Ancient statue found in Siem Reap

An incomplete piece of a statue measuring over one metre, thought to be an ancient remain, was found in the northeastern corner of Preah Ko temple in Siem Reap province’s Ov Lork village on Monday.

Ly Vanna, director of the Department of Conservation of Monuments and Preventative Archaeology with the Apsara Authority, said the statue was incomplete, noting that only the body was found, while the head, both hands and feet were missing.

“The statue is made of sandstone, and there are carvings that depict a short skirt with fishtail patterns that sits above the knee, along with a belt,” he said. “The kind of clothing is similar to that of Vishnu of Preah Ko style, as a Vishnu statue is currently displayed in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.”

“However, unfortunately the statue does not have a head or hands, which make it difficult to determine. If the statue had four hands, it can be confirmed as that of Vishnu,” he added. “But if it only has two hands, it could be Shiva. However, if we only rely on the outline of the statue, we can conclude that it is Vishnu from Brahmanism.”

He said that Apsara Authority would take the statue to clean and study for documentation before sending it for keeping in Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum in the future.

Thai Mech, a resident who found the statue, was quoted by the Apsara Authority as saying that he often crossed Preah Ko temple moat, but he did not notice the statue before. However, when he passed the area on Monday, he dug the ground and found the statue, which measures 1.14 metres.

“At first, I did not think it was a statue, but looking at the shape of the stone I continued to dig and found the statue,” he said. “Afterwards, I reported it to the Heritage Protection Police for safety.”

First Lieutenant Oun Yong, a heritage police in Angkor Archaeological Park’s Roluos, said people have discovered statues in the past and always reported it to the police for safe keeping and research.

“I would like to appeal to everyone who has found any statues or archaeological remains anywhere to please hand it over or report it to authorities for inspection,” he said.

A surprise sculpture, a book with a dark past and other treasures unveiled

Torrential rain did not keep them away. Well before the opening hour of 9 a.m. on June 8, more than 30 people were lined up at the Turner Lynch Campus Center at Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven. Juggling umbrellas, they carried boxes, shouldered backpacks and pulled suitcases holding family heirlooms and antiques in the hopes of discovering hidden treasures.

They had braved the weather for “Hidden Treasures: Unveiled,” an appraisal event organized and hosted by Oglethorpe University Museum of Fine Art (OUMA). And some surprise treasures were discovered, ranging from a centuries-old Buddha bust to a book with a dark past.

Ellen Kierr Stein looks at the bust of Buddha she had appraised and then donated to the Oglethorpe University Museum of Fine Art. (Phil Mosier)

Specialists from Hindman, an internationally known auction house were on hand to appraise items. Five experts were at stations for Fine Art, Decorative Art, Asian Art, Jewelry and Books and Manuscripts. Appraisal fees went to help fund OUMA, and a portion of proceeds from any items discovered at the event and auctioned by Hindman will go to the museum as well.

Attendees came from all parts of metro Atlanta and as far away as Dahlonega and Cartersville. Two hundred people brought their treasures and 300 items were appraised, reported museum director Elizabeth Peterson, director of OUMA.

Jonathan Dickson navigated his way from East Cobb County with several heirlooms in tow, including a painting, porcelain pieces, German beer steins and a large book of Goethe’s writing. They are remnants of his father’s estate, he said. Most of them had been handed down by Dickson’s grandfather, who had lived in New York, Florida and Germany. His first stop was the Fine Art table, staffed by Kate Stamm, Hindman’s Fine Art specialist for the Southeast region.

Dickson unveiled a large full-length portrait of two young girls dressed alike in red, arms entwined. He had virtually no information on the painting, not even a title, only the artist’s last name, Hoffman.

The title may never be known, but Stamm dated the work in 1865. The piece had only minor flaws. She researched the painting after the event and sent Dickson a report four days later, identifying the artist as George C. Hoffman.

“The estimated value is in the low thousands.” said Dickson. “We will keep it as a family heirloom.” The mystery remains whether those children are on his family tree.

Dickson also visited the Decorative Art station with his porcelain pieces and German beer steins. The popular stop was manned by expert Jon King, Hindman’s senior consultant for the Southeast region, who has been in the field since the early 1980s, King has overseen collections from the estates of noted celebrities and has worked with the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow” and HGTV’s “Appraise It!”

The heirlooms Dickson laid out at the Decorative Art table are not of much value, he found out, but he said he learned some interesting information about them. His final stop was the Books and Manuscripts table, staffed by Gretchen Hause, who is a specialist in Hindman’s Fine Books and Manuscripts department.

The hefty book of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s writings was apparently given to Dr. Wilhelm Frick by the city in Germany where he lived, Hause told Dickson. Frick was Adolph Hitler’s minister of interior for 10 years and was hanged for war crimes. Another mystery for his family: Dickson said he doesn’t know how the book came into his grandfather’s possession. “Its is not entirely a happy story, but certainly a fascinating one.”

From left, Gary and Gloria Kubick present a glass lampshade to appraiser Jon King. The Kubicks were disappointed to learn the item was not a product of Tiffany. (Phil Mosier)

Gloria and Gary Kubik from Johns Creek set their large carton on the Decorative Art table with hopeful expectations. They lifted out a large Tiffany-style lamp shade that had long been in the office of Gary Kubik’s grandfather. His grandfather had shipped the lamp from Connecticut so the couple could bring it to the event.

“We’ve always been told it is probably a Tiffany lamp,” Gary Kubik said.

Specialist Jon King examined the shade carefully. Regretfully, he gave the Kubiks the news. It is a 1920s lamp, he told them. “But it is not an original Tiffany. Many Tiffany-style lamps and shades were made then and still are,” he said. Although there were other clues, the most obvious was the lack of a Tiffany signature or any indication that it was made in the Tiffany studio.

The Kubiks took the news well and said they would not be taking an extended vacation or retiring any time soon, but that the appraisal experience was “really fun.”

Ken Moorman of Brookhaven, accompanied by family friend, Trish Percival, stepped to the Asian Art station. Unwrapping two panels of Asian paintings, he explained to specialist Annie Wu that they had been owned by his wife’s aunt in California.

“All I ever heard about them is that they are Japanese,” he told Wu.

“No, they are Chinese, done between 1850 [and] 1870 and had been painted at a center in Jing De Zhen in central China,” said Wu. She explained that in the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars were invited to the center to paint works of art, mainly for export.

The delicate, detailed porcelain paintings on individual tiles are of classic Chinese scenes and people. Few of the scholars became well-known, although each painting is signed with the artist’s signature “chop,” or seal, in red. The writing on the paintings are descriptions or poems about the scenes, and Wu offered to have them translated for Moorman.

From left, Trish Percival and Ken Moorman listen to appraiser Annie Wu’s explanation of Chinese artworks that Moorman owns. (Phil Mosier)

“The paintings and condition of the panels are important, and it is rare to find them in as good a condition as yours. Typically, they came in a set of four panels, which would likely be valued in the high thousands at auction,” said Wu, adding, “The market for Chinese art buyers is very active right now.”

Ellen Kierr Stein remembered her Buddha bust being a fixture in her parents’ homes as far back as the 1960s. It was part of an eclectic collection of artifacts from their worldwide travels, she recalled.

Wu, at the Asian Art station, filled in some details. The Buddha bust is a bronze Thai piece from the 16th or 17th century and is “very good condition,” she said.

“Buddha is an iconic image in Asian culture and the expression on his face is very important. This Buddha has a calm, benevolent expression, as is fitting.”

A highlight of the day was Kierr Stein’s surprise, on-the-spot donation of the Buddha bust to OUMA, made with her sister, Susan Kierr in memory of their parents, J.N. and Raymond Kierr.

“We were thrilled,” said John Tilford, OUMA’s curator of collections. “It’s a major contribution to our permanent collection and a wonderful addition to our Asian collection.”

–Judith Schonbak

On a scale of one to Zen: Buddha’s life, decorated by hand

Aidan Dunne
The consummate collector, Alfred Chester Beatty relied on the advice of several experts, but even so, how he managed to keep up with the development of his collection given its scope and depth is a mystery. Even now it is still being researched, evaluated and documented. Regarding evaluation, Beatty’s reputation for acquiring only the best examples from any field that interested him has been borne out again and again.

The latest instance is his holding of 18th- and 19th-century Thai Buddhist manuscripts. The collection includes about 60 of them, all substantial, which places it on par with many major institutional collections internationally, and they are known to be of exceptional quality.

A good proportion of these manuscript books are now on view at the Chester Beatty Library, at Dublin Castle, carefully presented so that multiple leaves are unfolded and visible. The books are made from either palm leaves or, later, paper leaves in accordion folds. Beatty had about 20 palm-leaf manuscripts. Incised with texts – and inked by the application of soot paste – they are quite austere, beautiful objects.

The words are teachings in the Theravada tradition, the Way of the Elders, possibly the oldest written record of Buddhist teaching

While the subsequent use of mulberry or kohoi-bark paper allowed more scope, especially enabling the generous use of illustration. The relatively long, narrow format followed on from the palm leaves. Still, the more flexible proportions meant that a central panel of text could be fringed by decorative borders and flanked by elaborately worked images, usually elegantly drawn and decorated with surprisingly rich, saturated colours.

Curator Laura Muldowney points out that a natural expectation that texts and images will be directly related, that the objects are effectively illustrated books, turns out to be largely unfounded. The words are mainly sacred texts transcribed in the ancient Indian language, Pali. They are teachings in the Theravada tradition, “the Way of the Elders”, possibly the oldest written record of Buddhist teaching. The images break free from scripture and represent the birth stories of the Buddha.
Thai Buddhist Tales: Detail from manuscript 1315, The Chester Beatty Collection Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1315, Chester Beatty Collection
Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1318, Chester Beatty Collection Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1318, Chester Beatty Collection
Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1323, Chester Beatty Collection Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1323, Chester Beatty Collection

Not alone the Buddha, Muldowney explains. “There are two main strands of subject matter in the Thai books. In the Pali canon there are about 550 stories of the Buddha’s past lives, “jatakas” or birth tales of the Buddha, charting his moral evolution through countless lives. In Thai Buddhism, particular importance is attached to the last ten tales.” They represent the culmination of the cycle of rebirth that led to the Buddha’s enlightenment. “In the concluding ten stories he consolidates, one by one, the ten virtues that lead to a state of perfection. So the illustrations tend to concentrate on these stories of the acquisition of virtue, especially the final and most important virtue: generosity.”

That is not the end of the story, though: “The other main strand, we find, has to do with stories involving the legend of the monk Phra Malai.” Manuscripts in which he features usually include verse accounts of his experience in Thai, following on the Pali scripture. As legend has it, Phra Malai had accumulated a level of merit that allowed him exceptional privileges. He was, for example, able to visit hell and heaven, and he was on speaking terms with the Buddha. “In hell, when he visited, he was beset by troubled souls who implored him to encourage their relatives on earth to live virtuously and avoid their unhappy fate.” On the other hand, heaven, he could report, was terrific and well worth the effort of getting there.

The disconnect between word and image arises largely through the books’ function. “Often they were commissioned on the occasion of a funeral, used in the ceremony (the monks chanted or recited the texts) and perhaps donated to the monastery. Some of them, you can see, were heavily used (perhaps as instructional texts, and in ceremonies other than funerals), others hardly at all.” Patterned embellishments are a common feature, including lavish gold work on the double-thickness covers. They were, after all, Muldowney observes, one of the ways one might accrue virtue, and the greater your investment the more virtue accrued.
Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1328, Chester Beatty Collection Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1328, Chester Beatty Collection
Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1328, Chester Beatty Collection Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript 1328, Chester Beatty Collection
Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript D0009724, Chester Beatty Collection Thai Buddhist Tales: part of manuscript D0009724, Chester Beatty Collection

There is an example, much more rare, that moves beyond the birth tales and the deeds of Phra Malai, and deals with the life of the Buddha, who abandoned his royal destiny and opted for a life of study, hardship and meditation. While stories of the life do feature in other forms, including wall paintings in Thailand, it is, she notes, unusual to find them in a manuscript.

The books are formidable artefacts, and, without question, a large part of their appeal lies in the quality of their images, which is generally very fine. It is interesting how it develops over time. The earliest examples – and, Muldowney points out, the climate was essentially against their long-term survival – are exceptionally beautiful and elegant.

Fairly quickly in the 19th century the impact of Western influence becomes apparent and the landscape settings, particularly, but also the figures, acquire a Westernised quality of naturalistic representation – not to mention changes in palette.

Historically, time was running out. Early in the 20th century, predictably, advances in print technology meant these labour-intensive, highly skilled artisanal products were quickly supplanted by relatively high-quality, low-cost alternatives. Nonetheless, preserved and displayed, they survive as a glimpse into a world that is much closer to our own than you might expect.

Thai Buddhist Tales: Stories along the Path to Enlightenment, curated by Laura Muldowney and supported by the Robert HN Ho Family Foundation, is at the Chester Beatty Library, at Dublin Castle, until January 26th, 2020

World’s largest Buddha painting unveiled in eastern Taiwan

By Duncan DeAeth, T

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – An internationally recognized painter and calligrapher, Hong Qizhen (洪啟嵩) has completed a massive painting of the Buddha, which he began 17 years ago.

The “Great Buddha of the Century” (世紀大佛), is the largest painting of the Buddha in the world, measuring 168 meters in length and 72.5 meters in width.

It was put on display outdoors in Taiwan’s Hualien County on Friday (June 21) so that it would be bathed in the first light of the summer solstice.

The painting, which covers an area of over 12,000 square meters, was unfurled at 4:00 a.m. near the coast of Ji’an Township. It received official recognition as the largest Buddha painting in the world at 10:00 a.m., reports Liberty Times.

The painting was made with watercolors, requiring an estimated 8 tons of paint and 400 tons of water to complete over the course of 6,025 days. The artwork weighs about 2,100 kilograms.

The “Great Buddha of the Century” was previously displayed in Kaohsiung while still unfinished. Hong says he was originally inspired to begin the work after two giant 6th Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

Hong and his sponsors hope that unveiling of the completed work will herald an era of blessings and prosperity for Hualien, Taiwan, and the rest of the world.

2 Giant Buddhas Survived 1,500 Years. Fragments, Graffiti and a Hologram Remain.

2 Giant Buddhas Survived 1,500 Years. Fragments, Graffiti and a Hologram Remain.

A 3D light projection last month in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, of how a destroyed Buddha, known as Solsol to locals, might have looked in its prime.CreditCreditJim Huylebroek for The New York Times

By Rod Nordland

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Here is a reminder to someone with the initials A.B., who on March 8 climbed inside the cliff out of which Bamiyan’s two giant Buddhas were carved 1,500 years ago.

In a domed chamber — reached after a trek through a passageway that worms its way up the inside of the cliff face — A.B. inscribed initials and the date, as hundreds of others had in many scripts, then added a little heart.

It’s just one of the latest contributions to the destruction of the World Heritage Site of Bamiyan’s famous Buddhas.

The worst was the Taliban’s effort in March 2001, when the group blasted away at the two giant statues, one 181 feet and the other 125 feet tall, which at the time were thought to be the two biggest standing Buddhas on the planet.

It took the Taliban weeks, using artillery and explosive charges, to reduce the Buddhas to thousands of fragments piled in heaps at the foot of the cliffs, outraging the world.

Since then, the degradation has continued, as Afghanistan and the international community have spent 18 years debating what to do to protect or restore the site, with still no final decision and often only one guard on duty.

One recent idea came from a wealthy Chinese couple, Janson Hu and Liyan Yu. They financed the creation of a Statue of Liberty-size 3D light projection of an artist’s view of what the larger Buddha, known as Solsol to locals, might have looked like in his prime.

The image was beamed into the niche one night in 2015; later the couple donated their $120,000 projector to the culture ministry.

The local authorities bring it out on special occasions, but rarely, as Bamiyan has no city power supply, other than fields of low-capacity solar panels. The 3D-image projector is power-hungry and needs its own diesel generator.

Most of the time, the remains of the monument are so poorly guarded that anyone can buy a ticket ($4 for foreigners, 60 cents for Afghans), walk in and do pretty much whatever he wants. And many do.

Souvenir-hunters pluck pieces of painted stucco decorations from the network of chambers or take away chunks of fallen sandstone. Graffiti signatures, slogans, even solicitations for sex abound.

Anyone can, as A.B. did, crawl through the passageways surrounding the towering niches in the cliff, through winding staircases tunneled into the sandstone and up steps with risers double the height of modern ones, as if built for giants.

At the end of this journey, you arrive above the eastern niche, which housed the smaller Buddha, and stand on a ledge just behind where the statue’s head once was, taking in the splendid Buddha’s eye view of snow-capped mountains and the lush green valley far below.

The soft sandstone of the staircases crumbles underfoot, so that the very act of climbing them is at least in part a guilty pleasure — though no longer very dangerous. Twisted iron banisters set in the stone make the steep inclines and windows over the precipices more safely navigable, if not as authentically first millennium.

When the Taliban demolished the Buddhas, in an important sense they botched the job.

The Buddhas, built over perhaps a century from 550 A.D. or so, were just the most prominent parts of a complex of hundreds of caves, monasteries and shrines, many of them colorfully decorated by the thousands of monks who meditated and prayed in them.

In the 1990s, the caves around the Buddha complex in Bamiyan were home to mujahedeen factions that burned wood for heating. As hard-line Islamists, they were against Buddhism, slapping their shoes on the cave walls out of disrespect.CreditJim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Even without the Buddhas themselves, their niches remain, impressive in their own right; the Statue of Liberty would fit comfortably in the western one.

Unesco has declared the whole valley, including the more than half-mile-long cliff and its monasteries, a World Heritage Site.

“If the Taliban come back again to destroy it, this time they would have to do the whole cliff,” Aslam Alawi, the local head of the Afghan culture ministry, said.

Unesco has also declared the Bamiyan Buddhas complex a “World Heritage Site in Danger,” one of 54 worldwide. The larger western niche is still at risk of collapsing.

Most archaeologists oppose restoration, arguing that the damage was too great and that the cost would be prohibitive. Estimates range from $30 million for one Buddha to $1.2 billion for the whole complex.

Tourists from Ghazni Province making their way through winding staircases carved from crumbly sandstone at the Buddha complex.CreditJim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Others argue that the destruction itself has become a historical monument, and that the ruins should be preserved as is, a visible reminder of Taliban iconoclasm.

A scientific conference in Tokyo in 2017 — involving Afghans, Unesco, scientists and donors — met to study the matter, and to discuss Afghanistan’s formal request for money to rebuild the eastern Buddha. A diplomatically worded final statement called for more study and an indefinite pause in restoration work.

Or, as the Unesco field officer Ghulam Reza Mohammadi in Bamiyan put it, “The Buddhas will never be rebuilt.”

The important thing is stabilization and conservation of the remains as they are, Mr. Mohammadi said.

“The government can’t even afford to pay for five guards they promised,” he said.

No work has been done on the eastern niche since 2013, when a German archaeology team began rebuilding the feet of the smaller Buddha, using new materials and raising an international archaeological hue and cry that brought the work to an abrupt end.
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A view of snow-capped mountains and the lush green valley below where a Buddha statue stood.CreditJim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Officials say money has run out to work on the western niche, where scaffolding has filled the vast space for at least five years.

Mr. Alawi, while in charge for his ministry, does not even have a key to the door blocking a passageway to the top of the western niche; he said a German archaeologist took it with him.

Elsewhere on the site, pieces of the Buddhas are in locked cabinets, along with artifacts recovered from the caves, but the Afghans do not have the keys to the locks. A French archaeologist took those, then retired, and has not responded to official requests to return them, Mr. Alawi said.

“Somebody buys your dinner, they get to tell you what to eat,” Mr. Alawi said, quoting a Persian saying.

Another problem is that no one is really sure a restored Buddha would be safe, given Afghanistan’s continuing war and its government’s declining fortunes.

Bamiyan’s governor, M. Tahir Zohair, favors rebuilding the smaller Buddha. But he admitted, “The international community is worried the Taliban might come back and destroy it again.”

So that leaves the hologram.

After sunset on a recent Monday, Mr. Alawi set up the projector for a demonstration and for 15 minutes filled the deep darkness of the western niche with the huge image of Solsol, left palm forward, visible from across the valley.

Arif Taquin, 28, an artist in town, rushed over to the site. “The first time I saw this I cried,” he said. “Every time I see it again I am so moved in new ways, and it is only 3-D. To think we had the real thing, and now it is gone.”

When the generator died and the light flickered off, what was left to see in the niche was, as Mr. Taquin put it, “all that ugly scaffolding.”

Rod Nordland

Fatima Faizi contributed reporting.

Seven-Hundred-Year-Old Secrets

Something about the statue made it unforgettable to Ellery Sedgwick, A.B. 1894, when he first encountered it on a trip to Japan in 1930—so unforgettable that when he returned to the country six years later, he looked for it in four different cities. When a Japanese art dealer asked if he would recognize the figure if he saw it again, he replied, “After eight years, would a lover know his mistress?” The dealer found it for him three days later: a life-sized wooden statue of a small boy dressed in red, his hands pressed together as if in prayer or meditation. Sedgwick—owner-editor of the Atlantic Monthly—purchased the piece and had it shipped to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1937, a visiting Japanese conservator at the MFA discovered more than 70 objects—including smaller sculptures and religious texts—that had been sealed inside the sculpture’s body cavity, apparently untouched since the its creation in 1292.

Something, too, has kept scholars and researchers separated by decades and continents at work for almost a century, trying to understand the most minute details of the sculpture and the objects it once contained. Prince Shōtoku : The Secrets Within, an exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums open through August 11, displays the results of that scholarship, alongside the statue and all of its objects, reunited for the first time since 1937.

Rachel Saunders, Rockefeller associate curator of Asian art at the Harvard Art Museums, thinks that the statue’s “dual identity” might explain the enduring fascination—it is intimately human and distantly divine at the same time. It depicts the prince Shōtoku Taishi, considered the founder of Buddhism in Japan. The prince is captured at the moment when, according to legend, as a two-year-old (a year old, by Western count) he took several steps forward, put his hands together, praised the Buddha, and manifested a relic—the eyeball of the Buddha—between his hands. The statue of Shōtoku is anatomically realistic, standing just below the average height of a one-year-old today, with baby fat around his belly, wrists, and neck. But his knit brows and solemn expression emanate the charismatic power and authority of a religious icon. His eyes, made of rock crystal and purposely designed to catch the light—Saunders shines her cell-phone flashlight into them to demonstrate—are downcast and look beyond the viewer. “You get the sense that there’s an interiority, like you would with another person, something inside him that you can’t see—but he’s also looking beyond where we can see,” Saunders says.

“This dual identity, I think, is one of the sources of his ability to draw people to him,” she continues. “And that was what he was designed to do. He was intended to be at the center of a community who worshipped him and put their hope in him. And Ellery Sedgwick felt that when he first saw the sculpture. He didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know anything about him, but he felt this connection.”

The statue sits in a display case in the center of the exhibit. “He’s in a vitrine right now, so there’s a layer between you and him,” Saunders concedes, “but you can still sense it—he’s got this incredible lifelike presence.” It is the first thing that wandering visitors see upon entering the room—perhaps the perfect setup for a chance encounter like the one that so mesmerized Sedgwick in 1930 Tokyo. Along the walls and in glass cases are the objects the statue once contained. Like the “dual identity” of the statue itself, the stories these objects tell are both grand and minute, societal and individual.

The donation of objects to a statue is a ritual practice that stores up karmic merit for donors, which means the artifacts inside Shōtoku were among people’s most precious possessions, items they decided to give up as a sign of devotion. Many of the inscribed documents even have names written on them—donors “didn’t want any mix-up,” Saunders says. Someone, for example, decided to give a copy of chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, one of the most influential Buddhist texts in East Asia, which now sits in a display beside two other Buddhist texts. The Lotus Sutra chapter is “perfectly written out, no mistakes, no changes to the text.” Yet even this faithful reproduction of a canonical text reveals personal traces of whoever owned it: the bottom of the first page is worn away, perhaps the result of someone rubbing a thumb along the text while chanting.

The statue and its objects also tell scholars about the cults and religious practices that existed in Japan at the time of its making. The pieces were most likely commissioned and organized by aristocratic nuns associated with Eison, a monk who led a revival movement of Japanese Buddhism during the late thirteenth century. At the time, it was less socially acceptable for women to join a nunnery than for men to join a monastery, but Eison “believed very strongly that, for the Buddhist community to be complete, you needed women; you needed nuns,” Saunders says, explaining the importance of women in the creation of the collection. Eison’s movement was closely associated with the Esoteric Wisdom King Aizen Myōō—a six-armed deity depicted with red skin, flaming hair, and sharp fangs—of whom two sculptures were found inside Shōtoku, both now on display.

Another clue about contemporary events unsettling an exclusive version of Buddhism can be found in tiny slips of paper, inscribed with religious writings, that hang framed on a wall of the exhibit. They were distributed by an itinerant monk named Ippen, and they guaranteed recipients entrance to the Buddha’s Western Paradise when they died. Buddhism before this time “tended to be very scholastic; you needed a lot of money; you needed to study; you needed to have the leisure to really be an adherent,” Saunders explains. Monks like Ippen “decided they weren’t going to have any of that, they basically democratized it, made it very simple—even as simple as saying one particular praise to the Buddha, or receiving this piece of paper. It was a very disruptive time.”

On display in the next room is a complete twelfth-century Chinese woodblock-copy of the Lotus Sutra that was found inside the statue. The piece has been housed at the Library of Congress since the 1940s, when Sedgwick gave it to the library in return for its analysis. It is the only object that has been separated from the statue since 1937. (The statue and its contents were privately owned by the Sedgwick family until Walter Sedgwick ’69—Ellery’s grandson—donated the collection to the Harvard Art Museums earlier this year.) The Library of Congress loaned the Lotus Sutra woodblock to Harvard for the exhibit—a big deal, Saunders explains, because only three such sutras are known to exist. So Shōtoku is reunited with all of his objects for the first time in more than 70 years.

Despite the charm of this temporary reunion, and the presentation of all the research done to date, the exhibit is not intended to be a finish line: scholarship on the statue will continue. “What we found during the investigation was that…we did get some answers—but in fact what we really got was more questions,” Saunders says. How were the objects originally arranged inside the statue? Was the 1937 MFA opening really the first time the statue had been unsealed since 1292, or might it have been opened before? What does that mean for the conclusions that researchers can draw? “It’s taken a long time and a lot of people to get even to here, and we’ve still got a ways to go.” But there is forward momentum, spurred by a confluence of events that sparked a burst of scholarship in recent years.

On a wall of the exhibit is a large interactive touch screen that allows museum-goers to learn more about the objects on display. One of the options is a chanting of the Lotus Sutra, accompanied by a description and relevant images from the Library of Congress copy of the scripture. Saunders starts the recording of the chanting—a woman’s voice, steady, stately, almost otherworldly, yet warmly human—and we listen for a moment in silence.

“I had been thinking, ‘We need a monk to chant it’—and then I thought, ‘No, we don’t need a monk; we need a nun,’” she says and laughs. “And then I thought, ‘Where are we going to find a nun?’” She did find one: the abbess-in-waiting at a temple in Japan, whom she had heard chant earlier this year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, during the opening for an exhibit on The Tale of Genji. “I heard her and it was just so stunning. And she just recorded this on an iPhone for us.”

Saunders pauses, then continues. “One of the most incredible things about working on this project is that there’s been a lot of serendipity—just surprising coincidences, things working out, chance discoveries, this kind of thing,” she says, referencing the recording. “You know, you work with him”—she gestures to the statue—“for a while and you start to think: there is a power there. There have just been too many serendipitous occurrences for me to feel like it’s chance anymore.”

Click on arrow at right to see full statue and additional images
Prince Shōtoku at Age Two, a thirteenth-century Japanese icon made of wood with inlaid quartz eyes

Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial and promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr., 2019.122.

Massive Buddha statue carved into granite in East County

By: Travis Rice

DESCANSO, Calif. (KGTV) — A Descanso man has finished carving a Buddha statue into a granite boulder in his backyard.

“Buddha is in every tree just looking at you like every rock,” said artist Duncan McFetridge. “It’s connected to our saving our environment — all life is sacred.”

Duncan McFetridge says it took six months to carve the 6-foot tall Buddha into the granite.

“It occurred to me that this was a perfect time and place to carve a representation of Buddha,” added McFetridge, who was heavily involved in the preservation of the Cleveland National Forest.

He estimates he chipped away more than 750 pounds using a combination of hand tools and power tools on the stone carving while working in 4-hour increments every day.

“These are incredibly difficult,” said McFetridge pointing to cinnamon roll-sized circles adorning the carving’s head, “each one takes about a day.”

The 78-year-old says someone recently visited and figured out the Buddha carving faces due east, sticking with an ancient tradition of Buddha statues facing east to represent the moment of the enlightenment.

“I didn’t know, I was totally unconscious of this,” said McFetridge, who adds he just picked the rock face because of its accessibility.

McFetridge says hundreds have already inquired about visiting the statue to which he says he encourages it.

“The Buddha wants to be known,” said McFetridge.
Copyright 2019 Scripps Media, Inc.

Two Buddha era statues recovered from Mardan’s graveyard

PAKISTAN MARDAN: Historical Buddha era statues have been recovered from the Yousuf Kuli Graveyard in Mardan, ARY News reported on Wednesday.

During an excavation activity for a burial, Buddha era statues were recovered by the undertakers which have now been handed over to the concerned department.

The discovery was reported to the local police and the statues handed over to the department of Archaeology, Khyber Pakhtun Khwa (KPK).

The two statues are approximately 2 millennia old. One Buddha is 2 feet 8 inches and the other is 3 feet 7 inches.

The recent discovery comes in the midst of an ongoing inquiry against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s former Archaeology and Museums Director, Dr. Abdul Samad.

Dr. Abdul Samad has allegedly been found involved in illegal appointments and antiques’ theft, cases pertaining to the allegations are currently under process.

After a common citizen of Pakistan reached out to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan on his twitter about the arrest a few months back, the PM had replied with a tweet expecting the chairman National Accountability Bureau to take up the issue against the ‘disgraceful act.’

The NAB Chairman should take action against those in his institution who are responsible for this disgraceful act.

— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 15, 2019

The chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Feb 16 took notice of the arrest of Dr. Abdul Samad, soon after the PM’s tweet.

On Feb 15, NAB Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had arrested provincial director of archaeology and museums, Abdul Samad for misusing his authority.

Angkor Wat archaeological digs yield new clues to its civilization’s decline

Cambodia’s famous temple of Angkor Wat is one of the world’s largest religious monuments, visited by over 2 million tourists each year.

It was built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II, one of the most famous kings of the Angkorian civilization that lasted from approximately the ninth to 15th centuries. The structure is so strongly associated with Cambodian identity even today that it appears on the nation’s flag.

Image of Angkor Wat in 1880 by Louis Delaporte. Louis Delaporte/Wikimedia Commons

For many years, historians placed the collapse of the Angkor civilization in 1431, when Angkor’s capital city was sacked by the Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya and abandoned. The idea that the Angkorian capital was abandoned also played a part in the 19th-century colonial interpretation of Angkor as a civilization forgotten by the Cambodians and left to decay in the jungle. Many tourists still come to Angkor Wat with an outdated romanticized notion of a deserted ruin emerging from the mysterious jungle.

But scholars have long argued against this interpretation, and archaeological evidence is shedding even more light on the decline of the Angkorian civilization. The process was much longer and more complex than previously imagined; Angkor’s collapse may be better described as a transformation.

By looking at the events associated with this one particular temple, archaeologists like me are able to see a microcosm of some of the broader regional transformations that took place across Angkor.

What happened to the Angkor civilization?

Researchers believe the Angkor civilization was established in A.D. 802. Its heartland and capital city was on the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake in northwest Cambodia. The Angkorian state was founded and grew during a period of favorable climate with abundant rainfall. At its height, Angkorian rulers might have controlled a large portion of mainland Southeast Asia.

The Angkor civilization was booming in the early 1100s when construction began on the Angkor Wat temple site. Built as a re-creation of the Hindu universe, its most striking features are the five sandstone towers that rise above the four temple enclosures, representing the peaks of Mount Meru, the center of the universe. The temple is surrounded by a large moat symbolizing the Sea of Milk from which “amrita,” an elixir of immortality, was created.

But by the end of the 13th century, numerous changes were taking place. The last major stone temple at Angkor was constructed in 1295, and the latest Sanskrit inscription dates to the same year. The last inscription in Khmer, the language of Cambodia, appears a few decades later in 1327. Constructing stone temples and writing inscriptions are elite activities – these last instances at the Angkorian capital happened during the region-wide adoption of Theravada Buddhism that replaced Hinduism.

This religious shift disrupted the pre-existing Hindu-based power structures. Emphasis moved from state-sponsored stone temples and royal bureaucracy to community-based Buddhist pagodas, built from wood. At the same time, maritime trade with China was increasing. The relocation of the capital further south, near the modern capital of Phnom Penh, allowed rulers to take advantage of these economic opportunities.

Paleoclimate research has highlighted region-wide environmental changes that were taking place at the time, too. A series of decades-long droughts, interspersed with heavy monsoons, disrupted Angkor’s water management network meant to capture and disburse water.

One study of the moats around the walled urban precinct of Angkor Thom suggest the city’s elite were already departing by 14th century, almost 100 years before the supposed sack of the capital by Ayutthaya.

The author’s team, excavating occupation mounds surrounding the Angkor Wat temple. Although this area is covered with dense trees now, in the past there would have been houses on these mounds. Alison Carter, CC BY-ND

Excavations in the Angkor Wat temple enclosure

My colleagues and I, in collaboration with the government’s APSARA Authority that oversees Angkor Archaeological Park, began excavating within Angkor Wat’s temple enclosure in 2010.

Instead of focusing on the temple itself, we looked at the occupation mounds surrounding the temple. In the past, people would have constructed houses and lived on top of these mounds. LiDAR surveys in the region clarified that Angkor Wat, and many other temples including nearby Ta Prohm, were surrounded by a grid-system of mounds within their enclosures.

Over three field seasons, my colleagues and I excavated these mounds, uncovering remains of dumps of ceramics, hearths and burnt food remains, post holes and flat-lying stones that might have been part of a floor surface or path.

Archaeologists excavating a house mound in the Angkor Wat enclosure in 2015. Alison Carter, CC BY-ND

It is not clear yet who lived on these mounds, as we have not yet found artifacts that give clues as to the inhabitants’ occupations. Inscriptions describe the thousands of people needed to keep the temples functioning, so we suspect that many of those who lived on the mounds worked in some capacity in the Angkor Wat temple, perhaps as religious specialists, temple dancers, musicians or other laborers.

During our excavations, we collected burnt organic remains, primarily pieces of wood charcoal that were associated with different layers or features like hearths. Using radiocarbon dating, we identified dates for 16 charcoal pieces. We used these dates to build a more fine-grained chronology of when people were using the temple enclosure space – providing a more nuanced idea of the timing of occupation at Angkor Wat.

A dump of ceramics and food remains in an occupation mound. Archaeologists take burnt pieces of organic remains from features like this to date when particular activities took place. Alison Carter, CC BY-ND

Radiocarbon dates tell a different story

Our dates show that the landscape around Angkor Wat might have initially been inhabited in the 11th century, prior to the temple’s construction in the early 12th century. Then the Angkor Wat temple enclosure’s landscape, including the mound-pond grid system, was laid out. People subsequently inhabited the mounds.

Then we have a gap, or break, in our radiocarbon dates. It’s difficult to line it up with calendar years, but we think it likely ranges from the late 12th or early 13th century to the late 14th or early 15th century. This gap coincides with many of the changes taking place across Angkor. Based on our excavations, it seems that the occupation mounds were abandoned or their use was transformed during this period.

However, the temple of Angkor Wat itself was never abandoned. And the landscape surrounding the temple appears to be reoccupied by the late 14th or early 15th centuries, during the period Angkor was supposedly sacked and abandoned by Ayutthaya, and used until the 17th or 18th centuries.

Angkor Wat as a microcosm of the civilization

As one of the most important Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat can be seen as a kind of bellwether for broader developments of the civilization.

It seems to have undergone transformations at the same time that the broader Angkorian society was also reorganizing. Significantly, though, Angkor Wat was never abandoned. What can be abandoned is the tired cliche of foreign explorers “discovering” lost cities in the jungle.

While it seems clear that the city experienced a demographic shift, certain key parts of the landscape were not deserted. People returned to Angkor Wat and its surrounding enclosure during the period that historical chronicles say the city was being attacked and abandoned.

To describe Angkor’s decline as a collapse is a misnomer. Ongoing archaeological studies are showing that the Angkorian people were reorganizing and adapting to a variety of turbulent, changing conditions.

Alison Kyra Carter

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Oregon

Hindu statues, Buddhist temples: How and why Indian gods feature in Thai culture

By Sirinya Pakditawan

You may certainly have noticed that Hindu gods are very prominent in Thai culture. Thus, there are often images of these gods in Thai temples and at Thai shrines. In fact, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the three most important Hindu gods representing the recurring and continual cycles of birth, life, death and rebirth.

This trinity, along with the god Indra, Ganesha and some enlightened divinities and demons, have been converted to the Buddhist doctrine according to Buddhist belief. Hence, these gods often occur as guardians of temples and monasteries. In addition, they may also be seen attending the Buddha on im­portant events in his life.

First there is Brahma (in Thai: Phra Phrom) who is the creator in the Hindu trinity. He is com­monly depicted having four heads and the book of Vedas in his hand. His female aspect is the goddess of learning, Sarasvadi, and his mount is the mythi­cal celestial swan called Hong or Hamsa. Brahma is considered a guard of doors and pediments in tem­ples. Furthermore, he is also popular as a protector of Thai hotels. Thus, in Thai culture, he is a deity of good fortune and protection.

In Thai art, Brahma is depicted in attendance to Buddhism, along with Indra, at the crucial events in Buddha’s life. Hence, he is also considered to be con­verted to Buddhism. By the way, Hindu gods might also be the subject of Thai songs here and there. For instance, Noi (Krissada Sukosol), singer of the band Pru, featured a song called ‘Brahma Brahma’.

Another important god is Vishnu who is the pre­server deity of the Hindu triad. In his hand, he often holds a disk and a conch shell. His mount is Garuda, the mythical bird that is half-human and half-eagle and the natural enemy of the Nagas. In other words, Garuda can be seen as the vehicle of Vishnu.

What is more, Vishnu’s avatar is Rama, the hero of the Ramakien tale. In addition, this god is also associated with Thai royalty since the kings of the Chakri dynasty have ‘Rama’ as part of their names. Similar to Brahma, Vishnu often functions as a (door) temple guardian.

Shiva is the destroyer and regenerator aspect of the Hindu trinity. He usually has a third eye that is centred vertically on his forehead. Fur­ther characteristics are a brahmanical cord across his torso and sometimes a crescent moon which is caught in his tangled hair. Pravati is his consort and his mount is the bull Nandi.

The image of Ganesha (in Thai: Phra Pikanet) is also very prominent in Thai culture. For example, there is the Ganesha Park in Nakhon Nayok which is considered a tribute to the elephant-headed god who is Shiva’s son. In Thailand, he is commonly seated at temple portals. What is more, he is also the patron of the arts and a protector of business.

Finally, we have the god Indra who is the god of Tavatimsa heaven. Hence, he is also the god of weather and war, wielding a lightning bolt and riding Erawan, the multi-headed elephant. Indra is a temple guardian of portals and pediments. He is also prominent in the Vessantara story which is the last life of the Buddha-to-be.

In addition, Indra occurs on mural paintings where he can be identified by his green colour. Along with Brahma, he is kneeling when attending Buddha during particular life events. Thus, it is indicated that the Hindu gods are subservient to Buddhism.

Summing up, we may claim that Hindu gods play a significant role in Thai culture. As a matter of fact, they not only show that Buddhism and Hinduism are intertwined but also rep­resent a subservience of Hinduism to Buddhism.

Sirinya Pakditawan is a ‘luk kreung’, or half-Thai, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. She enjoys writing about Thailand, with a focus is on culture, art, history, tradition and on the people, as well as a mix of topics concerning Thai popular culture, travelogues and articles about Thai food.

Sirinya’s aim is not only to entertain you but to provide you with information and facts about Thailand, its culture and history that may not be generally known, in particular to the Western world. She has a PhD in American Studies from the University of Hamburg.

To read the original story, and many more, be sure to check out Sirinya’s blog: