For centuries, the Khmers had traditionally celebrated the Pisnokar ( Bisnukara) ceremony before they started doing things like building a house, Touk Gnor ( boat ), an oxcart, , Phleng Boran Khmer (learning traditional Khmer music ), learning martial art e.g., Kun Dambang ( fencing with sticks ) or boxing etc.
Regarding other professions like carpentry, blacksmith or jewelry working, the Khmer also believed that the offerings of that kind of ceremony to Pisnokar would bring success to their work or the efficiency to their learning ability.
Most of them knew little about the real meaning of Pisnokar. Only through the Khmer legend they believed him as the angelic architect who had the power in the building of Angkor Wat and making the Sacred Sword to the king named Preah Keat Mealea.
They also believed that Pisnokar was the Guru’s spirit of all Khmer artisans or craftsmen to be received the offerings through ” Pithi Reap Pisnokar ” ( the ceremony of Pisnokar ).
A. ORIGINS :
To really understand who Pisnokar is, it is a good idea to take a close look at the origins and the meanings of that word.
Pisnokar name is derived from the Pali word ” Vissa-kamma ” ( Read : Vis-sak Kam ) or the Sanskrit word ” Visva-Karman “. It should be said Pisnokar and not ” Po-pisnokar “. Written in the transcription form, it should be ” BISNUKARA “
In India, Visva-karman has the meaning of all-doer, all-creator, all-maker. Visva-karman is the name of the divine creative architect or artist.
I. INDIA’ S SOURCES
a. In the ” Vedic ” mythology, he made all the weapons and triumphal chariots used by the gods. He is the creator of the universe and everything in it and is thus the protector of all living things. He is also the god of craftsmen. He is usually depicted with four hands and is surrounded by numerous tools. Additional attributes include a water jug, a lasso, a book, and sometimes a club. It is said to be the son of ” Brahma “, and in the later mythology sometimes identified with ” Tvashtri “. He is said to have revealed the ” Sthapatya-Veda ” or fourth ” Upa-Veda “, and to preside over all manual labours as well as the sixty-four mechanical arts ( whence he is worshipped by ” Karus ” or artisans ). Visva-karman is being rather identified with ” Praja-pati ” ( Brahma) himself as the creator of all things and architects of the universe.
b. In the ” Brahmanas ” he is called a son of ” Bhuvana ” ( the world ), and Visva-karman Bhuvana is described as the author of the two hymns mentioned above.
c. In the ” Maha Bharata “, and ” Hari-vansa ” he is a son of the ” Vasu Prabhasa ” and ” Yoga-sidha “.
d. In the ” Puranas ” he is a son of Vastu and the father of ” Barhismati ” and ” Samjna “. According to other sources, he is the husband of ” Ghritaci “, moreover, a doubtful legend is told of his having offered up all beings, including himself in sacrifice.
e. In the ” Ramayana ” he is represented as the builder of the city of ” Lanka ” for the “Rakshasas ” and having generated the ape ” Nala “, who made “Rama’ bridge from the continent to the island.
So, the name Visva-karman, meaning ” doing all acts “, appears to be sometimes applicable as an epithet to any great divinity.
II. KHMER’ S SOURCES
In Cambodia, the name ” Visva-karman became ” Vissa-kamma Deva Putra ” and was usually known as ” Bisnukara ” the builder of Angkor Wat which looked like the Indra’s stable in heaven. It was built for the king ” Preah Kaet Mealea ” or also called ” Preah Bat Suriya-varman II “. According to the same legend named ” Lboek Nokor Wat “, he was also known as the Sacred-sword’s maker to that king too.That sword was later on, thrown away to the Tonle Sap Lake for reason it became very small as a feather.
For the Khmer, Pisnokar was regarded as a secondary god who played a role less important than ” Indra, Shiva, or Vishnu “.Instead of depicting with four (4) hands, they had added four ( 4) more because the more the hands Pisnokar had the more powerful he was. However, many concepts had been replaced from the word Pisnokar to : – Vaddhaki ( Carpenter ) or – Suvannakar ( Jeweler ). Instead of using a Pali word Suvannakara, the Khmers have adopted the Thai word ” Thong ” ( gold ) by saying ” Cheang Tong ” ( Jewelers ) or ” Rong Tong ” ( Jewelry shop ).
Even if we have used different concepts, the ceremony is still called ” Pithi Reap Pisnokar ” ( Pisnokar ceremony ). That ceremony is performed differently from place to place, from region to region. Sometimes there is a nuance from one master to another according to the needs, the time and place, the kind of the job or the work they are going to do. So, in Cambodia there is no unity for the performance of that Pisnokar ceremony.
The following is an example of the Pisnokar Ceremony in the learning of the Khmer Tradional Music.
KHMER TRADITIONAL MUSIC LEARNING
B. PITHI REAP PISNOKAR ( Pisnokar’s Ceremony )
1 CHANG RONG KAGN-CHONG ( Installation of a place ):
Krou Phleng Khmer ( the Khmer music master ) has ordered to his students to built a ” Rong Bangha ” ( temporary hall ) with its sleeping room for the master and a ” Krae Damkal ” ( big bed ) situated in the middle of that hall as a stand serving for keeping all musical instruments.
2. KREUNG RUN-DAP PITHI ( Ritual objects for the ceremony ):
At the western wall, there is one special table called ” Rean Samrap Boung Soung ” which is used as a praying place for the students. ( To do so, the light up the candles and incense sticks. They kneel in front of that table and pray according to the master’s words by repeating after him three times ). Not far from the hall at the eastern side, there
is one ” Rean Ma Bei Thnak ” ( three-stage stand ) which includes:
a. Bay Sei Pram Pi Thnak : ( Section of banana-tree with legs to which seven (7) layers of banana leaves rolled up in finger-shape have been attached. This is decorated with flowers ).
b. Sla Thor Muoy Kou : ( Section of a banana leaf stem or green banana fitted with a stand and decorated with betel leaves, areca nuts and flowers. This must be in pair ).
c. Sao Rap Sao Ram : ( One bottle of perfume )
d. Leach Muoy Kantong : ( Popping rice grain )
e. Pkar Pgni : ( Flowers – especially the flower named ” Pka Champei ). All of these are kept for the offerings to the music master.
3. ROBEAP PRA-RUP PITHI ( Preparation of the ceremony ) :
At an auspicious day ( usually Thursday ), all music learners are reunited in the hall. They make the ” Sla-Thor Tis ” and keep each at all eight corners of the hall. To start with, the music master performs a ” Pithi Sen Pren ” ceremony for the ” Proleung Krou Deum ” ( former music teacher’s spirit ) and then he does the ” Pithi Pros Prum ” by sprinkling the ” Tuk Moan ( magic water ) to all students. He asks them to tie up all those music instruments with the yarn kept at the copper bowl containing the magic water
Then, there is an ” Pithi Adhithan ” ( a praying ceremony followed by lighting the candles and incenses sticks at the three-stage stand, and by doing ” Prakas Agn-Cheugn ” ( invocation ) to the former music teacher’s spirit to ‘Santhet ” ( station ) on all learners.
To finish, the music master plays three times the ” Tro ” ( kind of fiddle ) for that invitation of the spirit of the music teacher. Then he allows all students to have a seat at the designed seating.
4. TRANA:M ( abstinence or rules and regulations )
At the inside of the hall, the rules and regulation must be strictly followed by all students and other people during this music learning period, such as: a. Do not walk over the musical instruments. b. No women allowed in the hall. c. Do not touch any food or money kept for the offering to Pisnokar.
After one week ( from Thursday to the next one ) everything must be removed from the hall and replaced with the new ones. If not, there will be a bad luck or a chaotic event. This ” TRAN:M ” as a requirement during the time of the learning period should be observed and practiced by everybody. They also believe that ” Krou Min Kann ” the music teacher’s spirit will not help the learner(s).
5. KREUNG SAM-NEN PISNOKAR ( Traditional routine )
As a custom for all occasion, before any band starts its performing, the organizer of the ceremony must have a preparation for the offerings to Pisnokar such as: a. Kreung Klem Buon ( Four appetizers ) b. Ang-kar Muoy Chan ( One bowl of rice ) c. One candle d. Kas Buon ( Four coins ) e. Sampot Kong Phnot Muoy ( One piece of folding material ) f. Prak Muoy Sloeng ( One sloeng of money or one Riel ).
Pisnokar or more correctly Bisnukara played an important role in many facets of the Khmer ceremonies. From the ancient time, these ceremonies have been practiced since there were the Indian culture’s infiltration. They have been changed through time and are still observed by many Khmer artisans or craftsmen to day. The Khmer craftsmen or artisans continue to practice it, in the belief for their pursuit for success and their gratitude to their masters.
However, this Pisnokar ceremony becomes one part of the Khmer culture, it should be preserved for the sake of our traditional richness.
March, 1999 Revised March 3, 2001