Spirit houses in Cambodia

The bright and gilded miniature houses on pillars caught my attention, once we came to live in Cambodia. I was quite bemused to see these little temple like structures, in front of houses, shops, office buildings, hotels and so on. These beautiful, ornate structures fascinated me for days and made me curious. Initially I thought these must  be the places of worship of the Cambodians, miniature pagodas. Similar shrines of worship I have seen in Ho Chi Minh City too. The deity would be Bo Dai ( Laughing Buddha ) or Quan Am, a female deity. As you enter a house or a restaurant or a shop in Saigon, you get to see small shrines placed on the floor, decorated with flowers and fruits and incense sticks and what not! When we made Phnom Penh our new home a year ago, (with a heavy heart leaving the beautiful Saigon behind ) I wanted to keep one such little house on pedestal in our house too, as it looked so charming … I was in dire need of a place to keep our many number of Hindu gods and this looked so regal. But soon I came to know that these are the Khmer Spirit Houses and immediately my desire to buy one died!

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Cambodian spirit houses of different sizes, colours

The spirit houses are  houses for the spirits, living spaces for the dead ancestors. Khmer people are Buddhists and they believe in life after death and this is one way of appeasing the departed souls.The spirits are given an abode to live outside, so that they would not invade the homes of those who’re alive. Rich or poor is not a matter of concern, they keep one in the courtyards of houses, in front of shops or other buildings . Offerings are kept in the spirit houses in the form of incense sticks, fruits, flowers, water and so on ( again it has puzzled me that I haven’t seen a bird pecking on to the fruits kept for the spirits! )  Even the economically backward Khmer families, having a shabby house in a dilapidated condition, are not stingy when it comes to a well adorned spirit house in their courtyard. My regard for them soared! Each spirit house is unique. Whenever I see a spirit house I feel, I haven’t seen a similar one before. Am sure, following the genocide that has taken place here  restless and wandering souls might be aplenty! They indeed need living spaces!

 

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Ah! What a beautiful abode for the spirits!

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A gilded spirit house against rustic simplicity

 

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Spirit houses for sale

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For the spirits of the mountains-On the misty mountains of Mondolkiri

And that was just the beginning. I was drawn more and more towards  the customs and traditions of this people, their  culture; a land which was culturally and economically rich at one point of time in history and which has close ties to the culture and traditions of my own land, India. I was feeling a bit ashamed  that before coming here I hardly knew anything about  the rise and fall of a great empire, the ancient Khmer empire.

6 thoughts on “Spirit houses in Cambodia

  1. Thank you Retha for this beautiful and enlightening post.
    These spirit houses are so very beautiful and yes, I would probably buy one just because they seem to give stillness to those who enter the home.
    Miriam

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  2. I was in Cambodia in December and film love with your spirit houses. Unfortunately I was on tour and did not have the ability to search out some place that could ship one home for me. Is there anyone that can give me some guidance as to where I might be able to purchase one and have it shipped back to the United States? Thank you so much for your help

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    1. Hi! Good to meet you here. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be of much help as we have moved to Vietnam three years back, from Cambodia.
      I wish you good luck.

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      1. thank you foe getting back to me… my research showed that you were in Connecticut… guess that was way off;-) Thank you again.

        Like

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