Protecting the Angkor Protector

Believer prays at Ta Reach, a spiritual statue in the Angkor Wat temple. Photo: ThmeyThmey News

SIEM REAP – Ta Reach, a statue of Vishnu in the Angkor Wat temple, is well known to the Cambodian people. This deity is considered by many believers to be sacred. Despite being hundreds of years old, Ta Reach still stands strong and full of great power.

Although the public knows the name and the location of this eight-armed deity, the stories behind the statue’s restoration is not as well known. It has undergone many repairs by national and international experts as it is affected by natural disasters, civil war and damage from antiquity looters.

Formerly involved in this work, Long Nary, a stone expert of the APSARA National Authority, said the history of restorations dated back to the 16th century. Later on, there was help from France, India and Germany.

Statue of Ta Reach. Photo: ThmeyThmey News

Two sections of the legs had been broken. Experts explained that stones on the legs and torso were different. Based on previous studies, this problem may be due to the conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism.

In 1946, because the statue was leaning backward, France strengthened the foundation to restore it. India repaired parts of both hands that were broken, replacing them with cement.

“At the turn of the 16th century, due to religious turmoil, the statue fell apart. We can see the damage toward the torso and the head being fixed. That is why we think that there were restorations during the 16th and 17th century”, said Nary.

In 2003, due to high risk, the German Apsara Conservation Project requested the APSARA Authority to cooperate in repairing the statue. The APSARA Authority requested the return of the original head kept at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

This was because, in 1985, when the nation was in turmoil, there was a failed attempt by looters to cut off the head of the statue. During the process, the head fell hard to the ground making a loud bang. This notified the police around the temple. Authorities took the head to the Angkor Conservation before sending it to the National Museum.

Angkor Conservation also made a replica of the head from cement to complement the physical features of the statue and the beliefs of the Khmer people. Later on, a request for the original head was made and the concerned ministry agreed.

The authority’s job to protect ancient statues has improved over time. However, Nary worries that the believers’ action can routinely damage the statue in the long run.

Believer prays at Ta Reach, a spiritual statue in the Angkor Wat temple. Photo: ThmeyThmey News

From day to day, many people come and pray at Ta Reach for happiness, good health, wealth and for lottery numbers. Some believers often pour water onto the statue’s surface in a sense of making holy-water. Some other times, people also apply powder on the statue. Smoke from the burning of incense sticks and overcrowding fabrics on the body of the statue also erodes the stone. For Nary, this action can have a negative impact.

Nary understands that everything will come to an end and the same thing goes to the work of repairing things. However, through the restoration technique that he and his team use, Nary said the methods, combined with daily practical care, can guarantee the quality of the statue for up to 50 years.

Written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey News, this article was translated by Cheng Ousa for Cambodianess News.

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