siem reap town – Built about 500 years ago as a way to rescue a crumbling temple, a giant sculpture of a reclining Buddha adorning the Baphuon temple in Angkor park was consecrated Wednesday during a Buddhist ceremony attended by King Norodom Sihamoni.
About 1,300 people lined up along the causeway leading to the Baphuon to watch the King, and several hundred more dignitaries and local officials assemble in front of the Buddha to attend the blessing.
One of the largest stone Buddhas in the world, the sculpture spreads over a length of 75 meters and a width of 12 meters, along the second of the three-tier Baphuon.
Wednesday’s blessing marked the end of restoration work on the Baphuon’s west facade while work continues on other portions of the monument.
Visitors will now be able to walk along this side of the pyramid as well as to a platform set up two years ago on the east side to allow the public watch restoration workers in action.
The Baphuon’s restoration was launched in the 1960s by the French government’s Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient but was interrupted by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.
A gigantic undertaking when it began, the restoration had turned into an almost impossible task by the time EFEO architect Pascal Royere took it over in 1995.
When construction of the Baphuon started in 1060, during the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, it was built higher and bigger than the technology of the time would allow. The pyramid could not support its own weight, especially when rain water seeped in, and with it threatening to collapse, builders 500 years ago used stones from other parts of the temple to create the sculpture of the Buddha.
In the 1960s, the EFEO resolved to dismantle the temple sandstone by sandstone in order to reinforce its central core before rebuilding. But the notebooks with all the details to reassemble the Baphuon’s 300,000 stones disappeared during the Khmer Rouge years.
Since 1995, the EFEO and its team of Cambodian workers have managed to piece the temple back together and are approaching completion. The Baphuon now is 130 meters long by 104 meters wide at ground level and stands 34.8 meters high.
In his speech during the ceremony, France’s EFEO director Franciscus Verellen said that the 1960s restoration team had planned to erase the sculpture of the Buddha to return the temple to its 11th-century state. The sculpture was still in place in 1995 and, since restoration principles had evolved, the EFEO decided to preserve it instead.
Strengthening the sculpture in place has involved taking 40,000 stones apart and reinstalling them, Verellen added.