Ancient Khmer Rama Statue Officially Received by Government

A 10th-century Khmer statue that the Denver Art Museum returned to Cambodia last month was officially received by the Council of Ministers on Monday.

The sandstone torso of the Hindu deity Rama, which Cambodian authorities believed was removed from the Koh Ker temple complex in Preah Vihear province and smuggled out of the country half a century ago, was acquired by the U.S. museum in 1986.

US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman takes a photograph of the torso of the Rama statue during a handover ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman, right, takes a photograph of the torso of the Rama statue during a handover ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“After its long journey, it is finally back in its homeland,” said Yim Nolson, vice chairman of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council at the Council of Ministers, at a handover ceremony in Phnom Penh on Monday.

“It was an important sculpture in our collection,” said Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich after the event. “But…this is the place where the sculpture belongs.”

Mr. Heinrich has previously said that information about the provenance of the statue was not available when the museum acquired it.

But when Cambodian authorities sent documents to the Denver museum with measurements of the feet in a pedestal, which proved to perfectly match the legs of the torso, he said, “It became evident that the sculpture was not broken [but], with hammer and chainsaw, detached from the feet. So it was clear it had not legally left the country.”

Photographers take photos of the Torso of Rama during a handover ceremony at the Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Photographers take photos of the Torso of Rama during a handover ceremony at the Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The pedestal is one of several that Cambodian authorities found at Koh Ker’s Prasat Chen temple in 2012, prompting a search for the missing bodies. The Torso of Rama is the seventh statue from Koh Ker to return from abroad.

The whereabouts of the statue’s head remain a mystery, according to Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture.

U.S. institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have returned nearly 50 artifacts to Cambodia in recent years, Mr. Phoeurn said. “We are happy, and we are thinking about making an appeal to other countries to follow the good example of the United States,” he said.

The Torso of Rama will be exhibited at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, he added.

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