From Cambodia, timeless treasuresMore than a century ago, the French naturalist Henri Mouhot accidentally came across an old history book about a kingdom in Indochina that had established its capital on a hill and built a huge temple called Angkor Wat.
His discovery aroused the curiosity of a number of French archaeologists and explorers, who launched a series of expeditions to locate the hidden remains of the kingdom, located near Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Years later, their excavations uncovered a vast city filled with huge stone temples and palaces, decorated with statues of Hindu gods and stone carvings describing the history of the Angkor empire, which flourished from the 8th to 13th centuries.
Although this marvel is commonly known as Angkor Wat, that temple is only the biggest and most famous one in the Angkor complex, built from the 11th to 12th century on a 9-hectare (22-acre) site.
Bringing the history and myths of the long-vanished kingdom closer to home, 100 relics of the Angkor empire will be displayed at the Seoul Museum of History from Tuesday through Sept. 12. All artifacts are genuine; most are components of monuments from Angkor or other Khmer dynasties, both before and after the Angkor period. The pieces are the property of the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
“Angkor is a treasure not only for Cambodians but for people around the world,” Norodom Bopha Devi, Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, said in a statement.
On exhibit is a sandstone sculpture of the head of King Jayavarman VII, a conqueror who reigned around the 12th century and revived the Angkor empire following invasions by its neighbors. The sculpture was found in Preah Khan, a temple in Angkor’s northeast.
A bronze statue dating to around the 12th century, “Sadasiva” contains the five faces of Siva, one of the Hindu Trinity of gods, known as the god of destruction as well as of rebirth. The faces symbolize the five elements of creation: earth, water, fire, air and energy.
Also on view is a sandstone statue of Ganesa, an elephant-headed son of Siva. According to legend, Siva decapitated his son out of anger, but out of remorse replaced his head with that of an elephant.
“Standing Vishnu with Four Arms” is a sandstone statue of Vishnu from the 9th century, a member of the Hindu Trinity. “Uma and Siva” is a sandstone statue of Siva and his consort, Uma. Found in Siem Reap, this sculpture dates to the 10th century.
The area around Siem Reap is a popular attraction for Korean travelers; an average of 800 Korean tourists visit Angkor every day, according to Cambodian authorities.
For those who haven’t made the journey, help in understanding the real-life surroundings of the artifacts on display is provided in the form of photographs taken by Bae Bien-u, a professor at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.
Mr. Bae took the pictures on display early in the morning during Cambodia’s monsoon season, when the surfaces of the Angkor ruins were wet with dew and rain. The effect is dramatic, with strong contrasts.
by Limb Jae-un
Ticket price ranges from 6,000 won ($5) to 10,000 won. The Seoul Museum of History is located near Seodaemun Station on subway line No. 5. For more information, call (02) 714-0313 or visit the Web site www.angkorwat.co.kr.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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