The temple of Koh Ker: Source: Wikimedia
A US museum has returned a headless 10th-century sandstone sculpture of the Hindu god Rama to Cambodia decades after it was looted from a forest temple during the kingdom’s bitter wars of the 1970s.
The 158cm torso was looted from the temple of Koh Ker near the ancient city of Angkor and eventually handed back by the Denver Art Museum at a ceremony in Phnom Penh.
Missing its head, arms and feet, the statue has been in the museum’s possession since 1986.
“We are joyful with the torso of Rama returning home,” Cambodian government spokesperson Yim Nolson said. He also mourned the fact the head was missing.
“The royal government of Cambodia appeals to all museums and collectors around the world to follow this good example by returning the Rama’s head to Cambodia,” he added.
The museum recently conducted research to find out the torso’s history, Phnom Penh said.
“We were recently provided with verifiable evidence that was not available to us at the time of acquisition, and immediately began taking all appropriate steps… for its return home,” the museum’s director Christoph Heinrich said.
He draped jasmine garlands over the statue during the ceremony.
The sizeable Khmer Empire, a Hindu-Buddhist dynasty, spread to Burma and built large cities and giant temples.
French colonial rule followed by the regional wars after the Second World War saw Cambodia’s heritage looted and sold overseas.
Phnom Penh has been calling for the return of artwork and statues, many of which are in western museums.
Last year a statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman from the same temple as the Rama statue was repatriated by the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio.
In 2013 the US sent back two other 10th-century Khmer-era statues, again from the same temple, known as the “kneeling attendants”.
In January a museum in France returned the head of a statue removed in 1886 during colonial rule. The seventh-century stone sculpture of Harihara, a deity that combines aspects of Vishnu and Shiva, was reattached to its body for display at a museum in Phnom Penh.