While many treasures of the Angkorian-era reside in museums and private collections, one small but important artifact has been returned to its mother country.
An eleven-centimeter diameter silver plate, decorated with lotus flowers and plated with gold, has been donated to the National Museum in Phnom Penh by Hungarian collector and businessman Zelnik István, the founder of the private Southeast Asian Gold Museum in Budapest.
Originally, there were eight lotus flowers carved on the plate, but three of them have become detached. A needle-like iron strap has been attached at some stage, but nobody knows why this was added.
Tit Sokha, 31, an official at the museum said that Cambodia, in conjunction with international heritage organisations and national governments, has worked to get artefacts which have been lost during the many decades of civil war returned to the Kingdom.
“We have received artefacts from various countries, especially the US, Britain and France. Some objects were received from country counterparts or organisations while others came from ordinary people. They bought those Cambodian artefacts from flea market or obtained them from illegal traffickers. Most objects we receive are sculptures, but this time we got the silver plate,” he said.
Tit Sokha said that Zelnik István bought the silver plate, weighing 63 grams, from a market in Bangkok in 1970. The vender told him that they got it around Banteay Chhmar temple, near the border with Thailand. The object was clearly Cambodian in origin due to the two lines of ancient Khmer script inscribed on it.
“Through the scripts on the plate, they can recognise that the object came from the Angkorian era, decorated in the Bayon style,” Tit Sokha said, adding that, “a translation of the script on the plate tells us that in 1199 Jayavarman VII offered it as a royal gift to his grandmother who lived in a village around Banteay Chhmar sanctuary.”
In 2009 the government published the Red Dossier, which lists one hundred artefacts that have been lost in an attempt to raise awareness of these objects in an attempt to have them returned.
“I’m proud of them. Some people are not Cambodian, but they understand clearly about culture, arts and history. They love it and they help to protect our heritage for all humans. This object is significant historical evidence because it tells us about our history and it also joins us as part of a historical process,” he said.
The plate will be displayed for three months and then taken to a workshop to be repaired and restored. You can view the plate in the fourth cupboard on the left-hand side of the museum.