Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Praying for Good Luck at Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Share on Facebook0Share on Google+4Tweet about this on Twitter32Pin on Pinterest13Share on StumbleUpon1Share on LinkedIn0

I’m a sucker for Buddhist temples. The sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle design differences from country to country fascinate me and the pagodas of Cambodia were no exception. In contrast to the lavish decadence of Thailand’s gilt-covered monasteries, the pagodas in this poverty-stricken country were simple, with one notable exception. As if to make up for their general lack of opulence, electronic rainbow-colored discs rotate behind the heads of Buddhas statues.

Incense burns in large pots at Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine

Incense burns in large pots at Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine

There were more than enough pagodas in Siem Reap to satisfy my obsession but one in particular caught my eye. As I passed by every morning on my way to the Angkor Wat ruins and again on my way back to town later in the day, I noticed that this tiny sanctuary was always overflowing with locals, while the larger pagodas I had visited were fairly deserted. My curiosity got the better of me, so I took one afternoon off from exploring ruins to join the faithful at Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine.

Priest blesses worshipers by sprinkling them with holy water

Priest blesses worshipers by sprinkling them with holy water

At a huge ceramic pot in front of the shrine I held three smoking sticks of incense forehead high and bowed, asking that all sentient beings be relieved from suffering, then pierced the curtain of wafting smoke and mounted the steps to the ordered pandemonium of the interior. On the right, wizened bald-headed Buddhist nuns in white robes sat cross-legged on the floor collecting donations for the repair and maintenance of the temple. To my left, saffron-robed monks patiently flicked holy water from a wicker brush onto visitors who knelt and prostrated, touching their foreheads to the marble floor.

Worshipers wash hands of Angkorean princesses

Worshipers wash hands of Angkorean princesses

In the center, hundreds of people streamed in and out of a small alcove where stately brass and bronze statues of Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom stood. These sister deities, believed to have been Angkorean princesses, originally stood in the gallery of One Thousand Buddhas at Angkor Wat, however successive generations of monks moved them repeatedly to keep their whereabouts secret from invaders and treasure hunters, until they were finally enshrined in their current location in 1990. Each day, throngs of worshipers heap the sisters with flowers and wash the hands and feet of the statues with small bowls of blessed water, most especially Ang Chek, the taller, more slender of the two statues, whose outstretched palm displays a Sanskrit protection symbol.

Washing the feet of the bronze statues of Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom is believed to bring good luck

Washing the feet of the bronze statues of Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom is believed to bring good luck

When I grew tired of the circus inside the alcove there was still much more to see. Down one side of the shrine, flower sellers had lotus buds and jasmine garlands at the ready, while around back vendors with toothless grins hawked bamboo cages full of songbirds, which suppliants purchase and release as acts of merit. In the early evening gloom, thousands of tiny lights strung over the shrine were switched on, turning it into a glittering kaleidoscope of whirling color that matched the vividly-colored spiral discs pulsing behind the heads of the deities. As darkness fell, the crowd swelled with locals who lay food at the feet of the deities every day after work. I weaved through the crush to the exit, stopping just long enough to toss a few small bills into the baskets of the nuns, who insistently held out their hands for a donation. It was worth every cent.

6 Comments on “Praying for Good Luck at Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine in Siem Reap, Cambodia

  1. As a practicing (but not-that-devout) Buddhist, I also love these temples. Thanks so much for sharing! Frankly, I know so little about Cambodia besides Angkor Wat, so thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been thinking of relocating to a new country, and I’ve been looking at some teaching jobs in Cambodia. But is Cambodia really a great place to live, or is it better suited to short stays? What’s the expat community there like? It seems a little off the beaten track, so I’m very curious. What is there to do in Siem Reap besides Angkor Wat?

  2. I leave for Cambodia on Thursday and after reading this piece will certainly visit this temple. It feels like a friend has given me a personal introduction. I live in Bali, Barbara, so give me a hoy if you are passing through again.

    • What a sweet thing to say Janet! In fact, that’s one of the highest compliments you could pay a writer. I’m sure you’ll love the temple. And I’ll definitely be in touch if I ever head back to Bali.

  3. Pingback: Bagan Myanmar A Childhood Dream Fulfilled | The Travel Independently Blog

  4. aH – I LOVE THE IMMERSION OF INSENSE AND RELIGION IN ASIA.

    WE RECENTLY BOUGHT A SUITCASE FULL OF INCENSE HOME WITH US FROM BALI.

    SO EVERYDAY I ENJOY RETURNING TO BALI!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>