Prasat Muang Tam is a medieval Angkorean, pre Angkor Wat temple site in Buriram Province, Isan. The name can be translated to 'Palace of the Lower Town' and stands in close relation to Phanom Rung, the nearby temple on top of an extinct volcano. It's a hindu temple which is dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu.
The western exit gate through the outer wall of Prasuat Muang Tam. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015
The site got it's name from the locals who settled here about a century ago, after seven hundred years of abandonment. The original Khmer name is not known - there is no inscription in the temple giving evidence to it.
While Phanom Rung was certainly the more prestigious religious site for pilgrims, Prasat Muang Tam was a temple surrounded by or next to a city. Archaeological findings give evidence to the existence of settlements around. Considering the size of Muang Tam, the place was certainly an important urban center in the region.
This idea is also supported by the existence of two barays nearby north. The large baray close to Prasat Muang Tam is of large dimensions (510m to 1,090m, with a depth of 3m). The baray symbolizes the ocean in hindu mythology, which is surrounding the abode of the gods, Mount Meru. The whole compound and the construction of the barays required qualified planning and, moreover, huge labour power. Another, smaller baray is closely west to the large one, near Kuti Rishi Khok Mueang.
Both sites, Prasat Muang Tam as well as Phanom Rung were part of the dharmasala route, a medieval pilgrimage route which led from Preah Khan (close north of Angkor Thom) to Phimai. This route was leading along 17 Angkorean temples in nowadays Cambodia and Thailand.
By the way: one can see Phanom Rung on top of it's mountain with bare eyes from spots where no trees cover the sight. It's merely 4km by the line of the crow away from Muang Tam.
The site's history comprises apparently centuries. At the first glance one can see already that the central sanctuary, consisting of five brick towers, appear much older than the much more sophisticated outer buildings and walls with their sandstone carvings. That's certainly also the reason for that the central towers are not, as in other Khmer temples, elevated above the surrounding elements. Dating the site is difficult, but it's not unrealistic to date the origins back to the 10th century, keeping in mind that there might have been a place of worship long before.
Prasat Muang Tam faces to the east (sunrise). It has, as many other Angkorean temples, been upgraded again and again over the time. There are strong influences of the so called Khleang period (about 968 to 1049 CE) as well as those from the Baphuon period (1050 - 1080 CE). Most of what we see today is therefore, probably, 11th century.
There are incredibly many carving details to see in Prasat Muang Tam. This ornamentic is bedecking the foot of a gate's frame. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015
An unusual element of Muang Tam's concept are the four L-shaped pools, who mark the corners of the middle part of the compound. They had certainly ceremonial functions. The pools are surrounded by low sandstone walls, who are carved out as the bodies of nagas. At the two entrances of each of the pools are doorframes who lead to a stairway into the water.
In the inner court, northeast and southeast to the central shrine, are the remains of the two libraries who are a common part of these Khmer temples. Remarkably, the central shrine is down to it's foundations and not restored as the four surrounding ones are. The alignement of the five shrines also differs from the classic style as it can be seen in Angkor Wat, where the alignment is that of a quincunx with the central shrine in the center. Here the central shrine is in a row with two other shrines, and the two remaining shrines are placed behind them. In the past the central shrine housed a Shiva linga, the Angkorean symbol of power.
Prasat Muang Tam's eastern entrance to the inner sanctuary, seen from the front of the main shrine (1). These buildings are made of sandstone.
The inner sanctuaries center with the four remaining prangs (2), while the main prang, who completely collapsed, has not been rebuilt. These oldest buildings of the site are made in bricks. Any of the bricks had inscriptions or carvings.
The ponds had each two doors (3), and probably pilgrims did walk or swim through them in a ritual manner. Image (5) shows the northeastern pond.
The enclosure of the inner court seen from the south (4).
The lintels (6-8) are famous and kind of a pride of the restoration work. Image (6) shows Shiva and Uma on Shiva's vehicle, the white bull Nandin. He holds Uma with one hand and a trident in the other hand. Lintel (7) shows Krishna who protects his sheperds and their herds from Indra, who is angry with their refusal to worship him. I just want to point out again that the lintels here are replicas; the originals are housed in the National Museum in Phimai.
All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015
The whole compound is impressing in it's harmonic style. Additionally there are many details worth a closer look, namely the many lintels with their excellent carvings. However, most of them are (excellent) replications of the originals, who are now in the National Museum in Phimai.
The whole setting, the good state of restoration, the cleanliness and quietness make Prasat Muang Tam not only an aesthetic experience but also a pleasant destination for everyone who likes strolling in parks. This is underlined by the fact that, in contrary to Phanom Rung with it's many visitors, few people come here. Since atmosphere matters much, the absence of groups of chatting, laughing, self-photographing mass tourists is precious.