Saturday, April 12, 2008

What is Neak Ta?

A distinctive ancestral Neak Ta shrine at Wat Raksmei Chei Mongkol at Taing Krasaing

In an effort to find an answer to the question, what is Neak Ta, by far the best source is Khmer scholar Ang Choulean who summed it up with this view; 'The Neak Ta is the most omnipresent figure of the divinities which populate the supernatural world of the Cambodian countryside...the Neak Ta is not just a kind of simple spirit but rather a phenomenon or energy force relating to a specific group such as a village community.'
Neak Ta shrines or huts contain small collections of natural or man-made objects - which can include old stones, termite hills, linga, wooden carvings, human-like figures - and these objects represent land (soil, nature) and spirit (mythic ancestor, being) elements. The size and type of objects found in these shrines varies greatly according to the village or pagoda, where these huts are often found, as in the example above.
The concept of Neak Ta is uniquely Cambodian as far as I'm aware and has its roots in the animist beliefs of the scared soil and sacred spirits that surround us. The energy force that Ang Choulean speaks of, unites the community with its earth and water and symbolizes the link between the people and the fertility of their land and their ancestors before them. Neak Ta is believed to belong to an 'outside realm' as it does not fall within the Buddhist precepts, though the two live side by side and the wat Neak Ta receives offerings from the pagoda faithful and is said to not tolerate unsuitable conduct within the grounds, such as urinating or speaking offensive words. You can often find a wat Neak Ta in the northeast corner of the grounds of a pagoda. Take time to look out for a Neak Ta shrine next time you are in a village or a pagoda and see what is represented inside as there's a wonderful variety that can spring a surprise or two.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remembered, when I was in Cambodia, there was a stone Neak Ta at the end of my village. Everyone was fear of this Neak Ta. Everyone in the village tried to behave their best because they believed that if the Neak Ta is upset, he could put a curse on the villagers and bring them bad luck such as sickness, bad harvest or violent weather etc. In Cambodia Neak Ta is percieved to be a powerful engery or protector or destroyer depends on his moods.

April 12, 2008 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, neak ta in khmer is one of the oldest form of spiritual worship in cambodia. i believe it is older than buddhist or christianity for that matter. my understanding is that its origin can go back at the beginning of the khmer race or even beyond, and it has a lot to do with nature like water, the earth, the explained things in life. khmer people tend to associate neak ta to their moral behavior like the right thing that they should or should not be doing. neak ta is a type of spirit in khmer's view, and for it to be strong and powerful, khmer people have to be very disciplined, and very respectful and very obedient for neak ta are very finicky and very unforgiven. neak ta is a kind of god in nature, but it can also be the spirit of the land, the ancestors, a ancient leader, a good person, etc... whose purpose is to help people and protect the land from harm. again, this is my understanding of it, although, the khmer expert can say it better than i can. thank you.

April 13, 2008 1:51 AM  

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