One temple, Two countries tussle

21 June 2007 (Bangkok Post) – The Angkor temple of Prasat Preah Vihear was mentioned recently when Cambodia submitted the site for consideration as a World Heritage Site. The temple, which stands close to the Thai-Cambodia border is in the news again – this time, Thailand wants to have a say in the proposals as well. Ownership of the temple was contested between the two nations until the International Court of Justice awarded Cambodia custody of the site. However, the entrance of the temple is on the Thai side of the border and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northeast Thailand.

Preah Vihear frays ties with Phnom Penh again

Thailand wants to have a say in a Cambodian proposal to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) that the ancient Preah Vihear temple be listed as a World Heritage Site. Adul Wichiencharoen, chairman of the National Committee on the Convention for the Protection of World Culture and Natural Heritage, expressed concern over Cambodia’s lobbying of Unesco without Thailand’s participation.

Mr Adul said consideration should be given to the whole site, not just the part of it on Cambodian soil.

The entrance to Preah Vihear is in Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province, right on the border with Cambodia. The location was the cause of a long-standing dispute over the site’s ownership until 1962, when the International Court of Justice ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia.

Read about Thailand’s claim to Prasat Preah Vihear.

Related books about the Preah Vihear temple:
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) by M. D. Coe
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples, Fifth Edition by D. Rooney and P. Danford

The ancient script of Southeast Asia – Part 2

In this second part of the Ancient Script of Southeast Asia (click here for part 1), we’ll explore two more exhibits from the Aksara: The Passage of Malay Scripts exhibition at the National Library of Singapore. These two pieces are from Terengganu in Malaysia, and Java in Indonesia.

In this second part of the Ancient Script of Southeast Asia (click here for part 1), we’ll explore two more exhibits from the Aksara: The Passage of Malay Scripts exhibition at the National Library of Singapore. These two pieces are from Terengganu in Malaysia, and Java in Indonesia.

The first exhibit, the Terengganu Scripted Stone, stands at the mouth entrance between the Sacred Writings gallery and the Islamic gallery. Anyone who’s visited the Terengannu State Museum (where the original sits) or the National History Museum in Kuala Lumpur would instantly recognise this Terengganu Stone. I hear it also features in the Malaysian history textbooks as well.

Discovered in the late 19th century, the Terengganu Inscribed Stone, or Batu Bersurat, dates to the 14th century and is the oldest evidence for Islam in Malaysia. The script used is Jawi while the language is Malay, and the inscription describes a set of Islamic laws, as well as proclaiming Islam as the state religion. As to which state this may be remains unclear – the region of Terengganu was known to be under the influence of Srivijaya as late as the 13th century, while the Terengganu Sultanate only dates as far back as the 18th century. The stone is inscribed on four sides, although it probably would have been larger – as you can guess, the top portion of the stone has been broken off and is probably lost for all time…

I was surprised that these “venetian blinds” were not mentioned in the exhibition guidebook. While they may look like a set of ancient venetian blinds, they are actually a collected set of palm leaves on which a Balinese script is written. This is the Pararaton, or the Javanese Book of Kings, which is on loan from the National Library of Indonesia. Given that the Pararaton was written in palm leaves, I was surprised to see a copy in such good condition.

Here’s a closer look at the Pararaton and the Balinese script. As one can guess from the name, the Javanese Book of Kings describes the events during the rule of the kings of the Singosari kngdom and Majapahit Empire which was centred in Java. Although the date of this particular copy is unknown, the Pararaton was first written at the end of the 15th century. Like its Malay counterpart the Sejarah Melayu (the Malay Annals), the Pararaton is a mix of myth, legend and historical events, which make some of its contents suspect when using it as a source for historical events. Unlike the Malay Annals, the Pararaton is made more difficult to read accurately because the record of kings and nobility mentioned in it are referred to by title rather than name!

Singapore Stone - from National Archives of Singapore Strangely enough, the Aksara exhibition did not feature the only ancient inscription from Singapore: the Singapore Stone. The Singapore Stone is a sad page from the local book of archaeology: this inscribed boulder once stood at the mouth of the Singapore River and may have potentially been the very same stone mentioned in the Malay Annals, but early in Singapore’s modern history, the British decided to blow up the stone in order to widen the mouth of the Singapore river. Only fragments of the stone remain, one of which is exhibited in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Singapre and to this date remains undeciphered.

Well, these are only some of the highlights from the Aksara: The Passage of Malay Scripts exhibition going on at the Singapore National Library. I’ve only chosen to focus on some of the ancient inscriptions, and there are many more ancient examples of writing, as well as galleries featuring other Malay writings in more modern times. The exhibition finishes its run at the end of this month, so if you’re in Singapore, don’t miss this opportunity to catch it! Go now before it’s too late! (And don’t forget to catch the Saturday guided tours at noon and 1 pm!)

SEAArch would like to thank the National Library Board, Singapore for the permission to take photographs in this exhibition.
Books featuring ancient Southeast Asian scripts and inscriptions:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
The Pararaton by I Gusti Putu Phalgunadi

Foundations for Brunei Maritime Museum laid

20 June 2007 (The Brunei Times, Borneo Bulletin) – There’s a new maritime archaeology museum opening in Brunei in June next year. This museum will showcase Brunei’s ancient trade within the region as well as the shipwrecks found in Brunei’s waters.

Foundation-Laying Ceremony For Brunei’s First Martime Museum

Brunei Darussalam’s first Maritime Museum, which is under the country’s 8th National Development Plan, is expected to be completed by June next year.

The exhibition hall of the Maritime Archaeology Museum will display various artefacts depicting the link between mankind with the river and the sea since ancient times.

The project will also enable members of the public to understand the role of the country as a centre of maritime trade in ancient times and develop a sense of awareness and responsibility to appreciate the country’s cultural heritage while promoting it as a tourism destination, he said.

Read about the foundation-laying for Brunei’s Maritime Museum here and here.

Books about Underwater Archaeology:
The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia by Himanshu Prabha Ray
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells

13th-century cemetary to be open to public

A hidden complex of tombs from the Tran-Le Dynasty in the 13th century will be open to public in a bid to develop regional tourism. The tombs were hidden in caves on a sheer rock face, effectively cutting them from human access. While the development plans will include the building of roads and other tourist amenities to make the cave more accessible, there is also the tantalising prospect of other similar mortuary caves hidden in the region.

17 June 06 (Viet Nam News) – A hidden complex of tombs from the Tran-Le Dynasty in the 13th century will be open to public in a bid to develop regional tourism. The tombs were hidden in caves on a sheer rock face, effectively cutting them from human access. While the development plans will include the building of roads and other tourist amenities to make the cave more accessible, there is also the tantalising prospect of other similar mortuary caves hidden in the region.

 

13th-century tomb to be open to public

Deep inside the relatively modest Pha Hang Mountain in the province of Thanh Hoa rests a treasure trove of coffins dating back to the 13th century.

The remarkable finds, about 160km from Ha Noi, have remained off limits to the public since their discovery a decade ago.

But now, provincial officials are opening the doors to the Tran-Le dynasties cemetery as part of VND22 billion programme to open the region to tourism.

While Pha Hang is far from grandiose, it’s sheer rock face has for centuries hid the bounty within.

That all changed in 1997 when a local villager ambled into the cave while searching for a runaway goat. What he found amazed archaeologists.

The 10m-high and 30m-deep cave was divided into three sections, like an ancient house, said Nguyen Gia Doi from the Archaeology Institute of Viet Nam. Two big doors let the air and sun into the cave, helping dry out the area.

There are more than 100 wooden coffins in all, ranging in size from large to small and containing the bodies of children and adults. Whittled from tree trunks, they line the walls of the cave, balanced on shelves carved into the rock. It is considered the largest cemetery of its kind in the country.

Doi, who has spent 10 years studying the find, believes the remains likely belong to members of the Thai ethnic minority who have lived in the area for thousands of years.

Read more about the mortuary caves in Thanh Hoa Province.

Angkor Wat deserves your vote!

An editorial, surprisingly from the New Delhi Organiser, urging readers to cast their vote for Angkor for inclusion into the new 7 Wonders of the World list. India has been pouring in money – including a television edvertising campaign – to cast a vote for the Taj Mahal, and it’s quite edifying to see this editorial recognisint the Indian influences in Khmer architecture.

18 June 2007 (The Organiser) – An editorial, surprisingly from the New Delhi Organiser, urging readers to cast their vote for Angkor for inclusion into the new 7 Wonders of the World list. India has been pouring in money – including a television edvertising campaign – to cast a vote for the Taj Mahal, and it’s quite edifying to see this editorial recognisint the Indian influences in Khmer architecture.

Seven “new wonders” – Angkor Wat too deserves your vote

The most important monument of the Khmer Empire and the world’s largest sacred temple complex, Angkor is famous for its complex ornamentation and striking beauty. The temples at Angkor are spread out over 64 kms around the village of Sien Reap, about 308 kms from the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Indian television channels and websites have of late launched a campaign asking people to vote for the inclusion of the Taj Mahal as one of the seven “new wonders” of the world. With barely three weeks left for the nominations to close, hectic efforts including celebrity endorsements are on to get the most perfect jewel of Muslim art in India into the elite club through sms, internet and phone voting. Music wizard A R Rahman has even composed a theme song for the Taj to canvass support for the historic monument in Agra built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Persian born princess Arjuman Bano Begum popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal.

Notwithstanding the controversies surrounding the Taj, including claims by some Hindu groups that it was built over a temple dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and the alleged atrocities perpetrated on the workmen (whose hands were reportedly cut-off by the Emperor who did not want them to build any such grand mausoleum), the Mughal tomb remains an integral part of our composite heritage and attracts tourists from the world over, providing employment to lakhs of our countrymen and millions of dollars in foreign exchange.

And as Indians, we should also undoubtedly join this campaign to enable this enduring symbol of our country to make it to the top seven. But equally significant, both for all Indians and Hindus across the globe is the presence of the world’s largest Hindu temple, Angkor, among the 21 finalist candidates in the campaign to choose the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The most important monument of the Khmer Empire and the world’s largest sacred temple complex, Angkor is famous for its complex ornamentation and striking beauty. The temples at Angkor are spread out over 64 kms around the village of Sien Reap, about 308 kms from the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Read the full editorial about why Angkor deserves the vote.
If you haven’t done so, you should also cast your vote (for Angkor, of course!) in the New 7 Wonders website.

Books about the Angkor temples and complexes:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
– Angkor by T. Wiltshire
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) by M. D. Coe
Angkor: A Tour of the Monuments by T. Zephir and L. Invernizzi
The Civilization of Angkor by C. Higham
The Ancient Civilization of Angkor by C. Pym

PhD Research scholarships for Sumatran heritage and archaeology

The Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore is offering PhD research scholarships for anyone interested in researching Sumatran archaeology.

The Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore is offering PhD research scholarships for anyone interested in researching Sumatran archaeology.

PhD Research Scholarships, NUS

The Asia Research Institute is pleased to offer Ph.D. research scholarships from August 2008 in the following interdisciplinary areas:

– ASIAN MIGRATION

– RELIGION & GLOBALISATION IN ASIAN CONTEXTS

– CULTURAL STUDIES IN ASIA

– COLD WAR IN ASIA

– SUMATRA HERITAGE, ARCHAEOLOGY AND RECONSTRUCTION

The PhD scholarship is to be taken up jointly with the appropriate discipline-based department. This would normally be with a department of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, but where appropriate could also be with the Faculty of Law, School of Business or School of Design & Environment at the National University of Singapore.

The following interdisciplinary areas or “clusters” are offering scholarships:
1) The Migration Cluster (Research Leader: Professor Brenda Yeoh) explores the issues arising from increased levels of human mobility in the region, both within and across national borders. Mobility of high-level professional and managerial personnel, labour migration, both documented and undocumented, and human trafficking all raise theoretical and methodological questions and major policy issues, as does the role of migration in urban change.

2) The Religion and Globalisation Cluster (Research Leader: Professor Bryan Turner) explores the changing patterns of religious practice, belief and identity in recent times, particularly in Southeast Asia, China and South Asia. The title implies a particular interest in transnational and diasporic interactions, the engagement with modern technologies and values, and new global or ‘glocal’ forms of identity.

3) The Cultural Studies Cluster (Research Leader: Professor Chua Beng Huat) consciously challenges disciplinary boundaries to address new topics, issues and concerns thrown up by the rapid globalization of contemporary cultures. ARI is interested in new understandings of the everyday life cultural practices of contemporary Asia, as in adaptations of older patterns in literature, and the performing and graphic arts, in rapidly changing contemporary conditions.

4) The Southeast Asia-China Interactions Cluster (Research Leader: Professor Anthony Reid) will welcome students in two project areas: The Cold War in Asia, relating particularly to relations between the two Chinas (CCP and KMT) and the parties, movements and governments of Southeast Asia; and issues of heritage recovery and archaeology in Aceh and Sumatra more generally.

For more details, please visit the ARI website.

Ta Prohm: A Glorious Era in Angkor Civilisation

An informal presentation by the authors of the new book, Ta Prohm: A Glorious Era in Angkor Civilisation will be held at Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) Siem Reap on Monday, 25th June.

An informal presentation by the authors of the new book, Ta Prohm: A Glorious Era in Angkor Civilisation will be held at Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) Siem Reap on Monday, 25th June.

Ta Prohm: A Glorious Era in Angkor Civilisation
by H. Exc. Shri P K Kapur, Deputy Director General, Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA)
and Prof. Sachchidanand Sahai, Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla.

« Ta Prohm: A Glorious Era in Angkor Civilisation » ” (White Lotus, Bangkok) offers a new look at the biography of Jayavarman VII, focusing on the ideology of abnegation followed by this Angkorian monarch. With his well-developed policy of welfare, the king surpassed the contemporary European kings. The monograph shows how Ta Prohm was intricately connected with the royal welfare programs, since its foundation stele describes in details the assistance given to the hospitals from the royal treasury.

The monograph presents the temple of Ta Prohm in the context of Cambodian history, as the first dated temple of the reign of Jayavarman VII (1186), symbolizing the perfect wisdom in Khmer civilization with the mother of the king represented as Prajnaparamita, the mother of the Buddha.

The monastic and spiritual life at the temple has been graphically reconstructed through a closer study of the inscriptions of Ta Prohm. Impressive annual and daily grants offered by the royal treasury to sustain the spiritual life of the kingdom have been meticulously detailed.

A systematic study of restoration policy has been made in the context of over a hundred years of practical experience at the sites of Angkor. It has been argued that Ta Prohm can be a useful test case for the refinement of ideology and techniques of restoration based on the criteria of authenticity. This first monograph-length study of the most enigmatic temple of Angkor complex offers an indispensable reading, both for the visitors, and specialists, interested in unlocking the puzzles of Angkor art.

Shri Pradeep Kumar Kapur, a career diplomat of the Indian Foreign Service, is well-known for his deep interest in the theory and practice of political, economic and cultural diplomacy. He has worked in diverse areas in the Ministry of External Affairs and in the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. He has also made significant contributions in expanding the scope and content of India’s external relations during his postings in the Indian Embassies/High Commissions in Spain, Tanzania, France, Nepal and Cambodia. During his tenure as Ambassador of India to Cambodia, Kapur took up the famous, but extremely difficult site for restoration of the Ta Prohm temple monument in Angkor, as a test case of cultural diplomacy between India and Cambodia.

Sachchidanand Sahai is an alumnus of Banaras Hindu University where he studied Indian and Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology. Specializing in the Khmer studies at the University of Paris, Sorbonne (1965-69) under the supervision of eminent French savant George Coedes, Sahai produced a pioneering doctorial thesis, published by the EFEO in 1971. Since, he authored many publications. The founder editor of the Southeast Asian Review, he has edited and published thirty volumes of this journal since 1976. In 1981, he founded the International Conference on Thai Studies. Sahai held a chair of Southeast Asian Studies at the Magadh University, Bodh Gaya (India) and worked as the pro-Vice Chancellor of the university in 2001. As Research Professor at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi (1988-90) he set up the Southeast Asia division of the centre. Recipient of French government scholarship, Fulbright post-doctoral Fellowship, Visiting Fellowship at Australian National University and Maison de Science de l’ Homme (Paris), Sahai is currently Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla.

Monday 25th of June 2007, at 6:30 pm at the EFEO.
P.O. Box 93 300, Siem Reap – Angkor
Phum Beng Don Pa, Khum Slâ Kram, Siem Reap, Cambodge
Email: efeo.angkor@online.com.kh / efeo.angkor.bib@online.com.kh

The ancient scripts of Southeast Asia – Part 1

Aksara features the early script of the Malay world in Southeast Asia, drawing from the collections of the National Museum of Indonesia and the Vietnam History Museum – this is indeed a rare opportunity to see the epigraphy of ancient Southeast Asia in one collection.

I chanced upon “Aksara: The Passage of Malay Scripts” while I was doing research at the National Library last weekend and was surprised at the richness of the exhibits and artefacts gathered there. Aksara features the early script of the Malay world in Southeast Asia, drawing from the collections of the National Museum of Indonesia and the Vietnam History Museum – this is indeed a rare opportunity to see the epigraphy of ancient Southeast Asia in one collection. I had not realised that this exhibition was going on, but it’s still not too late to catch it as there are two more weeks left.

The Aksara exhibition is divided into four galleries, each covering a particular time period: The Sacred Knowledge of Writing, The Coming of Islam, Colonial Encounters and Singapore and Modern Writing. For this series, I’ll be concentrating on the first two galleries, but the entire exhibition will be covered elsewhere. See that stone pillar on the right? I almost wet my pants My heart literally skipped a beat when I discovered what it was:

The Kota Kapur Stone was discovered on Bangka Island off Sumatra and dates to the 7th century. It describes a punishment for disobeying the law, as well as Srivijaya’s attempt to conquer Javanese territories. In fact, the Kota Kapur Stone was one of the first few inscriptions which led the emminent French scholar George Coèdes to conclude the existence of a polity named Srivijaya, a polity that once held influence over much of the island Southeast Asia and the all-important trade route between China and India. Say, didn’t I just write something about Srivijaya…?

Other exhibits were no less exciting. This is a rubbing of the Vo Canh Stele, the earliest evidence for Buddhism in Southeast Asia, which describes a donation of property by the King Sri Mara to his relatives. Written in Sanskrit and dating to around the 4th century, the stele is named after the Vietnamese village of Vo Canh where it was found. Short of going up to Vietnam and visiting the Vietnam History Museum, this is the closest anyone can be to the actual stele.

The use of writing of course was a highly specialised skill, a knowledge usually reserved for members of the religious caste or leadership. To the commoner, the act of inscribing in words would have been seen as a very powerful form of magic. Examples of these stele would in fact be displayed not to be read by people but as symbols of power exercised by the inscriber. Hence one sees the common themes of cursing, warning and commemorating in early writing – not just in Southeast Asia, but the rest of the world.

There are two more artefacts that I will feature in a Part 2 of The Ancient Script of Southeast Asia, but for now, if you are in Singapore, this is your last chance to visit this spectacular – and underrated – exhibition at the National Library. The exhibit is at Level 10 and admission is free. The last day of this exhibtion is on June 30.

SEAArch would like to thank the National Library Board, Singapore for the permission to take photographs in this exhibition.
Books featuring ancient Southeast Asian scripts and inscriptions:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
The Pararaton by I Gusti Putu Phalgunadi

Evidence of Cham tower unearthed

he local residents in the vicinity of the Xuan My mountain in Binh Dinh province seem to have unearthed the tip of the… tower. A Cham tower, to be precise.

14 June 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – The local residents in the vicinity of the Xuan My mountain in Binh Dinh province seem to have unearthed the tip of the… tower. A Cham tower, to be precise. It remains to be seen if the rest of the tower will be found.

20070614 Thanh Nien News

Ancient tower unearthed in central province

Residents of the central Binh Dinh Province have recently unearthed the top of a tower dating back to the Cham Civilization over ten centuries ago, said vice director of a local museum Thursday.

Dr. Dinh Ba Hoa, Vice director of the Binh Dinh Museum, said that while collecting stones on Xuan My Mountain, residents of Phuoc Hiep Commune, Tuy Phuoc District, discovered the top of the tower.

The top of the tower is 1.8m-high, made of stones, and decorated with lotus petal-shaped patterns.

Read more about the Cham tower of Xuan My mountain.

Books about the Cham:
Hindu-Buddhist Art Of Vietnam: Treasures From Champa by E. Guillon

Angkor Wat not making the cut to new 7 Wonders of the World

Voting for the new 7 Wonders of the World has been going on for a year already, but it looks like the Angkor complexes is not going to make it into the list.

14 June 2007 (CNN.com, by way of chlim01 is bored) – Voting for the new 7 Wonders of the World has been going on for a year already, but it looks like the Angkor complexes is not going to make it into the list. But voting is ongoing and it’s anybody’s race! Cast your vote (especially for Angkor) at the New 7 Wonders of the World!

New ‘Wonders’ poll enters final month of voting

The Great Wall, the Colosseum and Machu Picchu are among the leading contenders to be the new seven wonders of the world as a massive poll enters its final month with votes already cast by more than 50 million people, organizers say.

As the July 6 voting deadline approaches, the rankings can still change, the organizers say. Also in the top 10 are Greece’s Acropolis, Mexico’s Chichen Itza pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, Easter Island, Brazil’s Statue of Christ Redeemer, the Taj Mahal and Jordan’s Petra.

Also in the bottom group are Cambodia’s Angkor, Spain’s Alhambra, Turkey’s Hagia Sophia, Japan’s Kiyomizu Temple, Russia’s Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, Britain’s Stonehenge and Mali’s Timbuktu.

Read more about the new 7 wonders of the world.

Books about Angkor:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places) by M. D. Coe
Angkor: A Tour of the Monuments by T. Zephir and L. Invernizzi
The Civilization of Angkor by C. Higham
The Ancient Civilization of Angkor by C. Pym