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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Priceless' statue found in Takeo

'Priceless' statue found in Takeo

Mom Ra's lifelong dream to see King Norodom Sihanouk has come true. The 40-year-old

laborer, who sells soil for a living, prayed that if he ever uncovered a valuable

object, he would personally present it to the King in exchange for a gift for his

family.

On May 13 that is precisely what happened. Ra, a resident of Thmar Sar village in

Takeo's Borei Chulesa district, uncovered a 10th century, four-armed statue of Vishnu

while digging up soil with his hoe. The Ministry of Culture said the object, which

is only slightly damaged, was priceless.

The father of five, who left the army in 1999 after serving for 16 years, said he

was extremely happy to have met the King. He was granted an audience earlier this

month and received a gift of 2 million riel (around $500).

Ra's only disappointment was that he did not have the artefact to hand over since

the Minister for the Council of Ministers, Sok An, collected it on behalf of the

government on May 27.

"But the King asked me not to worry. He told me that he already received the

statue from His Excellency Sok An," said Ra. "I prayed every day that I

would see the King, because I am very poor and I have always thought of the King

as someone who might be able to help me."

After he dug up the statue, Ra kept it at home for four days. Many people came to

see it, he said, and quite a few offered him money. One man from Sihanoukville said

he would give him $20,000. Ra said his word meant he would not sell it to anyone,

but the man still came back several times to bargain.

"I told him that even if he offered me $1 million, I was not interested,"

said Ra. "I will not go back on my word. I had no wish to sell this artefact

no matter how much money was offered. As I said already, I just wanted to give it

to the King myself."

He said his wife told him one day that the statue had come to her in a dream and

berated them for their honesty.

"The statue spoke to my wife and said: 'You are crazy. Today the money pockets

are wide open.'" My wife told the statue: 'If I were smart I would have sold

you already'," Ra explained.

Oung Von, director of the Cultural Heritage Department at the Ministry of Culture

and Fine Arts, said he had already visited the site and seen the artefact. He said

the 60 centimeter tall statue, which is made of copper and bronze, was created around

the 10th century in the style of Banteay Srei.

He said it was quite possible there were more artefacts or even a temple at the site.

Consequently the ministry has issued an order banning all further digging. Von said

the statue was unearthed at the same time the Minister Sok An was holding a Buddhist

ceremony in the district.

After the statue was handed to Sok An, he ordered the ministry to write an inventory

piece for it.

"I don't know the whereabouts of the statue now," said Von, "but it

should be housed in the National Museum or some other place where it can be protected."

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