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What's in the Wat. Battambang. Cambodia

             What’s in the Wat?

Wat Somonas in Battambang province is not altogether a Buddhist Wat. Much of the iconography around the outside and the paintings inside deal with Hindu themes. Each window has a Hindu god or local deity mounted above. The resident monks said they do not know the names of most of these creatures, but you can easily recognize Ganesh the elephant god. Over one doorway is a scene of the well known churning of the sea of milk, and on the western exterior wall is a Ramayana scene with mermaids, crabs, turtles and other animals. In front of the temple vihear is a large garden area. Here there is a fountain featuring the earth goddess Neang Kang Hing, the crocodile, and the forces of evil. At the rear is a creative sculpture of tigers emerging from their cave. The most interesting reason to visit Wat Somonas, which is over a century old, and a little run down, is the paintings that adorn the interior. The unique artwork tells of a strange story with some extraordinary guests. This Buddhist chronicle starts, as usual, at the far right side, where Chumpuu, an ignorant warrior fights against King Bimbisara over a piece of land, and is triumphant by magically changing himself into a naga (seen in the air). In the next scene, Bimbisara asks the Buddha for help, and is subsequently changed into a garuda, known to be able to defeat nagas. Up in the air you can see the garuda conquering the naga. After Bimbisara thanks the Buddha, the conquered Chumpuu goes to see Indra the king of gods (Preah An in Khmer, shown from now on as green, the usual cipher for a god that becomes a person) to ask for more power. Preah An descends to earth and in a display of supremacy defeats Chumpuu in an archery battle shown on the east wall. The again-defeated Chumpuu fetches an elephant to ride in search of the Buddha. But Preah An changes into a giant (south wall) and tells Chumpuu not to ride the elephant, because atop the elephant he would look higher than the Buddha. From then on, Preah An assists as a guide to Chumpuu. First they pass the Thomea market, where maidens bring them food. They then meet (reason unknown) a balding French general. The painting shows the French Air Force in the sky, and the French navy steam ships in the sea. It also depicts a cool-looking Frenchman (the French representative of Battambang at the time) wearing a hat and tie, hands nonchalantly in his pockets. One can’t help wandering if this character had some vain influence over the painting, or was he, as one monk claimed, the artist. On the north wall, Chumpuu meets the four faced Brahma, but refuses to give the respectful sampeah sign with his hands. Brahma changes into the Buddha, but again the arrogant Chumpuu still refuses to sampeah. So they engage in an archery battle (shown behind the Buddha statue). Brahma wins, and Chumpuu is forced to sampeah. They then meet the real Buddha, who shows Chumpuu the horrors of hell, revealing his future if he does not change his ways. Chumpuu is so frightened that he submits and asks to become a monk. He is shown taking of his warriors garb and donning a monk’s robe. The final scene is of Chumpuu’s wife and son accepting that Chumpuu has now become a monk. Wat Somonas can be found eight kilometres outside Battambang on the northwest road to Aek Phnom, it’s on the left next to the Somonas School.  

Around Battambang by Ray Zepp contains many discriptions and explanations of paintings inside
Battambang's many Wat's. The complete file is on this website - search editorial archive.