October 10, 2005
Prasat Raingsey pagoda, Kandal Province
Cambodian Turtle Conservation project team
On 10th Oct 2005, the Cambodian Turtle Conservation Team visited the Prasat Raingsey pagoda in Kandal province, Cambodia to observe an Impressed Tortoise Manouria impressa that had been donated to the pagoda and that many people were worshipping. According to the information from the monks at the pagoda, this tortoise was caught by a fisherman while it was floating down a river in Kampong Cham province. The fisherman was trapping fish in the river near a lowland mountain (<300m altitude).
He kept the Impressed Tortoise in his house only for one night, but his family couldn?t sleep well because they suffered from strange dreams. So after that night of poor sleep, he and his family decided to take it to Kampong Cham pagoda. (Cambodians believe that if they catch a turtle or tortoise from the wild, if they send it to a temple or pagoda they will have good luck.) But the next night, people living in the village around the pagoda also had strange dreams. They dreamed that this tortoise was from heaven and was sent to help poor people. In their dreams the tortoise told them that it did not want to stay at this pagoda, and told them the name of a different pagoda called Prasat Raingsey where it wanted to be taken.
For this powerful and lucky tortoise, crowds of cheerful people playing traditional Khmer music made a ceremony and paraded the tortoise to the pagoda. It is now kept for worshiping according to old Buddhism beliefs, whereby people come to pray in front of the tortoise. The pagoda is also raising a lot of money from this tortoise because many people are making donations to the pagoda and the tortoise according to Buddhist tradition. Sick people visit the pagoda for a cure from the tortoise. They drink water that the tortoise has been bathing in, or wash their injured parts in the water. The pagoda monks said that it is powerful medicine that can be used to treat many kinds of illnesses.
All people have to pray to the tortoise when they visit the temple so that the tortoise, who people believe is a guard of Buddha, will not be angry and will give prosperity and good luck to them. This is the rule from the pagoda?s head and monks.
We observed that there are a lot of risks to the tortoise by being in the pagoda. In the day, people put the tortoise on a small plate and worship it, occasionally dipping it in water for blessing. But the tortoise is staying nearly all day sitting on a plate. They provide some food, mostly lotus flowers that people put on the tortoise for ceremonial purposes that then get eaten, and also mushrooms. This tortoise eats mushrooms in the wild, so that is good that they feed it this food. But in the night the tortoise is kept in a hot closed room. People do not understand about the behaviour of this species. But many people are visiting it, and it has been in the Khmer newspapers and even on the BBC World News!
Story contributed to the ATCN by Sitha Som, CTCT