At the arrival of 2016, two good things were brought to Cambodia. The first one is the returning of the stone head of Harihara, a combination of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva, and the second one is the formal recognition of “tug-of-war” [aka teanh prot] as a world heritage by UNESCO.
These tasks and events are the achievements of the Cambodian government in promoting its culture to the world. On this occasion, I would like to highlight one of the achievements above.
The returning of the head of Harihara from Musée Guitmet, France, to Cambodia was both exciting and worrying. It is exciting because the head, which had been separated from its body in Cambodia for over a century, could be reunited and reattached, which creates a cultural atmosphere of body, soul and mind. It is very rare for Cambodian objects to be returned from France after being housed there for several decades.
This act of the Musée Guimet was highly applauded. This reunion of body and head of Harihara received a warm welcome from the government, as Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said in his speech on January 21, which was quoted by AKP: “According to the Cambodians’ belief, this is a good symbol of reunion, reunification, harmony and strength of the Cambodian nation’s spirit, and a good omen for this new year 2016, which will bring about prosperity and new achievements to the Cambodian nation in addition to the existing ones attained by the Royal Government of Cambodia.”
While the returning of the head of Harihara was exciting news, there is also a concern and question as to why the Musée Guimet returned this stone head to Cambodia while lots of others remain there. After a little research, it transpires that the returning of the stone head was made under a loan agreement.
Therefore, this reunion of Harihara of head and body is not permanent. In return, according to the loan agreement, a pedestal of the Goddess Uma dancing was to be brought to Musée Guimet. This loan exchange is valid for five years.
Although no one knows for sure what will happen to the statue in five years when the loan agreement expires, the reunion must be separated one day, unless there is another agreement regarding this Harihara.
I am writing to request that the attachment and reunion of the Harihara head and body must be permanent. The reunion of cultural property means a lot to Cambodians. The reunion of Harihara is the combination of body and mind once both are attached; it creates an environment of reconciliation and reunification. The mind is not supposed to be separated from the body. Head and body need to be together permanently.
This return and reunion should happen to all Cambodian statues which are being displayed abroad or are in private collections. Morally and ethnically, the return of those statues, regardless of law, symbolises the reunion of body and soul for Cambodians.
I take this occasion to join with the Royal Government of Cambodia in calling for foreign countries or private collectors to return cultural objects to Cambodia, and the objects must remain the permanent property of Cambodia.
Socheat Nhean is the media centre director at the Sleuk Rith Institute (Documentation Center of Cambodia).