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2 The Palace of the Kings

Hundreds of years would pass before these great temple palaces would be erected. During this time a cosmic union took place which wedded the nature spirits of the Khmers with the ancient beliefs of India that were transmitted by the Brahman priests. This combination of the natural lingam protruding from the top of the mountain combined with the symbolism associated with the Shiva lingam made a most unique divine environment for the development of the Khmer cosmology.

This pre-Ankorean center slowly became a training center for ushering in another kingdom devoted to the holy trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. In fact the belief that Shiva's presence was actually on the mountain is totally understandable. The centuries before Suyavarman II are lost in history, but the presence of the palaces and sanctuary testifies to the importance this holy land held for the Khmer kings. The decision was made to create a temple devoted to Shiva by creating a long axial approach to the sacred spring on top of the hill from whence the holy waters flowed from Shiva's hair and gave life to all the inhabitants of earth.

Two identical and symmetrical palaces sit on the ground one north and one south as if some heavenly secret was trying to be conveyed by this architectural uniqueness. It was built by King Suyavarman II who gained experience and knowledge from building Angkor Wat. He knew how to incorporate the secrets of heaven into Vat Phu's construction. But what were those secrets? What sacred design was the King trying to convey? Are there other symmetries at Vat Phu that might lend a hint for the reason of their construction? The answer to these questions is that there are numerous symmetries at Vat Phu all of which mirror the heavens.

These two magnificent quadrangles sit on the ground defying interpretation. We can gain some understanding of those secrets by referring back to ancient Vedic texts where the understanding and significance of the movement of heavenly bodies was a subject of study and expertise known by the ancient Vedic astronomers. If we refer to the scholarly text "Hamlet's Mill" written by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in 1969 we learn that the quadrangle was another name for the earth. The importance attributed to this concept by the temple builders lends understanding as to why the builders chose these two quadrangles at Vat Phu.

An excerpt from Hamlet's Mill (p.253) states that, "Earth" is the implied plane through the four points of the year marked by the equinoxes and solstices, in other words the ecliptic. And this is why this earth is very frequently said to be quadrangular. The four "corners" that is, the zodiacal constellations rising heliacally at both the equinoxes and solstices, parts of the "frame' Skambha, are the points which determine the "earth". The northern palace quadrangle represented the equinoxes and the southern palace represented the solstices.

Every world age has its own "earth'. A new "earth" arises, when another set of zodiacal constellations are brought in by the Precession which determines the year points. Skambha is the world axis." This will not be the only astronomical reference used by the builders at Vat Phu. But as I had come to learn the whirl pool of energy I had in my dream was incorporated into the design of the upper most sanctuary along with the world axis known as Skambha mentioned in the hymns of the ancient Atharva Vedic texts. I strongly suspect Vat Phu housed an astronomical library and was a sacred temple for understanding the workings of the heavens. This knowledge was the foundation and spiritual force which was able to launch one of the greatest empires on earth. I will mention the astronomical significance in section 3.

I think what you have to do when encountering a new temple is try and imagine what it was like living in and among the temple grounds. If you slowly walk up and down the stately corridors between the massive laterite walls under the imagined pinnacled roof with the rooms and corridors all filled with rare incense then the beginnings of a mood overtakes the senses and you start to get lost in a world long gone from today. Beautiful balustrade windows lined the corridor facing the causeway casting decorative shadows on the long sandstone floor. The windows of both the north and south palaces face the axial causeway that goes all the way to the upper most sanctuary.

East West Corridor Northern Palace

I entered the palace, however, from the eastern portal next to the false door. High above on the corner was a naga ante-fix staring out onto the grounds warding off any who would come too near. The two tiered triangular pediments form a truss like structure for the roof beams which originally enclosed the great corridors truly giving the impression of a vast temple pointing to the heavens. Directly above the eastern portal was none other than Lord Shiva and his wife Uma riding Nandin the bull in a northerly direction. This was surely Shiva's earthly home.

Lord Shiva and his wife Uma riding Nandin

Once inside the palace there is a large quadrangular court yard completely surrounded by a 62m by 42m rectangular corridor complex. I immediately recalled my dream the night before of standing in a cube which was inside a cube, and now here before me were both the outer corridors and the open inner sanctuary of the palace. I remembered that in my dream if I left the inner cube I would forget everything told to me by my celestial teachers. I could only surmise that in the evenings when the stars could be seen in the heavens, framed by the inner walls of the palace quadrangle, would the secrets of Vat Phu be revealed. Surely no roof could have spanned such a large open space. The coincidence of seeing this large open court yard for the first time, and recalling my dream seemed all too familiar to me.

Southern Palace Court Yard looking West

It was if I were reliving an experience from a very long time ago. I became very suspect that I had been here before, but of course I knew that was a thought I dared not entertain. However, if this courtyard was similar to the cube within a cube from my dream then where might the symbolism of the swirling vortex inside the liquid orange cube be found? What did the incident with the bell tower that left a large cut in the center of my forehead mean?

Inside Central Exit of Northern

Palace Facing Southern Entrance to Southern Palace

In the SE corner of the northern palace is a small room and outside of this room, facing east, is a false door and the tympanum above the door shows Shiva and his wife riding Nandin the bull. The ante-fixes are naga heads giving this corner of the palace a very important feeling. Perhaps this was the king's sleeping quarters. Fallen on the floor in the room is a perfectly cut triangular stone acting as the peak stone for one of the two tiered pediments which formed the roof. A small door sits up a few stairs and separates this corner room from the rest of the long east – west gallery. Directly north of the corner room you can cross through another doorway entering the long corridor going due north. Unfortunately parts of this corridor have almost completely collapsed. From this corner room the king could circumambulate all around the quadrangle (universe) before ending back in his room. The same was true for the southern palace.

Cap Stone to roof on Northern Palace

The main entrance to the northern palace is in the center of the long corridor which is aligned east and west and facing the causeway. Extending from these central entrances are two foreparts with porches. Directly across the causeway from the northern palace's central entrance is the entrance to the southern palace. This is a perfect example of the symmetry executed by King Suyavarman's builders. Walking out of the northern palace's median forepart I turned around to see where I had just come from wondering if I would ever see this celestial home again. I happened to glance down at the bottom of the colonettes next to the door frame and there, almost eroded completely away, sat both Shiva and his wife in a very relaxed and endearing pose. I had no doubts this was a tribute to the palace being their home.

Shiva and Uma central entrance to Northern Palace

These figures are not easily spotted because of their eroded condition. But the endearing poses and the expressions on their faces indicates that King Suyavarman I held Lord Shiva and his wife in high esteem.

Corridors looking East and South in Northern Palace

There has been speculation that the northern palace was for men and the southern palace for women. I would offer instead that the northern palace was for the King and his wife and the southern palace was for the priests, guides and other members of the king's court. The southern palace has a completely different feeling from the northern palace. Even though it is perfectly symmetrical with the northern palace it feels very distant and more removed. It is my speculation this is the solstice palace which represents the time of the year when the night is the longest during the winter solstice. The southern court yard seems to exude a more open feeling as if more people gathered here. On the contrary the northern palace courtyard felt private and more sacred.

Southern Palace Court Yard Northern Palace Court Yard

High above the western end of the east-west corridor of the southern palace, with the Lingaparvata in the background, is a perfectly good example of the use of the pyramidal place stones forming the two tiered triangular roof. The corner room at the western end of the NE corner may have been the room where the head priest stayed.

Double Tiered Roof of Southern palace looking West and SE

NW Corridor Southern Palace looking West

The door way at the west end of the southern palace's NW corner that connects with the south corridor has to have two of the most beautiful sand stone carvings still in tact above the lintels. I had to climb to the top of the inner western wall of the southern corridor to position my camera in order to capture these carvings. One feature I found to be most interesting was a spiral carved on the stomach of one of the personages. I believe this is a scribe and his markings signify his knowledge of astronomy and the astronomical significance employed in the construction of Vat Phu. There is also a spiral carved on the Buddha's foot print on the rock faced cliff behind the main sanctuary.

Scribe at the southern palace

Scribes at the southern palace

The building directly behind the southern palace is called Nandi Hall because a statue of a bull (Shiva's mount Nandin) was found near the base of the building. I believe it was used as a hall of records, and was easily accessible from the southern palace for all the scribes. Nandi Hall was also directly south of the lotus lined causeway which originally was covered by an arched roof and a gallery on both sides

These three buildings at the base of the main sanctuary prepared the Kings and devotees for their ascension to the holy Shiva lingam. Climbing up the terraces and staircases were structures on either side reflecting the cosmology of the ancient Hindu astronomers.

Nandi Hall Looking South

Interestingly there are 36 lotus columns on each side of this causeway numbering 72 in all. It is this number 72 which is a strong indication on Vat Phu's encoding of astronomical events. The numbers which occur with great frequency in all the world myths are 12, 30, 72 and 360. But the most significant number encoded into the "myth-code", acting like a cipher for understanding all the other numbers, is 72.

It is an astronomical fact that it takes 71.6 years (72) for the equinoctial sun to move one degree on the path of the ecliptic. In 2160 years the sun would have moved 30 degrees or one New World Age. After the sun had traveled 360 degrees (360x72) 25,920 years would have passed equaling one complete precessional cycle or a "Great Year". After the "Great Year" the next cycle would begin called the "Great Return". The "Great Return" signifies the return to the golden age when men were gods. This "Great Return" is now taking place in the heavens and our earth is about to fully enter another New World Age called the Aquarian Age in the tropical zodiac. In the sidereal zodiac using the Nakshastras of India Lord Shiva will be nearest this point of the "Great Return" in the year 2012. This is the time when the Nakshastra named Ardra is closest to Vishnunabhi, the eye of Brahma, Moola, or the galactic center during summer solstice of 2012AD. This most significant astronomical event was recognized by the temple builders at Vat Phu and was encoded into the oldest existing structure. The priests aligned the sandstone chapel located next to the sacred spring behind the main sanctuary with the summer solstice.

Thus the lotus pathway of 72 lotus columns attuned the spiritual seeker with the frequency necessary for their ultimate journey of becoming immortal gods. Once the pilgrims reached the end of the 72 lotus column lined causeway they began their long aromatic journey beginning with the first stairway leading to the main sanctuary. The stairways are lined with fragrant frangipani trees making the senses become overwhelmed with the scents of the white flowers filling the air.

Stairway after the 72 Lotus Column Causeway

At the top of the 1st stairway I experienced an awakening to a new reality that I had a great deal of difficulty accepting. It was a juxtaposition of images that I could not help be affected by. I immediately recalled the feeling I had at the Angkor Conservatoire in Siem Reap when I encountered the recovered statues of Shiva from Beng Mealea. Now, here before me were two fallen headless human statues lying on the ground with their feet adorned with toe rings affixed to the pedestal where they once stood.

Their sampots were facing the sky in all their intricate detail and I could not help but feel that these statues should still be standing. There was something more powerful at Vat Phu that defied that these fallen guardians to the upper sanctuary should be where they were. I wanted to lift them back up and bring their nobility back to them as it once was. The reality of how ancient and how neglected these mighty guardians had been treated left me with a very disconcerting feeling. These were the temple guardians watching over those who passed by to journey up to the next level before the upper sanctuary would be reached. Surely it would never have been considered that a time would come when these powerful guardians would no longer stand firm before the world. Miraculously one guardian is still standing from the 9th century and is referred to as King Kammatha, the great temple builder from Champa, who accompanied King Devanika on his quest for a new kingdom and built the first temple at Vat Phu.

Fallen Guardians Feet on Pedestal with toe rings

Your information was very helpful. I hope you don't stop posting very informative texts like these. Thanks!

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the author

  • is Willard Van De Bogart.
  • He lives in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand.
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