Khmer art exhibition in Berlin

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07 June 2007 (The Economist) – The Economist reviews the Angkor: Sacred Heritage of Cambodia exhibition in Berlin and also touches on looted Cambodian antiquities. The looting of Cambodia’s cultural heritage has been touched on many times in this site; you might want to look up our podcast featuring Heritage Watch, as well as the more recent news of Angkor Wat artefacts put up for sale on eBay.

Gods on display

There are two stories that unfold in the cool lofty rooms of Berlin’s 19th-century Martin-Gropius-Bau museum—a far cry from the sweaty heat of the National Museum of Phnom Penh, which has lent many of the exhibits. First, are the splendid sculptures dominated by a procession of the Hindu deities, Vishnu and Shiva, plus Harihara, who represents a mixture of both. One of the most striking is the serene face and upper body of Vishnu in a sleeping pose, an 11th-century fragment of what is believed to have been the largest bronze statue ever cast in Cambodia.

The second story is less obvious and probably unintended by the show’s organisers. It is to do with the wholesale looting of the temples that began when the French swept into Angkor 150 years ago. In the style of European colonisers of the period, acquisitive French explorers strapped prize statues onto the backs of locals for the trip out of the jungle, then loaded them onto rafts for the journey down the Mekong river for dispatch to Paris. Many ended up as the core of the collection of Asian art at Paris’s Musée Guimet.

Read about the Angkor: Sacred Heritage of Cambodia exhibtion at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum.

Books about the art and statuary of Cambodia and the Khmers:
Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art by E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford
Apsarases at Angkor Wat, in Indian context by K. M. Srivastava
Khmer sculpture and the Angkor civilization by M. Giteau
Art & Architecture of Cambodia (World of Art) by H. I. Jessup

Hindu artefacts unearthed in central Vietnam

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10 May 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – The first find of its kind, a stone linga and yoni have been found in central Vietnam. The Linga is associated with the Hindu god, Shiva and its symbolism includes the fountain of life and phallus. The Yoni symbolises the source of all existence and the female genitalia. Collectively, they represent unification of male and female. The Lingam-Yoni find in central Vietnam is not surprising considering the kingdom of Champa in the 9th century was Saivite, and Shiva-Linga were often the focus of worship in Saivite temples.

20070510 Thanh Nien NEws

Rare ancient object found in Vietnam central province

A stone statue of worship dating back to the ninth century was unearthed Thursday in Vietnam’s central province of Binh Thuan, with local authorities saying the find is the first of its kind in the area.

According to Nguyen Xuan Ly, director of the provincial museum, the statue is called Linga and Yoni – a divine worship object depicting the male sex and female genitalia united in a representation of the fountain of life.

Related Books:
The Art of Champa by J. Hubert
Hindu-Buddhist Art Of Vietnam: Treasures From Champa by E. Guillon

Call for papers: Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia

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From the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore:



The Conference on Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross- Cultural Movements is scheduled to be held from 21 – 23 November 2007 in Singapore.

The conference is organised in conjunction with an exhibition on Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia (EIISEA) by the National Library Board, Singapore. It will be jointly hosted by the Asia Research Institute (ARI), the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

The conference papers will cover the characteristics of the cultural interactions during the period from pre- and proto-history through the classical period of state formations in Southeast Asia.

The conference organisers invite researchers to submit abstracts on the following sub-themes:

1) Naval expeditions and background history of Rajendra Chola in Southeast Asia.
2) Ancient and medieval commercial activities and Chola maritime relationship between India and Southeast Asia.
3) Archaeological and inscriptional evidence and the historical background of cross-cultural movements.
4) Regional cultures and localisation of Indian influences in Southeast Asia.
5) Early Indian science, astronomy, mathematics, art and architecture in Southeast Asia.

Abstracts should be between 150-200 words in length. The abstracts should reach the Conference Secretariat by Tuesday, 15 May 2007. Submission of completed papers is due by Friday, 21 September 2007. Paper presenters will be provided with round-trip economy travel, hotel accommodation, per-diem and an honorarium for the paper presentation in Singapore. The papers will be published as a volume.

Please address all correspondence to: Professor A. Mani ( Professor Rama (, Conference Coordinators, the Conference Secretariat, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace, Singapore 119614.

Related Books:
Temple Art Icons and Culture of India and South East Asia by K. V. Raman
The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia by Himanshu Prabha Ray
Narrative Sculpture and Literary Traditions in South and Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology) by J. Fontein and M. J. Klokke (Eds)
The Indianized States of Southeast Asia by G. Coedes

Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung

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5 April 2007 (Pattaya Daily News) – A short piece on 10th century Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung in Buri Ram province. An interesting feature about the temple to Shiva is the possibility that the doorways are aligned to capture a single shaft of light once a year. The Sanskrit and Khmer inscriptions found associated with the temple have also been touched upon in a paper by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand in Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past (see related books below).

Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung

Where do you come from?..”Buri Rum”..Where is that?

Phanom Rung Historical Park, Chalermphrakiat district, Buri Ram province) In Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, mountains are believed to be homes to the gods. Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung, a magnificent temple sanctuary set on the summit of Phanom Rung Hill, was built between the 10th and 13th centuries. According to the stone inscriptions in Sanskrit and Khmer found at the site, the original name of the temple complex is Phanom Rung, Khmer for big mountain

A religious sanctuary dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung symbolises Mount Kailasa, the heavenly abode of Shiva. Phanom Rung Hill rises 350 metres above the surrounding plain.

Astro-archaeological Phenomenon at Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung Astrologers have also predicted that an extraordinary astro-archaeological phenomenon will occur at sunrise during the April 3-5 period this year. The doors of the temple sanctuary are so perfectly aligned that during this period, at sunrise on a cloudless day with clear blue skies, the sun’s rays will shine through all fifteen doorways of the sanctuary in a single shaft of light.

Related Books:
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)
Khmer Civilization and Angkor (Orchid Guides) by D. L. Snellgrove
Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art by E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford

Dream leads miner to ‘artifacts’

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2 March 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A dream leads an Indonesian man to unearth a one-metre tall statue of Brahma in East Java, leading to frenzied excavations in the area for more artifacts. There is a shade of doubt over the finds, however, as some are suspected to be counterfeit to fuel the village economy.

Dream leads miner to ‘artifacts’

The pointed end of Maksum’s pickax stuck in the ground when it hit a hard object, a stone. Maksum, a resident of Besuk in Kediri regency, East Java, missed a beat.

“Everything I had seen in my dream has come true. There is something under the ground,” Maksum said in retelling the story of his discovery to The Jakarta Post.

Slowly, the 48-year-old Maksum dug deeper with both hands round the hard object. The original shape of the stone, which later revealed itself to be that of a crown, began to emerge.

“I immediately called my friends and asked them to help me. Shortly afterwards, we saw it was a statue with four heads. It was the statue of the god Brahma,” he said.

This discovery, which took place on Jan. 20 at about 5 p.m., remains fresh in the mind of Maksum. And with it, the sand miner proved the truth behind the spiritual guidance he received in a dream.

The statue of Brahma was thus excavated from its earth-bound tome. Standing a meter tall, the statue depicts Brahma meditating in the lotus position atop a square base. The four heads of Brahma face the four cardinal directions, and royal ornaments adorn its crown, throat, torso, and arms. A kettle is carved to the left of the statue.

The statue’s discovery has prompted the search for other artifacts, and local residents continued digging at the site where the statue had been found.

In less than a month, several other statues were also unearthed. The statue of Lembu Andini, or Nandi, was discovered to the south of the Brahma statue. Another statue, of the goddess Durga Mahesa Sura Mandini, was found lying to the east of Lembu Andini.

“We have also discovered a rectangular lingga (phallus) statue at a point of some distance from the rest of the statues,” Maksum added.

The discovery of a number of these statues in Kediri has prompted the Trowulan Center for the Rescue of Archeological Relics (BP3) to study the artifacts. BP3 has sent a research team to the site of the discovery for reconstruction and further excavation. This research will also prove the authenticity of the statues, which some believe to be counterfeits.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology, Vol 19) by D. Chihara
Art of Indonesia: Pusaka
Pusaka, art of Indonesia

Sites tell of prehistoric societies


27 February 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A short archaeological overview of Karawang, a city east of Jakarta.

Sites tell of prehistoric societies

Mention Karawang, a city around three hours east of Jakarta, to most people and you’ll bring to mind images of rice fields or the lyrics of nationalist poet Chairil Anwar.

But few are aware that the area is home to 31 different archaeological sites from several civilizations. Some have been restored, while many others remain buried beneath the rice fields.

Frenchman Jean Boisllier was the first to conduct research in the area, digging in Cibuaya on the city’s outskirts in 1959.

His discovery revealed the remnants of a civilization close to the ancient kingdom of Tarumanagara, but later investigations have revealed finds dating back to prehistoric times.

Three years after Boisllier, a team of archaeologists led by R.P. Soejono found clay pots, tools, beads and human bones from a community that lived around 2000 to 1500 years ago in what is now Buni, in Bekasi. Now known as the Buni community, the items found in the area show the ability of their craftsmen.

A year later, noted researcher Edi Sedyawati studied statues depicting the Hindu god Vishnu that had been found in Cibuaya and concluded that they were from an 8th century civilization, along with a brick monument in the area.

In the 1980s, mounds of soil rising over the rice fields of Batujaya, west of Cibuaya, turned out to be ancient masonry constructions thought to date back to the 4th century.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Prehistoric Indonesia: A reader

Eighth century Hindu temple relics lost in Semarang

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9 Feb 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A sad story about how ancient Hindu temples have been pillaged in Indonesia by private collectors.

Jakarta Post, 9 Feb 2007

Eighth century Hindu temple relics lost in Semarang

Many 8th century historical relics from Hindu temples in Central Java have been lost, and are believed to be in the hands of private antique collectors.

Villager Sukirman, a native of Sidomulyo village in Central Java’s Semarang regency, said that during the 1980s many people came to the area to buy temple ruins or carved stones from residents.

During the independence struggle of the 1940s, many temple ruins could be found in the area between Paren hamlet to Sekere Hill in Sidomulyo, Sukirman said.

“We considered them to be just temple ruins and of no value, except as black rocks. The government also didn’t take care of them,” he said.

As the area became more densely populated, nearly all the temple ruins were tampered with or damaged, and a number of intact statues were bought by middlemen and antique collectors.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology, Vol 19) by D. Chihara

The ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk

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27 January 2007 (The Star) – Funny how the temple of Sambor Prei Kuk (Sambo Prey Kok in previous posts) keep coming up one after another. This is a travel piece from the Malaysian newspaper.

The ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk

Lest you entertain images of grand temple ruins akin to the grandeur of the awesome Angkor Wat, you’d be disappointed. Sambor Prei Kuk is a group of ancient temple ruins scattered within a shady forest. Originally called Isanapura, it pre-dates Angkor Wat and was the capital city during the reign of King Isana Varman 1, the son of King Citrasena.

Few tourists know of it. The only “horde” here was a group of Cambodian kids who rushed to our bus, hawking brightly-coloured homespun scarves at US$1(RM3.50) each.

Built at the end of the 6th century, the ruins are touted to be some of the oldest structures in the country, covering an area of 5sq km.

About 100 small temples are scattered throughout the forest. Left in the open and not maintained, some of the structures are just mere remnants of their original building – perhaps a broken wall here, a vine-choked edifice there. There are 52 temples in recognisable condition, and another 52 sites where the original structures are now buried in the ground, visible only as small hills.

All is not lost. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts together with the Waseda University, supported by The Foundation for Cultural Heritage and the Sumitomo Fund have started the Sambor Prei Kuk Conservation Project to restore these ruins.

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Khmer Sculpture and the Angkor Civilization by M. Giteau

Angkor revamp: India's loss, China's gain

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28 January 2007 (The Times of India)

Angkor revamp: India’s loss, China’s gain

China and Japan are in a race to grab a larger portion of the restoration work at Angkor Wat, the 12th century Hindu temple in Cambodia.

These well-intended moves also highlight India’s inability to make the most of an opportunity to build on age-old cultural ties with Cambodia and be seen as an influential friend in the region, sources said.

The Cambodian government and the Unesco are considering an offer from Beijing to fully restore the 900-year-old Chou Say temple, one of the shrines in the sprawling temple complex built by the Chola dynasty.

The project would cost just $1.86 million to the Chinese but it would open the doors for bagging contracts for larger archaeological sites in the complex.

Related Books:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Khmer Sculpture and the Angkor Civilization by M. Giteau

Ancient landfall

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4 June 2006 (The Hindu) – A feature story on the archaeology of the Bujang Valley in Malaysia and connections with the South Indian Pallava dynasty.

20060604 The Hindu

Ancient landfall

On a trip to Malaysia, we drove into the green Bujang Valley in Kedah, the oldest State in Malaysia. And we learnt that it is recognised as the oldest State because foreign sailors set up an ancient trading settlement there in the Fifth Century A.D. These “foreign sailors” were Tamils, subjects of the Pallavas. But the Bujang Valley had been mentioned in a Tamil poem, “Pattanopolai”, as far back as the Second or Third Century A.D. There, the Bujang Valley is called Kalagan, which philologists claim eventually gave rise to the modern-day Kedah.

All this, and much more, is given in great detail in the well-appointed Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum at Bukit Batu Pahat. The Museum, in thick rain forests, is backed by the Kedah Peak, now known as Gunung Jerai and towering to a height of 2,100 metres above the flat hinterland plains of the Straits of Malacca. According to historian Dato James F. Augustin: “Pallava traders from India’s Coromandel Coast began to explore the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal in search of spices, sandalwood, ivory, gold and tin.”

Related Books:
Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXVIII, Pt. 1
Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic society, Vol. XLIII, Part 1
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)