Statue of Yama Known as "The Leper King"

Photo provided by the National Museum of Cambodia
  • Cambodianess
  • April 22, 2021 5:13 AM

PHNOM PENH--The National Museum of Cambodia in collaboration with the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO), or French school of Asian studies, has been holding its first virtual exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the museum. During the exhibition period, some sculptures and their histories are to be displayed digitally. With the approval from the National Museum of Cambodia, and in contribution to the promotion of Khmer cultural heritage, Cambodianess is pleased to present an overview on Statue of Yama Known as "The Leper King".

This statue, which is usually called Preah Kum Long, that is, the Leper King, gave its name to the terrace at the top of which it stood to the northeast of the royal palace of Angkor Thom. It was the object of a cult until, during the night of March 14 to 15, 1967, an attempt was made to saw its head.

Taken to a safe place the following day, it was transferred in October of that year to the museum. Actually, the statue is of Yama, the Hindu god who is the Guardian of Hell and the Judge of the Dead: He is recognizable by his haughty posture, seated with a knee raised, as well as by his two “fangs.”

Although belated, an inscription engraved on the front of the base of the statue attests to its identity. With no costume or adornment and its lower abdomen flat, this statue is atypical.

Its pronounced and protruding, although eroded, features - well-groomed moustache, sophisticated braids, protruding chin - and its powerful chest out are an invitation to see it as an achievement dating from the end of the 8th century.

Its origin remaining unknown, the statue was installed on the terrace bearing its name during one of the numerous late alterations that transformed the area sur- rounding the Angkor Thom royal square.

Its fingers eaten away by time - the right hand must have held a baton - and its body once covered with lichen have contributed to turning it into a statue of the legendary king of Angkor who had contracted leprosy.

This work has often been copied and casted to be displayed throughout the country although the statue is shrouded in a great deal of mystery as is the mythical figure to whom it remains associated.

Text provided by the National Museum of Cambodia

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