Lost treasures emerge in Cambodia’s hunt for historic sites as locals dream of tourist dollars

A large carving of a reclining Buddha is one of the latest ancient sites discovered in Cambodia as locals scour the country for lost history
Many hope such finds will help create long-term growth in tourism in the poor Southeast Asian nation

Stories of a large rock-face carving of the Buddha on Kangva hill, in Cambodia’s Pursat province, had long been told in the village at the foot of the hill, but no one alive remembered seeing it.

Local legends of giant snakes and earth spirits, or neak ta, had largely kept villagers away from the low hills that straddle the border of Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces, on the western banks of Tonle Sap lake. That changed last year on the morning of November 27.

“Bun Sopheap was scrambling over the rocky hill with four women from the village when he saw it,” says Eng Kunthea, boss of the Cambodian People’s Party in Krakor district, Pursat province.

“Straight away, an unknown old lady appeared and hugged him, crying with joy and thanking him for finding the carving. As the other four women caught up with Bun Sopheap, the old lady disappeared, and then everyone prayed for protection. She was a guardian spirit, and only Bun Sopheap saw her.”

Eng Kunthea, an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, understands the tourism potential of this dusty district of central Cambodia. He is helping bankroll the rediscovery of local sites lost to history as a way of attracting visitors and preserving the country’s past.

The reclining Buddha faces south and is exposed to the elements. A team of young monks based at the local pagoda spent a day digging out the semi-buried statue to reveal its true size. At 6m (20ft) long and 2.5m tall, it was a large cultural gem to lose to history.

The condition and style of the carving suggests it is from sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries, Eng Kunthea says. Later Buddha carvings, for example from the Oudong era (17th to 19th centuries), look different.
Post Magazine Newsletter
Get updates direct to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

“There is a design difference compared to some carvings at Samtuk and Baseth mountains from the Oudong era,” Eng Kunthea explains, sitting in the Krakor district party offices. “The Buddha [on Kangva hill] looks ugly, with little design detail, and the hairstyle looks messy and unrefined. And the Buddha has no proper clothes; he has only a skirt.”
Bun Sopheap, who discovered the reclining Buddha carving, on his new task of excavating a nearby small cave on Kangva hill. Photo: Peter Ford
Bun Sopheap, who discovered the reclining Buddha carving, on his new task of excavating a nearby small cave on Kangva hill. Photo: Peter Ford

Historic Buddhist carvings can be found at sites across Cambodia, but the newly found Pursat Buddha is the first of its size to be rediscovered, as far as officials from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts can recall. Larger Buddha figures in Cambodia have been worshipped for centuries, rather than lost to human memory.

The origin of the new finding remains, for now, something of a mystery, as the culture ministry and several archaeologists disagree with Eng Kunthea’s historical analysis.

“The culture ministry is not exactly sure about the age of the Buddha, but according to my examination of the objects around there and the condition of the carving, I think it was made to honour a military event or an important person in the Oudong era,” says Heng Kamsan, director of the ministry’s archaeology department.

Dr Martin Polkinghorne, senior archaeology lecturer at Australia’s Flinders University, agrees. He is collaborating with the ministry on research into Cambodian history after the Angkor era, which lasted from the ninth to the late 14th century and left behind a rich legacy.

“It is highly unlikely that the reclining Buddha in parinibbana [the “nirvana after death” posture] is fourth to seventh century as suggested,” he says. “The style of the carving and iconography of the monastic robes appear to associate this sculpture with the middle or early modern period, from the 16th century or later.”

Further muddling the statue’s provenance, pottery and jewellery unearthed at the site includes a pre-Angkorian necklace, suggesting the carving’s creators, or perhaps worshippers, brought the precious items to the site. (The site could, though, have predated the statue as a holy place.)
If a lot of tourists visit [the Buddha], then we can afford things like new clothes. Maybe a school can be built for local children, and I’ll even attend and learn to read better Villager Thorn Thoeurn

Architectural evidence from across Pursat province points to the importance of the area during the 16th century, when Cambodian King Ang Chan is believed to have returned from exile in Ayutthaya, in modern-day Thailand, Polkinghorne says.
Historic and cultural tourism has been financially rewarding for some rural Cambodian districts. Before the coronavirus pandemic erupted, crowds of foreign tourists paid US$37 a head for a day pass to visit the famed Angkor Wat temple complex
near the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, and nearby shops, hotels and restaurants were geared to a massive daily influx of visitors.

Buoyed by the idea that future visitors would want to see sites linked to King Ang Chan and other notables from Cambodian history, local villagers comb nearby hills looking for possible treasures and sites.

“If a lot of tourists visit, then we can afford things like new clothes,” says villager Thorn Thoeurn, pointing to the threadbare printed blouse worn by his neighbour. “Maybe a school can be built for local children, and I’ll even attend and learn to read better,” adds the retired cassava farmer, who now acts as an unofficial guide for curious visitors.

Excavations at one nearby tree-covered hill unearthed some as-yet-undated pottery. The site has since been decorated with coloured bunting and silk, and transformed into a Buddhist shrine. A French colonial military watchtower holds further tourism potential, as do various areas of natural beauty on the forested slopes; oases of green overlooking the dusty farmland below.

“We had stopped listening to the stories of the old people in the community, but now people are remembering the stories of our youth about historic sites, locations of spirits and natural beauty,” explains Nyorn Channy, another farmer-turned-guide. “We have recently found a cave, and whatever we find next, of course we will tell Eng Kunthea first.”

The Buddha discovery has had unexpected benefits, he adds. “Before, no one paid much attention, but now we are always looking more closely. And because we are taking an interest in the area, it’s harder for illegal loggers and poachers to get away with forestry crimes. The authorities pay more attention now, so we are very happy.”

While the pre-Angkorian Sambor Prei Kuk temple complex in central Cambodia was recently designated a Unesco World Heritage Site
, and excavations at former capital Longvek by Polkinghorne and ministry experts have shed more light on the country’s post-Angkorian history, the Cardamom Mountains to the west have given up their secrets more slowly.
The discovery of cave paintings depicting men riding elephants
, and burial jar sites dated from the 15th to 17th centuries at various sites across the mountains, point to an animist, non-Buddhist culture that was unlikely to be linked to the recently found Pursat site, says New Zealand-based researcher Dr Nancy Beavan, who worked with the ministry at several of the jar sites.

“The cave paintings, and especially the finely wrought Buddha carving [in Pursat], suggest a familiarity with Buddhist iconography or traditions. But rock art and carvings have never been found in association with the 15th to 17th century jar burial sites, which are themselves a legacy of an ancient highland people who likely had animist traditions,” she says.

As the once heavily forested Cambodian countryside is increasingly cleared to make way for farming, other forgotten sites are being uncovered. In February, soldiers stationed in Oddar Meanchey province along the border with Thailand reported finding an Angkor-era temple complex, while local media periodically report farmers unearthing old statues and pottery.

While the culture ministry decides how to best protect the latest Buddha finding in Pursat from the elements and seasonal forest fires, Eng Kunthea has a team of villagers scouring the hills looking for more sites.

He has asked four men – including Bun Sopheap, who discovered the Buddha carving – to dig out a nearby narrow cave in hopes that it will lead to a larger cave complex and possibly historic treasures inside.

“Do you think this is man-made?” Eng Kunthea asks, pointing to holes and marks on the cliff face, not pausing for an answer. “It must be. We know people used to live here in ancient times, and it is important for this community, and Cambodia, that we continue to discover more about them.”

Singapore Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

The largest monastery in Singapore is home to a crematorium, a college, and one of Asia’s largest indoor Buddha statues.

Resting amidst a mix of residential buildings and industrial estates is the largest monastery in Singapore. Built in 1921, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, or Bright Hill Temple, is a Buddhist temple complex founded by Venerable Zhuan Dao

Originally, the complex housed only two shrine halls. But after Venerable Hong Choon took over as abbot in 1947, the monastery expanded rapidly. Today, it sits on more than 800,000 square feet of land, roughly the size of 14 football fields. The complex also has many amenities, such as multiple prayer halls, bell and drum towers, a crematorium, and two columbaria. In 2006, the Buddhist College of Singapore opened on the compound, offering bachelor’s and master’s programs in Buddhism to English and Mandarin speakers.

Between the Dharma Hall and the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, visitors will find an enormous statue of the bodhisattva Guan Yin. One of Asia’s largest indoor Buddha statues—made from bronze, measuring 45 feet in height, and weighing many tons—sits in the nearby Hall of No Form. The grounds are large, with gardens and a Dragon Pond that are decorated during celebrations. You can also find a Bodhi tree next to the Hall of Amrita Precepts, the same species of tree under which Shakyamuni Buddha achieved enlightenment.

Though it is often bursting with people during Buddhist celebrations such as Vesak Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Laypeople regularly visit the monastery to seek refuge from the large crowds and hectic pace of Singapore. On Sundays, and on the 1st, 15th, and 27th days of the lunar month, free vegetarian food is served in the dining hall.
Know Before You Go

Parking is limited, so public transit is recommended during holidays and events. From Bishan MRT, take bus 410W or 52, which will take you straight to the monastery. Most halls open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wear attire that covers the shoulders and knees; at some halls, you may be asked to leave your shoes at the door.

Base of sixth century temple found in Stung Treng province

Officials in Stung Treng province have discovered the foundation of a sixth century temple during a survey in a biodiversity conservation corridor in Borei O’Svay Senchey district.

The foundation and an ancient pond nearby were found on Tuesday during a joint survey carried out by the provincial environment and culture and fine arts departments in Ou Svay commune’s Rithy Senchey village.

Eng Phearong, director of the Stung Treng provincial environment department, said yesterday preliminary research showed the temple was built in the sixth century, as the foundation was made up of large bricks.

“We still do not know the name of the temple, as we have just discovered it,” he said. “Experts will do a detailed study to find the name, size and height of the temple.”

“The area will be designated as a heritage conservation site,” Mr Phearong added.

He said the foundation was 10 metres long and 20 metres wide and is in a fragile condition and was partially hidden by undergrowth.

Som Thon, head of the Cultural Heritage Bureau of the provincial culture and fine arts department, said that yesterday it is the seventh ancient temple that has been recently found by officials in the area.

He said that according to the ministry’s policy, when a new ancient temple is found 30 metres to 300 meters of the surroundings would be designated as a conservation area.

Angkor Wat May Owe Its Existence to an Engineering Catastrophe

By Joshua Rapp Learn

The collapse of a reservoir in a remote and mysterious city could have helped Angkor gain supremacy

The empire controlled much of mainland Southeast Asia by the beginning of the 10th century A.D., but unclear rules of succession combined with a complicated web of royal family intermarriages led to a crisis. Jayavarman IV, a grandson of a previous king, contested the rule of the leaders in Angkor, the traditional seat of power. In the 920s, he set up a new capital at Koh Ker, about 75 miles to the northeast. Koh Ker flourished until 944 when Jayavarman IV’s son and successor was killed, and the next Khmer king moved the capital back to Angkor.

“It’s a very interesting period in Angkorian history where it looks like you’ve got serious competition for rulership,” says Miriam Stark, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

Without this turmoil at the new capital and a move back to Angkor, the grand treasures of Southeast Asia—such as the astounding Angkor Wat and jungle-eaten Ta Prohm—may never have been built in subsequent centuries. Now, a new study published recently in the journal Geoarchaeology shows that there was more than political intrigue at play. A water reservoir critical for large-scale agriculture in the Koh Ker area collapsed around the time the capital moved back to Angkor.

“It provides clues as to what’s going on in the empire during that time,” says Sarah Klassen, director of the Koh Ker Archaeological Project, and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

After the Flood

Compared to widely studied societies such as the ancient Egyptians or the Maya, relatively little is known about the Khmer Empire. What scholars have learned about the royal lineage of the empire, which lasted from the beginning of the 9th century A.D. to the empire’s gradual decline starting in the 14th century, mostly comes from inscriptions on temple structures. In recent years, archaeologists like Klassen have begun using new techniques and technologies to learn more about this powerful kingdom.

Klassen and her colleagues completed LiDAR (light detection and ranging) surveys in 2012 at both Koh Ker and Angkor to map aboveground ruins, including an area near a large Khmer reservoir where a chute would have let excess water discharge downstream towards a river. Archaeologists had previously identified a dike and saw that it had broken down at some point. In 2015, they excavated part of this chute area, then returned in 2016 with ground-penetrating radar, which showed that the blocks built to limit the outflow of water had eroded.
A reservoir at modern-day Angkor Wat
A reservoir at modern-day Angkor Wat (Joshua Rapp Learn)

“There were extreme flows of water leading into the dike, and the chute wasn’t large enough to handle that and the whole thing broke,” Klassen says. The researchers believe all this happened in a single event that also wiped out a spillway and would have caused downstream flooding. Klassen speculates that such a flow of water may have damaged the agricultural land downstream.

While the team can’t be sure of the exact date, she says that the water system was likely built under the reign of Jayavarman IV. The evidence suggests the system may have collapsed as early as during the first or second rainy season after the reservoir was filled. “That would have been right around the time when political control was shifting back to Angkor,” Klassen says.

Her team can’t say whether the collapse happened before the move—suggesting it contributed to the collapse of Koh Ker as a capital —or after, meaning it may have been caused by a lack of attention or upkeep after the Khmer power players left town. Stark, who was not involved in Klassen’s study, argues that ultimately the timeline may not matter. What’s important, she says, is that rulers at Koh Ker probably could have fixed the problem if they had the will or the engineers to do so.

“What happened is people walked away,” she says. “What happened is they stopped making workarounds.”

Water Is Power

Piphal Heng, a post-doctoral archaeology researcher at Northern Illinois University who studies Cambodia but who was not involved in Klassen’s study, says engineered water systems would have allowed Angkorian rulers to accumulate power through rice agriculture and extend their sway through neighboring states. Heng says it remains unclear whether Jayavarman IV’s rule competed with or cooperated with parallel rulers at Angkor. However, it appears that he had control of most of the empire while at Koh Ker. Klassen says the water management feature in Koh Ker would have been the largest in the Khmer Empire at the time, and Heng says this system shows how the new capital would have quickly set about establishing its power base.

Alison Carter, an assistant professor in anthropology who was also not involved in Klassen’s study but has worked with Stark and Heng, said in an email that Cambodia’s monsoon climate means that water availability shifts dramatically throughout the year, and much like today, the ancient Angkorians needed to learn how to manage water in large cities.

“What this study shows is that the people at Koh Ker hadn’t figured out this delicate balance,” she says of Klassen’s work. “In contrast, the people at Angkor seemed to have a better handle on the landscape and engineering needed to sustain a flourishing city there for several centuries.”
Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia, overgrown
Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia, overgrown (Joshua Rapp Learn)

Decline and Fall

The quick rise and fall of Koh Ker set of a series of events that culminated in the creation of Angkor Wat, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

Once Rajendravarman II moved the capital back to Angkor after the death of Jayavarman IV’s son Harshavarman II in 944, he set about expanding the empire and building temples in the Angkor area. The Khmer Empire grew throughout the next few centuries, with each successive king building more temples. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century. Later, during the reign of one of the greatest kings, Jayavarman VII, Khmer people built Bayon, Ta Prohm and other temples in the area. They also built increasingly complex water management systems to control the monsoons and consolidate power.

But the empire’s decline in the 1400s may have been foreshadowed by Koh Ker’s demise. A period of extended drought in the late 1300s was followed by floods that may have overwhelmed the water infrastructure of the city, according to research conducted by a team including scientists from this Koh Ker study.

Tegan Hall, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Melbourne who has worked on Koh Ker (but who wasn’t involved in Klassen’s study), says in an email that while Angkorians tried to mitigate problems with their water system, eventually they could not keep up.

“The water infrastructure system at Angkor was enormous, highly interconnected (and interdependent) and very complex, and was ultimately ruined by a series of cascading failures in response to an increase in climate extremes,” she said.

Dhammakaya Sect is Building Bangkok’s Next Top Buddha

BANGKOK — A gigantic Buddha statue under construction in western Bangkok is set to become the city’s tallest Buddha figure when it is completed later this year.

The 69 meter tall statue – approximately the neck-craning height of a 20-storey building – is being built by followers of the Dhammakaya sect at Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen. Sitting in meditation posture, the massive structure is made of gilded copper and cost about 100 million baht to build.

“The money came mostly from local donations,” Phra Kru Pisal Sangkaphinit, a temple spokesman, said in an interview.

During a recent visit, the statue’s upper body was nearly completed. Temple staff believes work will finish by July.

The statue is called Buddha Dhammakaya Dhepmongkol, or the Great Buddha in short. Once completed, it will rise over the current tallest Buddha figure in Bangkok, the 32-meter statue of Wat Indraviharn.

But the achievement will still stop short of rivalling the tallest Buddha statue in Thailand, which sits at 92 meters in Ang Thong province.

Wat Paknam is considered the birthplace of the Dhammakaya, a school of Buddhism popular among wealthy urbanites and politicians. The sect, which believes in purity of the body’s soul, has drawn controversies in recent years for its alleged emphasis on earthly riches.

Its former head abbot, 75-year-old Dhammajayo, is currently on the run from the authorities on charges related to money laundering.

NOMA Presents “Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon: Masterworks from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society”

NEW ORLEANS (press release) – The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) presents Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon: Masterworks from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society, on view March 13 through June 7. Presenting nearly seventy of the finest examples of Asian art in the United States, Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon showcases the broad range of bronzes, ceramics, and metalwork assembled by John D. Rockefeller 3rd (1906–1978) and his wife Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller (1909–1992) between the 1940s and the 1970s. With highlights including Chinese vases, Indian Chola bronzes, and Southeast Asian sculptures, the collection reveals great achievements in Asian art spanning more than two millennia. Featuring works from across the Asian continent—Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam, the selection of masterpieces presented in Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon illuminates social and artistic histories from across Asia and underscores the visual arts’ capacity to encourage cross-cultural dialogue.

“The stunning range of works selected by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller represent a multitude of cultures across Asia, showcasing the diversity and complexity of the region,” said Susan Taylor, Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA. “It is a rare treat for this collection to travel outside its home at the Asia Society Museum in New York, and we are delighted to be able to bring the exquisite collection to New Orleans.”

When Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller began collecting Asian art in the years after World War II, they chose to prioritize classical masterpieces that represented the great technical skill and creative breadth of Asian artistic practice. In addition to investigating themes of Buddhist sculpture, Hindu sculpture, and ceramics and metalwork, the exhibition also examines the Rockefellers’ collecting and exhibition practices in an age when political and economic circumstances informed the reception and availability of Asian artworks in the United States. With an emphasis on beauty, ingenuity, and tradition, Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon manifests the dynamic ideas and philosophies that animate histories of Asian art and renews the Rockefellers’ vision of promoting cross-cultural understanding.

Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon: Masterworks from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society is co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and Asia Society. This project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The installation at NOMA is sponsored by Dr. Siddharth K. Bhansali, Virginia Eason Weinmann, Judith Fos Burrus, Tim L. Fields, Dr. Nina Dhurandhar, Nuria Rowley, E. Alexandra Stafford and Raymond M. Rathle, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John A. Batt, Jr., and Tom and Dian Winingder.


Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon: Masterworks from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue by Adriana Proser, the John H. Foster Senior Curator of Traditional Asian Art at Asia Society.

Archeologists find ancient lion statue at Cambodia’s temple complex

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) — Archeologists have unearthed a large ancient lion statue during an excavation at an ancient pond’s jetty in the Banteay Chhmar temple’s complex in northwest Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, a culture official said on Tuesday.

Prak Sovannara, the director-general of the culture ministry’s heritage department, said the larger-than-life lion statue was found by accident on Monday by a group of the ministry’s archeologists while digging the pond’s jetty.

“The guardian lion statue was made of sandstone and dates back to the late 12th or early 13th century,” he told Xinhua. “It was buried more than a meter under the ground and is still in good shape.”

Located in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thmar Puok district, the Banteay Chhmar temple was built in the late 12th or early 13th century during the reign of King Jayavarman VII.

Its outer gallery is carved with bas-reliefs depicting scenes of military engagements and daily life.

The temple is one of the several ancient sites that Cambodia has planned to nominate for the world heritage status at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

A 2,500-year-old Site Blessed by Buddha – Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Sri Lanka, a beautiful country renowned for its beaches, is also a historic country with many Buddhist sites. Among the most important temples in the largely Buddhist country is Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara. It is one of the holiest sites in all of Sri Lanka .
The Legends and History of Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

According to Buddhist lore, the temple was blessed during the final visit of the Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka, which is believed to have been in 500 BC. This monument, therefore, dates back even further. It was possibly built during the age of Anuradhapura Kingdom whose state religion was Theravada Buddhism.

According to early records, the temple enshrined a gem-studded throne upon which the Buddha preached. During the subsequent centuries the temple flourished and became a major pilgrimage center for the Sinhalese majority.

In the 16 th century, Sri Lanka was consumed by civil war which provided an opportunity for the Portuguese to intervene. They confiscated much of the temple’s land and it fell into near ruin. Sources claim that they attacked the temple as part of their efforts to Christianize the island.

Later the Dutch came to control the area and by then the temple was almost dilapidated. In the 18 th century, King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, the ruler of the kingdom of Kandy, attacked and destroyed many of the Dutch forts . He was a committed Buddhist and a great patron of monasteries and temples. He had Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara rebuilt in the 1750s.

The king’s long reign saw a revival in Buddhism in Sri Lanka. At this time the temple became associated with the political history of Sri Lanka and its rise and fall became synonymous with the fortunes of the nation. When Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) became part of the British Empire, the temple experienced another period of decline as it no longer had a royal patron, but in the first half of the 20 th century the temple was once again restored with the help of Helena Wijewardena, a member of a wealthy family who were active in the independence movement.

The temple was designated an Archaeological Protected Monument in 2008 and is the center of the important Buddhist celebration Duruthu Maha Perahera. Millions of locals and tourists visit the temple site every year.
The Wonders of Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

The temple and other buildings cover an area of 10 acres, surrounded by a number of parks and gardens. The temple is built on a grand scale in a typical South Indian style, and also incorporates motifs from local Sinhalese culture.

The Mahavamsa: An Epic Poem that Sheds Light on Sri Lankan History
Meet the Half Million-year-old Jungle People of Sri Lanka! The Fascinating Vedda Culture
Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s Throbbing Heart of Japanese Buddhism

The temple has four main sections. The first is the Golden Buddha Image House, named after paintings from the life of the Buddha, including scenes from his reputed visit to Sri Lanka. They were painted by a local artist named Solias Mendis and are noted for their vivid colors. The second section is New Temple House, a restored building based on the former temple. The third is the King’s Image House and lastly, The Reclined Buddha Image House is named after a famous painting of the Enlightened One.

The main attraction is undoubtedly the striking 90 feet (27 m) high stupa, which dominates the site. This is a traditional Buddhist funerary monument and consists of a hemispherical base and a spire-like structure. It is painted a dazzling white. A pradakhshina, or path which circles the stupa, enables pilgrims to walk around it, which is an important Buddhist devotional practice.

A statue of Buddha at the Buddhist Kelaniya temple in Sri Lanka. (nilanewsom/ Adobe Stock)

Among the important monuments is a shrine dedicated to King Vibhishana who is mentioned in the Ramayana, the epic poem. A Bodhi tree (sacred fig tree), which is associated with the Buddha, a bell tower, a number of other shrines, and prayer halls adorn the site.
Visiting Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

The temple is some 6 miles (9.6 km) from Colombo and there is plenty of public transport to the complex. Guided tours of the site are offered, although the temple is often crowded by devotees and best to avoid during major festivals. However, if you would like to immerse yourself in the culture of this fascinating country, it is possible to take part in some of the devotions.

By Ed Whelan


Ancient statue found carved in rock in Siem Reap

Siem Reap Provincial Environment Departmenttatue carved on a rock at the Phnom Kulen National Park in Siem Reap province’s Svay Loeu district.

Provincial Department of Environment director Sun Kong said yesterday the head portion of the broken statue was found by a resident on Saturday and the officials went to inspect the site on Sunday.

He added that the statue was made of sandstone during the sixth century and the body was broken into pieces, noting that officials found 13 pieces of the body nearby the site.

Mr Kong said: “According to the experts, this Makara animal statue is one that we have never seen before. It is approximately 2.14 metres in length and about 0.97 metres high. We have not yet moved the body parts or excavated the head from the site and have told park rangers in the area to guard it in order for officials from relevant ministries and institutions to come and study in detail about the site’s history and reconstruct the pieces.”

He noted that experts have not found a foundation of any temple at the site and believe it was just carved out on the rock.

Chhim Samrithy, 38, a craftsman from the province who discovered the statue, said yesterday he spotted it on Saturday while searching for bamboo. “I usually walk in the forest to look for some unique and sacred objects and suddenly spotted this rare statue,” he said. “After seeing it, I took environmental officials and archaeologists to the site and also helped to find some of the missing pieces of the statue.”

Long Kosal, Apsara Authority spokesman, said that the authorities’ archeologists visited the site yesterday and will conduct additional studies to add it to the records.

He said: “The Kulen National Park area is rich in ancient artefects, both above and below the ground. Therefore, I urge people, especially those living in the area, to avoid excavating or clearing archeological sites. If they find ancient objects, please report to the authorities for research to be done to preserve them for future generations.”

Buddha Pujaniya festival of world’s largest reclining Buddha image held

A Buddha Pujaniya festival of the world’s largest reclining Buddha image in the compound of Win Sein Tawya Monastery in Mawlamyine, Mon State, was held in conjunction with the 99th birthday anniversary of the late abbot of the monastery, the donor of the image, on January 19.

On the occasion, meals were fruits were offered to the Buddha image, the current monastery abbot and monks. Moreover, a new (Thingan) robe was offered to the remains of the Buddha image founder.

It has been 26 years since the birthday ceremony of the late venerable monk.

The event also includes a traditional boxing contest in which boxers from Myanmar, Thailand and Iran will be participating. Theatrical plays and music shows are also being held.

The declining Buddha image is 180 meters long and 30 meters high.

The image founder and Win Sein Tawya Monastery Abbot Abhidhaja Agga Maha Saddhama Jotika Dr Bhaddanta Kesara died of a heart attack on April 26, 2025.