Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Customs of Cambodia (By Chou Ta-Kuan)

1) The Layout of the City

This city has an area of about 20 (square) li’s surrounded with walls. There are five gates, two facing East, and the rest are facing the other three cardinal directions. Outside the city walls, there are large man-made moats surrounding all sides. Across the moats, there are stone bridges, or causeways for people to cross into the city. The causeway’s rails were carved of solid stone representing nine-headed serpents. Along the rails on either side of the causeways were 54 stone statues of deities whose hands were holding onto the 9-headed serpents as if to prevent them from escaping. The design of all five gates looks similar.

On top of the city gates, five gigantic statues of Buddha’s heads are grouped together. Four of the statues were set to face the four cardinal points of the compass. The fifth, which was decorated with gold, stood in the middle. On either side of the city gate, there are also statues of elephants.

The city walls were built of stone blocks stacking neatly on top of one another. The height of the walls is about 12 or 15 feet. On top of the walls there are no grasses. However, some sugar palms were planted along the battlements. On the inside part of the city walls adjacent to each side of the city gates, there were smooth earthen inclines which were built to reach the top of the walls. Each city gate has huge doors which would be closed off at night and opened during daytime. There are always sentries standing on guard at the doors. Dogs are not allowed through those doors. Neither are convicted felons whose toes had been amputated. The walls surrounding the city form a perfect square. On each corner of the walls, there stands a tall tower.

In the middle of the city, there is a golden temple. Around the facility where that temple stands, there are more than 20 other temples with hundreds of chambers. To the east, there is a golden bridge with two statues of golden lions standing on each side. Inside the golden temple, there are 8 golden statues of Buddhas standing under the central tower. To the north of the golden temple about 1 li, there is a bronze temple whose height is even taller than the golden temple. Inside the bronze temple, there are about 10 chambers. Going northward from the bronze temple for about 1 li, we would see the King’s palace. Inside the palace’s compound, there is another golden temple. It is perhaps those golden temples that many foreign merchants who had visited Chenla often spoke of it as a rich and prosperous country.

Outside the city walls about ¾ of a li from the southern gate, I heard a rumor that there is a mausoleum (Luboun) which was built in a single night. That mausoleum has a perimeter of about 10 lis and has hundreds of rooms. Near a reservoir to the east of the city about 10 lis, there is another temple with a perimeter of about 100 lis. Inside that temple, there is a bronze statue of reclining Buddha from whose navel flows a steady stream of water emptying into a pond located on the northern edge of the temple. To the north of the city’s premise about 5 lis, there is another square-shape golden temple which also has hundreds of chambers. Inside that temple, there are gold statues of Buddha, lion, elephant, oxen, horse, and numerous other objects made of bronze.

2) Dwellings
The royal palaces as well as the houses of the ruling classes and the rich are all facing eastward. The royal palace is located to the north of the golden temple and bridge surrounded by fortresses of palace guards. The central building of the royal palaces was covered with tiles made of lead. As for the other buildings, they were covered with yellow tiles made of clay. The pillars and doorframes of the palace buildings were all intricately carved and decorated with various pictures—the majority of them are images of Buddha. The roofs of the palace building are very picturesque. One palace building has a very tall roof and a long corridor for people to walk around. This building is a pavilion in which the king would receive audience and conduct the affairs of the state. There is a golden window behind which the king would sit. On either side of the golden window, forty or so mirrors were placed on a row of square columns. The mirrors are set atop a decorating frame of elephants.

I heard people said that, in the pavilion, there are a lot of interesting objects. However, there is restriction regarding access to viewing those objects. Among the anecdotal stories I was told, I heard of a story about a golden monument located in the middle of the palace’s compound. People told me that, every night, the king would climb up to sleep in that golden monument. The local people believed that there is a genie whose body resembles a 9-headed serpent dwelling inside that golden monument. This mythical genie is the guardian and protector of the country. Every night, the genie will transform herself into a woman to receive romantic homage from the king. No one is allowed to enter the golden monument—not even the queen. Each night, the king had to stay in the monument with the genie until the 3rd watch before he could return to his palace.

I was told that if the genie woman did not show up, a bad omen will befall upon the king’s life. On the other hand, if the king failed to pay homage to the genie, bad luck and disasters will sweep throughout the country.

Beside the palaces, most houses of the ruling classes are built on large tract of lands. Unlike ordinary people’s homes which are small and covered with thatches or palm’s leaves, the houses of the ruling classes are large and covered with tiles roofs. The size of each house corresponds to the social statuses of its owner. The higher rank one receives, the larger one’s house would be. For persons who hold no official titles or ranks, they could not build their houses like those who hold titles do.
(To be continued)

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