The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts plans to make Pursat province the first to host a museum exhibition displaying Cambodian antiquities.
For the exhibition in Pursat, specifically, the items on display will be Buddhist antiquities dating to the Middle Ages, collected from locations across Cambodia.
Provincial culture department director Lach Phengly said historians and archaeologists from the provincial museums were now collecting a variety of antiquities to display, such as Buddhist stone and wooden sculptures along with other objects of cultural or historical importance from various sites across the province.
“Currently, Pursat province alone has a collection of over 700 lintels, sandstones, Buddhist statues and other items from the Middle Ages, the Angkorean and pre-Angkorean periods.
“They have often been found broken or fractured, so we have collected all of the pieces of each one we find, and we’ve been working hard at assembling them for years,” he said.
Milya Sovathy, deputy director of the culture department in charge of the museum in Pursat, said everything they had was being prepared for display later this year.
“Most of the antiquities have been collected from various pagodas. Before removing them, we prepare an inventory to distinguish state property from pagoda property, and then they’re sent to the museum for repairs.
“Many of [Cambodia’s] antiquities are found in pagodas because ordinary people as well as the monks and pagoda chiefs have come across them by chance [over the years] and then brought them in to be looked after and protected in a sacred place.
“We have yet to list them all together, hence, we have to prepare a [comprehensive] inventory [of the entire collection] and record them again,” he said.
Sovathy added that putting antiquities on display in a museum was a specialised field of knowledge unto itself, and a variety of different techniques must be utilised according to item type.
He said each display should include any important information known about the object that helps put it in a historical and cultural context, especially for tourists who may not know much about Cambodia.
Additionally, he said they will provide support staff that can answer general questions and a map or guide for people to find their way around the exhibition.
Buddhism in Cambodia began toward the end of the period of history known in Europe as the Middle Ages. Trasak Pa’em (the namesake of Street 63 in Phnom Penh) – head of the royal gardens who assassinated Jayavarman IX – married his daughter and replaced him on the throne – converted from Brahmanism to Buddhism in 1441.
“Our country had previously embraced Brahmanism as the official state religion. When Buddhism became the official state religion, its history here was then recorded through the building of statues and pagodas and through other sacred offerings that took place in the course of practicing the Buddhist faith,” he said.
Concerning religious and spiritual beliefs, Sovathy added that Cambodia had a variety of sources for their traditional beliefs besides Brahmanism and Buddhism.
He said that before Brahmanism arrived in Cambodia, the people here had practiced [a less organised] form of religion known today by scholars as animism, which involves the belief in guardian spirits and the spirits of ancestors.
Chhay Visoth, director of the Department of National Museum, said the exhibition on Cambodian Buddhism will rotate what it puts on display according to which province is hosting it.
He told The Post that the objects in the exhibition will change as it tours the country to keep things fresh so that tourists and locals will want to visit it more than once if they are able.
“In order to attract international and local tourists to [return to] the exhibition, we need to plan it carefully. For example, when the exhibition comes to Kampong Chhnang province’s beautiful museum, we may focus on jugs and pots.
“When we start in Pursat province, our focus is on antiquities from the Middle Ages. When we arrive in Banteay Meanchey or Battambang provinces, we will again have something different [to display],” he said.
According to Visoth, the culture department had decided Pursat would be the first stop for the exhibition and so the focus would be on Buddhist antiquities from the Middle Ages, the earliest era for the religion in Cambodia.
“We wanted to start from Pursat province first, as we know that it’s an important location [where we’ve found] antiquities from the Middle Ages. That period in our history isn’t one that the younger generation is well-informed about and, therefore, we wanted to mention it first.
“So we will start the discussion [with antiquities related to] Buddhist beliefs in the era of the Middle Ages, and as we prepare for the next [tour stop], we will continue to think about the potential [themes] for other provinces,” he said.