Buddhist Statues Exhumed

The discovery of hundreds of Buddhist statues at Banteay Kdei temple in Angkor Archaeological Park may prompt historians to change their theories on 12th and 13th-century Cambodia.

According to Yoshiaki Ishiza­wa, chief of the Angkor Interna­tional Mission of Tokyo’s Sophia Univer­si­ty, the beheaded statues found buried at the temple show that the government was straying from Buddhism toward more Hindu influences following the reign of King Jayavarman VII.

The statues were beheaded prior to burial—a sign of the then-government’s increasingly Hindu leanings—and few of them can be assembled, he said.

King Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181 to 1219, em­barked on an construction program that included the walled city of Angkor Thom with the Bayon temple at its center, the Angkor temples of Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei, in addition to hospitals and other public buildings.

Some historians have suggested that the King’s projects left the Khmer people exhausted, the king­dom bankrupted and caused its eventual decline.

But these theories have not been co­nfirmed by inscriptions or the recorded accounts of travelers, who described a wealthy na­tion with a government con­duct­ing normal business, Ishizawa said.

When Jayavarman VIII took the throne in 1243, he went about converting Angkor’s Buddhist temples into Hindu ones. Indica­tions are that he had Buddhist sta­tues and inscriptions removed and buried, Ishizawa said.

The statues found at Banteay Kdei show that the government was in a position, both financially and physically, to carry out the King’s orders in an efficient and rou­tine manner, he said. This chal­lenges the theory of economic and human crisis suggested by some historians, Ishizawa said.

The Sophia University’s Ang­kor International Mission has been carrying out restoration, preservation and training activities at Angkor since 1980. After 10 years of using Banteay Kdei’s grounds for archaeological excavation training, the mission did not expect such a find, Ishizawa said.

Ishizawa, who gave a lecture at the Japanese Embassy last month on the mission’s work, ex­plained that in March 2001 Cam­bodians in the training program stumbled upon 106 Buddhist statues.

“The state of preservation of the statues is remarkably good due to the fact that they were buried for approximately 800 years and have been preserved at constant temperature and humidity,” he said.

Five months later, they found 167 additional statues. They also un­­covered a sandstone pillar 1.2 met­ers long whose four faces were covered with 1,008 sitting Bud­dha carvings—the first such pillar to be discovered in Cambo­dia, Ishizawa said.

The mission staff plans to sug­gest the creation of a museum in Siem Reap to house them, he said.

 

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