Keeping tabs on Buddha’s figure

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Keeping tabs on Buddha’s figure

Chan Sim is a small man with a long white beard. He wears square spectacles, which he perches on the end of his nose when he leafs through the handbook on statue design that he helped compile back in 2013.

Sim has just completed a particularly large order: 12 Buddhist statues commissioned by Prime Minister Hun Sen and submitted to the Ministry of Cults and Religion last month.

The statues all show the Buddha in different scenarios: reclining, protected by the seven-headed naga snake, meditating, the rotund “happy Buddha” associated with prosperity.

The most unusual sculpture is the Preah Ang Kvam: Buddha with four hands covering his face and ears.

“We rarely see him in shrine places like pagodas, but they use him in magic and for spiritual purposes to bring good luck,” explained Sim, who said the representation was traditionally most popular among soldiers.

Sim started working as a sculptor when he was only 14. Born in 1938, he has taught as a professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts and at other higher-education facilities both before and after the Khmer Rouge.

Both his children work with him on his statues, which is particularly important now that his sight is failing.

Sim has received awards and commissions from different ministries, and is happy that the government is working to maintain his traditional art.

The Preah Ang Kvam counts as one of the most unusual Buddha statues.
The Preah Ang Kvam counts as one of the most unusual Buddha statues. Scott Rotzoll

He is particularly concerned that the statues’ designs aren’t diluted by inaccurate imitations – a drive towards standardisation that the ministry appears to endorse.

“I have preserved the statues’ measurement documents since I started my job making sculptures,” he explains, adding approvingly that “the Ministry of Cults and Religion has collected all the information to make a book”.

“I think it is good that the ministry wants to have the right examples to show the Khmer people what proportions the statues should be,” he said.

Seng Someny, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said the 12 statues would be inaugurated as soon as Hun Sen could find time in his schedule to attend the ceremony.

Five-hundred copies of the book of designs that Sim spearheaded were donated to various institutions last year, and this year, 20,000 copies will be distributed to monks and ajas (laypeople), as well as to students who study Khmer motifs.

“We do hope that sculpture artists will use the right measurement of Buddha statue after we finalised the size in this book,” Someny said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Temi tourism project approved by the CDC

    The $500.4 million Tourism, Ecological, Marine and International (Temi) tourism project has been approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), according to a notice on its Facebook page on Monday. The project is part of Chinese-owned Union City Development Group Co Ltd’s (

  • Rainsy will return at ‘favourable time’

    Opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Saturday suggested he would not return to Cambodia as he had previously promised, saying that like liberators King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Charles de Gaulle, he would only do so at a “favourable time”. “I will go back to Cambodia

  • US Embassy urged to stop ‘disrespecting sovereignty’

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called on the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Saturday to respect the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations after it called former opposition leader Kem Sokha “an innocent man” – a move deemed to be “disrespecting Cambodia’s

  • NagaWorld casino sees net profit of more than $390M last year

    Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino posted a 53 per cent net profit increase last year at $390.6 million, a sum which is almost equal to the combined net profit of all Cambodian commercial banks in 2017. NagaWorld’s parent company, NagaCorp Ltd, is listed on the Hong Kong