Prasat Phanom Rung
The inscriptions of Prasat Phanom Rung offer a unique insight into the nature of Khmer rule in Northeast Thai-land between the 10th and 13th centuries AD. They record the family history of Narendraditya and his son ,Hiranya, making it clear that they ruled autonomously, not as vassals to the king at Angkor. Some of this history is depicted on the narrative reliefs adorning the main sanctuary. If, as they appear to, these reliefs do relate to Narendraditya s life, they represent the earliest portraiture and carving of historical scenes in Khmer art.
Let us begin with the setting, for the name Phanom Rung refers to the ancient volcano upon which
The temple sits. Phanom Rung hill rises over 350 metres
above the surrounding plain. On a find day, one can gaze across the floodplain below. The eye is first caught by the sparkle of water in the baray or reservoir of the neighbouring temple of Muang Tam, and then by the dark grey foothills of the Dangrek Mountains, the border of Cambodia. The strategic value of the gill top location of Phnom Rung continues to be appreciated today by the Thai Royal Air Force, who share the crest of the mountain with the ancient temple. In former times, Phnom Rung was midway between the great city of Angkor to the south and Phimai too the northwest. The ruler who controlled the Phnom Rung area most probably also had suzerainity over the fertile floodplain stretching south to Prasat Muang Tam. This powerful fiefdom appears to have been held during one of the most prosperous periods of the region s history, by the family of Narendraditya.
Altogether eleven inscliptions have been found at Prasat Phnom Rung is in Sanskrit eulogy and surveral times in the Khmer inscliptions. It is unusual for temples to retain their original Khmer names which here means broad mountain.
The earliest of the inscription found at Prasat Pnom Rung is in Samskrit. It is only four lines, but has been dated to around the 7th or 8th century. This date precedes that of the 9th century usually given to the existing structures within the temple complex. Therefore, the inscription either came from another place such as the neighbouring peak of Phu Angkhan, or belonged to an earlier sanctuary which has now been built over. (This is known to have happened at Phimai, where a brick structure was discovered underlying the stone temple).
Of the other Sanakrit inscriptions, the most important bears the inventory number of K.384. It is also the biggest, measuring about 27 53 centimetres. In the early part of this century, aymonier first noticed the stone in a wat in Nakhon Ratchasima and it was moved to bangkok by Prince Damrong . aithought it was thought to have come from Khao Phnom Rung, this was not confirmed until 1972, when a second piece of the stele was found during Fine Arts Department reconstruction of the temples. This second fragment, matched the first in both size and in its 12th century Sanskrit charecters.
The inscription was erected by Narendradityas son, Hiranya, perhaps to commemorate the founding of new additions to the Saivite monestcry at Phnom Rung. It begins with a hymn to Shiva, in particular of the Shiva Mahayogi, supreme patron of all ascetics. Hiranya set up a golden image of his gather, and other members of the family presented gifts in his honour. The family were members of the Mahidharapura dynasty who originated in this area. During Narcndradityas lifetime, one of his relatives, King Suryavarman II (1112 1152) ruled from Angkor. Suryavarman naturally used his ties to the Northeast to bring this region under his power. In fact, earlier scholars suchas George Coedcs who examined the K.384 stele concluded that it was a hymn to Suryavarman II. However, the work of HRH Princess Maha Chakri sirindhorn has established that the inseription praises Narendraditya. The importance of the inscription lies in the insight it offers in to the independence lf the Northeastern governorships whixh came under the sway of Angkor. Men such as Narendreditya were powerful chiefs who found it advantagcous to pay tribute to the wealthy ruler at Angkor.
In the case of Narendraditya, the K. 384 inscription records that he assumed suzerainity over the Rhnom Rung princcipality after he had defeated many enemies in the service of King Suryavarman II. These may even have been the campaingns which enabled Suryavarman II to assume the throne, and are depicted on some of the bas-relifes of the temple complex. Shortly after this, however, narendraditya become a yogi and guru, retreating from the ceaseless struggle for power into the meditative world of the monastery. This at any rate, is how his son Hirunya recorded events in 1150 AD, when he decided to commemorate his father s history with the setting up of the inscription and golden image.
Hiranya has also set out his own biography, noting that at the age of 15 he completed a grammar course and graduated at 16. By the age of 18, he had proven his prowess as hunter of elephants, and at 20 had the golden image lf his father made. Presumably, these dedications by Hiranya were male to celebrate an addition to the monactery and a bid for control based on deification of his father, and idertification of himself with this power. Unfortunately we know nothing more of the familys history, for the K.384 inscription is the last to be erected at Phnom Rung.
Among the other inscriptions , however , are fascinating details of the religious practices of the monastery on Phnom Rung hill. One, with an inventory number of BR.14, is carved on a rounded stone slab almost, a metre high, a shape associated with sema stones or bounday markers. The inscription on the stone dates to the 12th century,