Historical Background and Importance

“Vimaya” as it appeared in the Khmer stone inscription on the arched gateway “Gopura” at the front cloister of Prasart Phimai. The word “Phimai” was also referred to the name of the town in many stone inscriptions in Democratic Kampuchea, even though the written word was not the same spelling as Vimai or Vimayapura (The inscription of Prasat Preah Khan in 18th Buddhist century). Particularly, the statement from the inscription of Prasat Preah Khan has referred to King Jayavarman VII’s intention of building 17 breakpoints for travelers from the capital city to Phimai town. This can show a close relationship between Phimai town and Kingdom of Cambodia as it stands out for an important town to Cambodia. Considering the aerial photography, Prasat Phimai is obviously a large ancient city with a rectangular landscape surrounded by moats and ramparts. Places of worship are in the center of the town which a huge combination of big and small communities is all around. Phimai town possesses a good and resourceful location as the waterways flow through the city.

To be described, Mun river flows through the city on the north, the salt waterway is on the southeast and Chakkarat waterway at the south flows to Mun river. With the geography of lowland around the town, it is well suitable for farming. The water resources for consumption in the town are Sa Kaew, Sa Plung and Sa Kwan ponds. The ponds dug outside the town are Sa Pleng at the east, Sa Bot, Sa Pleng Haeng at the west and a big reservoir (Baray) at the south. Presently, Nakhon Ratchasima province is the gate to northeastern Thailand and also become the outstanding center of northeastern Thailand by its growth. In the prehistory, humans only knew how to use the rocks to create the tools. Later, humans in the Korat plateau basin area used another ways to cut off the mountain rocks and carry the big rocks on a long way to build “Prasat” (temple). By the 16th Buddhist century, Prasat Phimai, the largest Khmer temple in Thailand, started to be a center and the major gate from Mun river basin to the Angkor of Cambodia Kingdom including other towns at the Chao Phraya river basin.

Phimai has been retained as the ancient town on Mun river basin with high prosperity and wealth background. The moats and ramparts fully covered the town all 4 directions. All city gates are made of stones whereas the crucial one is situated on the south and facing to the Angkor in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Prasat Phimai currently remains itself in the center of the town as a huge stone structure of religion.

Prasat Phimai is considered as a Buddhist construction of Mahayana that was built around the middle of the 16th Buddhist century. Namely, it was built before Angkor Wat. By the assumption, the pinnacle or the roof part of Prasat Phimai was probably the prototype for the construction of Angkor Wat in Cambodia afterwards. Due to Prasat Phimai frontage out to the south, it was understood that it was design to be complied with the road hacked from Cambodia. Alongside the road to Phimai, Arokaya Sala (hospital) and the traveler accommodations were built up in the reign of King Jayavarman VII, the last great king of Cambodia. The ruins in Phimai town can be found in many different locations such as both inner and outer zone of the town but the importance is Prasat Phimai which the original condition has been running down by time. In 1964, the Fine Arts Department was given the corporation for renovating the principal temple of Prasat Phimai by French government to be done in 1969. Afterwards, Phimai town and Prasat Phimai have been upgraded to be Phimai Historical Park and listed in the 5th National Economic and Social Development Plan to renovate the ruins. This has been started since 1982 till it was completely done and officially opened as the historical park by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in April 12th, 1989.

The structural constitutions of Prasat Phimai were accordingly set up as the city plan and layout by means of long-term practicing basis which needed a lot of manpower, time and effort. Those greatly reminded us of the strong faith to religion as well as the grand prestige of the founder in kind of handling a lot of manpower to create the religious constructions. Those are like a human-made universe existed in the human’s world. Prasat Phimai has made the particular difference in the front facing to the south comparing to others which are facing the east. By the presumption, this construction was aimed to face Angkor, a capital city of Cambodia Kingdom, or it was probably an unknown religious tradition that is deserved to open. Perhaps, the construction of Prasat Phimai was firstly started to run by the late 16th to 17th Buddhist century and further construction was made in 18th Buddhist century. In this matter, the age was identified by proofs like the stone inscriptions, the ways adjoining architectures and etchings. Especially, Khmer-influenced temples, the stones with carving works were mainly used on various parts of the buildings such as gables, lintels, door frame pillars and wall pillars. Those etchings not only signify the unique feature of art capable in age detection but also enable us to learn religious beliefs and traditions including people’s lives at that time.

Missions of The Fine Arts Department

Once the of Prasat Phimai governmental protection has been run and come out as the proclaimation in the Government Gazette, Volume 53, section 34, on September 27, 1936., the French government gave the Fine Arts Department a hand in supporting through Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to restore Prasat Phimai with an anastylosis method around 1964 – 1969. This renovation was directed by Mr. Bernard Phillip Groslier, a French archeologist and His Serene Highness Professor Yajai Jittrapong. Around 1976 – 1989, the Fine Arts Department has founded a plan for Phimai historical park to revive and regenerate Phimai town until it was completely done and opened as the historical park for people to visit. In this matter, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn came to preside at the official grand opening ceremony in April 12th, 1989. The historical park is now then protected by the 10th Reginonal Office of Fine Arts, Nakhon Ratchasima, the main organization having responsibilities for keeping all historic sites around Phimai town firmly secure, gorgeous and well-groomed conditions for visiting. Also they serve tourists and interested people the historical and archeological knowledge of Phimai town.