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Ancient artefact calls museum new home

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A man holds a stone bearing inscriptions dated to the year 633, once kept at the Kiri Sdachkong pagoda in Kampong Speu province. Pha Lina

Ancient artefact calls museum new home

A Sovannaphum inscription dating back 1,300 years arrived at the National Museum of Cambodia on Saturday, following the completion of a 19-day religious ritual by members of Kampong Speu province’s Kiri Sdachkong pagoda.

Ministry of Cults and Religion director Sam Sorpheann said 500 monks and 700 people in the province participated in the march of the Sovannaphum stone from Kiri Sdachkong pagoda to Phnom Penh, where a further 100 monks greeted it.

Sovannaphum is the modern Khmer iteration of Suvarnabhumi – the ancient fabled “Land of Gold” believed to have been somewhere in Southeast Asia, though its exact location still remains a mystery.

Over 20 years ago, a group of villagers found the Sovannaphum stones when they were excavating a pond in the province’s Baset district. They retrieved the stone and began worshipping it at their pagoda.

News of the discovery reached the relevant authorities, who visited the pagoda in January. When it was proposed that the artefact would be moved to the national museum, locals and monks initially resisted the idea.

“The artefact is most valuable and it can be damaged, so we asked for it from the pagoda. When they did not want to give it, we grew concerned,” the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ Heritage Department director-general, Prak Sovannara, said.

An agreement was eventually reached on the basis that an extensive religious ceremony would be held.

Sorpheann said the religious event was held for 19 days, with last Friday and Saturday seeing the biggest ceremonies.

“A total of 500 monks took turns to bless and chant. Each day 50 monks blessed and chanted from 5am to 5pm along with a praying and cleansing ceremony in order for it to be moved to the museum,” he said.

Sovannara said that now the artefact has arrived at the museum the general public and academic researchers can study it.

“Because the inscription has great historical value and heritage, we’ve displayed it for visitors to see directly,” he said.

He said the ministry, along with cultural artefact experts, are yet to study it in great detail but emphasised the significance of the finding.

“Such an inscription has a great historical value because Thailand, Lao and Myanmar have all claimed that they are the land of Sovannaphum too, but they have no proof."

“We now have the strongest proof yet that it was in Cambodia,” Sovannara said.

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