu deities. On the basis of its iconography and architectural style, Prasat Muang Tam dates to the 11th century C.E.
Plai Bat sanctuaries no.1 and no.2 are located on top of the extinct volcano, Kao Plai Bat approximately two kilometres southwest of Muang Tam. The result of archaeological excavation and LIDAR scanning site survey technique revealed its architectural plan as being the same as Phanom Rung. The main sanctuaries were placed on an axis with oriented to the East. The sacred buildings were reached by means of a long processional walkway from and main Baray at the foot of the mountain.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The sanctuary of Phanom Rung, sacred tower of Plai Bat, and temple of Muang Tam are a unique complex of Angkorian structures that, with the associated barays and water control systems, reflect outstanding aspects of architecture, engineering, arts, skilled craftsmanship, stone building and brick construction, irrigation, universal astronomy, governance and theology, landscape, human settlement and land use.
Water was vital to the endurance of the civilization of Angkor, and at Phanom Rung and Plai Bat, uniquely the volcanic craters acted as reservoirs. The system at Phanom Rung involved seven ponds in descending order starting from the crater down to the northern hillside to fill the Mean Hear reservoir at the western piedmont of the mountain. The system also included Nong Bua Ray reservoir on the eastern piedmont. This phenomenon indicates profound wisdom of world gravity knowledge.
On the east of Prasat Muang Tam, there is a large Baray named Muang Tam Sea with a capacity of 1.5 million cubic metres. Water from the Phanom Rung and Plai Bat sanctuaries flowed down natural canals to the Muang Tam Sea for irrigating the ricefields between Phanom Rung and Plai Bat.
The three temples were designed to reflect Hindu theology and astrology. Two volcanoes and one plain were selected for their construction. The main towers were built and placed on the axis of four directions encircled with square or rectangular walls and galleries. They represent Mount Meru, home of Shiva’s and axis of the universe. The Gopura Gates were placed such that the sun on the shone into the main tower chamber for activating the Shiva Linga, the universal Hindu sacred ritual. This can brought life to the whole complex of communities. These great and enduring masterpieces evidence the high point in Angkorian art and architecture.
The three temples were built of sandstone, laterite and brick. Pink and white sandstone of the highest quality was chosen. Quarried stone blocks were transported by elephants, rafts and carts to the construction site. Stones were placed on top of each other from foundation to the top roughly shaped, and where then decorated in situ. Weight bearing was skillfully managed, leading to fine preservation over eight centuries, and making restoration feasible. Master sculptors then embellished the temples with floral and human designs depicting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata Epics.
Criteria (iii): The Phanom Rung, Muang Tam and Plai Bat complex is unique in the Angkorian world for the juxtaposition into a complete whole. Two extinct volcanoes and the surrounding plain were selected for the construction of sacred monuments by the local elite lineage. According to the inscriptions, they were built during the 11th -12th centuries C.E. The sanctuaries themselves represented kingdoms of deities comprising the Main Tower, Wall, Gallery, Gopura with realistic stone carving of the Great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, a processional Walkway, Ponds and reservoirs in a unified architectural plan. This reflects the connection between gods and people. The sandstone material used for Phanom Rung and the stone carving of Prasat Muang Tam is as beautiful as the Banteay Srei Temple in Siem Reap, and portray the unique and outstanding appearance of this tangible heritage complex in Buri Ram Province
Criteria (iv): To be as an outstanding example of ensemble of sacred monuments on the crater of the extinct volcano and on the plain, with the associated the Man-made water control system. That reflect outstanding aspects of architecture, engineering, irrigation, landscape in order to nourish the community center, alongside the road linking Angkor and Phimai, from the 15th-17th until 18th century A.D.
Criteria (v): To be as an outstanding example of human settlement during the 15th- 18th centuries, reflecting the interactions between humans with the environment. By nourishing the community on the plain with religious principals and water control system by constructing the sanctuaries on the crater of the extinct volcano and on the plain, with the associated the Man-made water control system, uniquely the volcanic craters acted as reservoirs in descending order, that connects human to natural streams and become in a whole unity. This phenomenon indicates profound wisdom of world gravity knowledge. Those remain evidences can be seen until present.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
An archaeological study and restoration project undertaken in association with the Thai and French governments in 1971 found that more than 90 percent of the architectural construction materials, such stone lintels, pediments, gallery, walls, ponds and walkways were spread out on the surrounding ground floor of the sanctuaries. All these artifacts were replaced to their original position from the foundation to the top part of the monument complex.
There is no doubt that the original of stones with exact carvings related to its design and buildings are faithfully restored. Based upon the series of documentation of arts style and iconography together with inscriptions found in situ, it is concluded that the monument plan and its building complex as it appears today after the restoration, still retains many elements of its original monument plan and buildings. The three sanctuaries still have exactly the same architectural planning as when they were built in the 11th -12th centuries C.E .PhanomRung and Plai Bat Temples were still located on the extinct volcano while Prasat Muang Tam was still at the flat plain below and three of them has been connected with natural canals. The stone carvings of Phanom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata, the great Epics, are intact and still in the right position.
The Fine Arts Department has prepared a master work plan, a budget and action plan including personnel support officers in this management process in the form of a historical park. There is a specific law that is the Act on Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums B.E. 2504 (1961), as amended in 1992, and other relevant laws for the protection of this great cultural heritage.
Comparison with other similar properties
Decision based on architectural and engineering style, belief, faith arts and site location, the ensemble of Phanom Rung, Plai Bat and Muang Tam Sanctuaries could be compared with other world heritage properties such as Preah Vihear and Vat Phou and associated ancient settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape in Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic respectively.
- Vat Phou
The Champasak cultural landscape, including the Vat Phou Temple complex, is a remarkably well preserved planned landscape more than 1,000 years old. It was shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity, using an axis from the mountain top to river bank to lay out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over some 10 km. Two planned cities on the banks of the Mekong River are also part of the site, as well as Phou Kao mountain. The whole represents a development ranging from the 5th to 15th centuries, mainly associated with the Khmer Empire.
The Committee inscribed Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape on the World Heritage List under criteria (iii), (iv) and (vi):
Criterion (iii): The Temple Complex of Vat Phou bears exceptional testimony to the cultures of South-east Asia, and in particular to the Khmer Empire which dominated the region in the 10th- 14th centuries.
Criterion (iv): The Vat Phou complex is an outstanding example of the integration of a symbolic landscape of great spiritual significance to its natural surroundings.
Criterion (vi): Contrived to express the Hindu version of the relationship between nature and humanity, Vat Phou exhibits a remarkable complex of monuments and other structures over an extensive area between river and mountain, some of outstanding architecture, many containing great works of art, and all expressing intense religious conviction and commitment.
2. Temple of Preah Vihear
Situated on the edge of a plateau that dominates the plain of Cambodia, the Temple of Preah Vihear is dedicated to Shiva. The Temple is composed of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800 metre long axis and dates back to the first half of the 11th century AD. Nevertheless, its complex history can be traced to the 9th century, when the hermitage was founded. This site is particularly well preserved, mainly due to its remote location. The site is exceptional for the quality of its architecture, which is adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the temple, as well as for the exceptional quality of its carved stone ornamentation.
The Temple of Preah Vihear, a unique architectural complex of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases on an 800 metre long axis, is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment.
Criterion (i): Preah Vihear is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It is very ‘pure’ both in plan and in the detail of its decoration. Authenticity, in terms of the way the buildings and their materials express well the values of the property, has been established. The attributes of the property comprise the temple complex; the integrity of the property has to a degree been compromised by the absence of part of the promontory from the perimeter of the property. The protective measures for the Temple, in terms of legal protection are adequate; the progress made in defining the parameters of the Management Plan needs to be consolidated into an approved, full Management Plan.
Ensemble of the Phanom Rung, Muang Tum and Plai Bat sanctuaries are significant example of the sacred monuments with a great value in its unique Hindu architectural style constructed on the mountain follow the cosmological principles as well as Wat Phu and Preah Vihear sanctuary. Although they have remarkable differences from both sites, that are the 2 sanctuaries on the top crater of the volcanoes, which are nowhere else in the world.
The importance and holiness of these sanctuaries influenced on the lowland community, demonstrated by the connection of the water control system and the natural streams flow down into the same resevior, Baray Muang tum which is the location of community sanctuary, along the route from Siem Reap to Phimai.
Considering the overall settlement area in Northeastern Thailand, hundreds of religious sites both Buddhist and Hindus sanctuaries in Khmer culture are found. Ensemble of the Vnam Rung complex, the one which has a relationship between spatial and landscaped environment, consists of the 2 sanctuaries on the crater of the extinct volcano, Phanom Rung and Prasat Plai Bat, and on the plain, Prasat Muang Tum. Which are all well associated in terms of architectural style, fine arts and water control system. These ensemble sanctuaries, completely unique and distinctive, although the time has changed but these beauty and relationship of the ensemble sacred sanctuaries with the landscaped environment still remain. This is another special aspect of this cultural heritage.