The National Museum in Canberra has returned 74 valuable volumes of Buddhist scriptures
to Cambodia almost two decades after an elderly monk handed them over to Phnom Penh-based
Australian diplomats for safekeeping.
Prime Minister Paul Keating symbolically presented one volume of the Khmer translations
of the Tripataka to Prince Norodom Sihanouk during a lightening visit to Phnom Penh
on Sept. 26.
The odyssey of the Tripataka volumes began in 1974 as Khmer Rouge guerrillas were
pressing in on the capital, explained John Holloway, Australian Ambas-sador to Cambodia's
Supreme National Council.
An elderly monk from a wat in Kien Svay, just east of Phnom Penh, turned up at the
Australian Embassy and told the diplomats: "I'm terrified that if the Khmer
Rouge get these volumes, they'll burn them."
They were sent to the National Museum in Australia for safekeeping when the embassy
closed ahead of the Khmer Rouge's capture of the city on April 17, 1975, Holloway
The Maoist group, during a rule of terror lasting nearly four years, snuffed out
the influence of Buddhism and the monkhood, destroying wats, monasteries and the
After the signing of the Cambodian peace pact a year ago, the National Museum decided
that it was time to return the volumes and contacted Holloway's embassy for help
in tracking down the monk.
They found out that he was one of the 20,000 luckless Cambodians executed by the
Khmer Rouge after passing through the Tuol Sleng torture center.
Holloway said that while Australia was determined to remain a neutral observer of
the peace process, the gesture was "a sign... that we do recognize what happened
in the mid-1970s."
The Tripataka volumes, containing sermons and writings by prominent Buddhists over
the centuries, were translated into Khmer between the 1920s and 1950s.
Though not particularly old, they are significant documents as Cambodia was one of
the few countries to translate the work into the vernacular from Pali.
Their arrival back home comes at a time when Buddhism and the monkhood are enjoying
a resurgence among grassroots Cambodians.