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Largest Cambodian Buddha resurrected in Siem Reap
Xinhua, June 4, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The largest reclining Buddha in Cambodia, part of the Baphuon Temple at Angkor in Siem Reap province, has just opened to the public, the Mekong Times newspaper said Wednesday.
The Buddha is a 16th century addition to the west face of the 11th century Hindu Baphuon temple, the newspaper said, adding that it marks a religious schism between the Brahmanic Angkor society and the Buddhist culture that arose later.
The Buddha is one of the final stages of the reconstruction of the temple, with the three tiered monument slated to be fully open to the public by the end of 2009.
The restoration of the temple has been an epic journey, begun by the well-known French organization Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) before the civil war in 1970. The project was interrupted by the war and resumed by the EFEO in 1995.
The Reclining Buddha, a representation of the Buddha after attaining enlightenment, is 70 meters long and 12 meters high. The French have undertaken nine years of "complex work" on the statue, which is one of the "most astonishing" archeological remains of the post-Angkorian period, according to a French Embassy press release.
About Baphuon Temple
It is the archetype of the Baphuon style. The temple adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace and measures 120 metres east-west by 100 metres north-south at its base and stands 34 meters tall without its tower, which would have made it roughly 50 meters tall. Its appearance apparently impressed Emperor Chengzong of Yuan China's late 13th century envoy Chou Ta-Kuan during his visit from 1296 to 1297, who said it was 'the Tower of Bronze...a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base.'
In the late 15th century, the Baphuon was converted to a Buddhist temple. A 9 meter tall by 70 meter long statue of a reclining Buddha was built on the west side's second level, which probably required the demolition of the 8 meter tower above, thus explaining its current absence. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size the site was unstable throughout its history. Large portions had probably already collapsed by the time the Buddha was added.
Pen and watercolor reconstruction of what the temple may have looked in the 11th century by Lucien Fournereau in 1889
By the 20th century, much of the temple had largely collapsed, and restoration efforts have since proven problematic: a first effort begun in 1960 was interrupted by the coming to power of the Khmer Rouge, and records of the positions of the stones were lost. A second attempt started in 1995 by a team of French-led archeologists as of 2005 was still ongoing, restricting visitor access. As of May 2006, partial visitor access is once again allowed, though the project is still expected to be underway for another 2 years.