It was an unusual sight, to say the least: dozens of exquisite little golden Buddhas, arrayed on red velvet at the National Assembly.
And it was a unique ceremony, as Heng Samrin, the Assembly’s first deputy president, gave the figures to officials from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
“It is so meaningful to be able to protect our national heritage, which is in such danger,’’ he told officials jammed into a small conference room at the Assembly Thursday.
The 56 figures, which range in size from 2.5 cm to about 18 cm, were discovered at the Vihea Luong pagoda in Tbong Khmum district, Kompong Cham province. No estimate of their value was immediately available.
Fifty-three were made from sheets of gold, hammered over molds to form delicate, hollow figurines; two are brass, and one is silver. The most common image was Buddha sitting cross-legged in meditation, protected by the many-headed Naga.
Heng Samrin, who served as president of the communist party that ruled Cambodia immediately after Pol Pot’s ouster and is now honorary president of the CPP, visited the temple on May 15 as part of a visit to his constituency.
Monks approached him to say they had discovered the gold figures buried within the compound while digging a foundation for a new building. No one was sure if the gold had been buried during the Pol Pot years or much earlier, perhaps when the temple was consecrated. The monks gave the gold to Heng Samrin, saying they wanted to protect it.
Heng Samrin said Cambodia owes a debt of gratitude to the monks for their generosity. “This is a good gesture,’’ he said. “We appreciate that the monks had such a good idea, to save these for the national heritage.’’
Khun Samen, director of the department of museums at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the figurines were probably made in the 15th or 16th century.
Oun Phalline, deputy director of the department of museums, said the pieces may have once belonged to the royal family. They will be stored at the museum and displayed, she said.
Nuth Narang, a member of the assembly and former Culture minister, said in his experience, this was a first. “The National Assembly has never made such a donation before,’’ he said.