A bronze Buddha statue is presented to the National Museum yesterday by Venerable Kong Pisey (L) and city hall officials. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
A small bronze statue no bigger than a child was stolen and recovered so many times from the Sambor pagoda, in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, that the monks there decided to cover up its alluring artwork by painting it yellow.
Thieves, however, saw past the disguise and ran off with it again — at which point everyone agreed that a higher measure of security was in order.
“I and the pagoda committee and followers were concerned, so we made a unanimous decision to offer it to City Hall for keeping it in the National Museum,” Venerable Kong Pisey, the pagoda’s chief monk, said.
“In the past, the fingers of this statue were covered by gold and diamonds, but they were cut out after it was stolen.”
Museum director Kong Vireak believes the statue, a dark-green bronze cast depicting Buddha cross-legged in meditation, is roughly 100 years old.
It was handed over to the museum in an official ceremony yesterday during which it was displayed resting on a table.
Restoration workers had rubbed off most of the yellow paint, though smudges on the statue’s face could still be seen.
“We have registered it in our list to ensure it isn’t lost, and we will exhibit it in the National Museum for... visitors and researchers,” Vireak said.
The statue will first undergo further restoration and scrutiny to determine its origins.
Donations, especially donations out of the blue, are nothing new for the museum.
“It happens several times a year, given by local people, villagers, sometimes even from foreigners,” Vireak said.
For the statue, a tumultuous journey is over.
Kong Pisey, who attended the handover yesterday, said he had asked locals to do the paint job after the statue had been stolen and found in a rice field.
When it disappeared yet again, villagers tracked it down for the last time.
Phnom Penh deputy governor Toch Sarom said she expected the museum would give the statue a safe home.
To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at [email protected]