A Phnom Penh businessman on Monday returned four antique urns that were swapped a day earlier at Phnom Chiso pagoda in Takeo province’s Samraong district, police and officials said.
The businessman, who allegedly paid monks and Buddhist laymen at the pagoda $10 each to allow him to exchange the antiques for new stone urns, was warned by an unknown person to return the originals, Samraong district Police Chief Sorn Savet said.
The businessman was driving back to Phnom Penh on Monday, but turned around again after he was reached on his mobile phone by someone who had heard about the swap, police said.
He returned to Phnom Chiso and handed the urns back to the pagoda’s priests, in the presence of police and other officials.
Takeo Cultural Office Director Thorng Em downplayed the switching of the urns, and said the businessman meant no harm. Temple laymen and monks, who allowed the exchange, had simply undervalued the urns, he said.
“Now, all four urns were returned to the temple,” said Thorng Em.
He added that he visited the Phnom Chiso pagoda himself to make sure.
While he was there, Thorng Em said, he instructed residents of the pagoda about the value of Cambodia’s cultural heritage.
He said authorities should be informed if any piece of the temple’s stone is disturbed.
Local residents at Phnom Chiso complained bitterly Monday that rich and powerful people had succeeded on Sunday in trading the antique urns at the temple for brand-new urns.
The carved stone urns are of uncertain origin, but some villagers said they worshipped them, as they are believed to hold the ashes of an ancient royal family, perhaps dating back to the earliest settlements in the area, in the 11th century.
They are definitely more than 100 years old, Thorng Em said.
More than a hundred villagers and officials living near the temple attended a heritage education session this week, officials said.