Monday, February 08, 2016  

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Restoration of Temples by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

India-Cambodia relations are traceable to 2000 years. Historically, Indian influence in culture and religion was a dominant feature in South East Asia. However, Cambodia is perhaps the only country where it still remains strongly visible in customs, rituals and way of life of the people. The landmark of this strong link is perhaps the pre Angkorean and Angkor era temples, which are one of the greatest heritage monuments in the world. According to PadmaShri Prof. SachchidanandSahai, a renowned scholar and expert on Khmer civilization, the Angkor Heritage Park, covering an area of approx 400 sq. km. is the only mega heritage site in the world. The world famous temples of Angkor Wat, BanteaySrei, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Bayon, Baphuon, Phnom Bakheng and many other great temples are all located inside this Angkor Heritage Park, which is adjacent to the Siem Reap town in Cambodia.

taprom-restoration

India has been long associated with the temple restoration work in Cambodia. The first restoration work was carried by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Cambodia at Angkor Wat from 1986-1993. This work was done during very difficult times.  There were no basic infrastructures in the temple area which was thickly forested.  Anti government Khmer Rouge forces were present creating an atmosphere of deep insecurity.  Mr. Devinder Singh Sood was the ASI team leader in Siem Reap which restored parts of Angkor Wat.

Since 2003, the ASI has worked for restoration of the Ta Prohm temple.  Ta Prohm temple, dedicated to Lord Brahma (Prohm) was built during the period between mid-twelfth century and early thirteen century by Khmer King Jayavarman VII. Ta Prohm was initially constructed as Buddhist monastery and was very wealthy in its time. It was dedicated by King JayavarmanVII to his mother.

Ta Prohm, more popularly known as Tree Temple is one of the finest specimen of Khmer creativity and architecture of the Angkorean era.  ASI has successfully documented all identified structures of the temple and proposed conservation thereof. It has also successfully restored the 3rd enclosure gallery (which was completely fallen before), main causeway and the 4th enclosure Gopura (all in pictures).

Restoration work was extremely challenging and a multidisciplinary approach had to be adopted to deal with the complexities of the restoration process.  While restoring, the original structure and stones had to be documented and inventoried first individually and then, reassembled carefully after the strengthening of the foundation and associated structures.In this regard, the most important issue was harmonizing the natural vegetation, in this case huge fig trees with the near millennia old structures of the temple.  Drainage of water was a crucial aspect of restoration as all the temples were susceptible to heavy rains during monsoon season.

Extensive research and study was carried on by experts from the Forest Research Institute (FRI), Dehradun, India, for conservation of the beautiful trees inside the Ta Prohm temple premises.  The trees were found to be under stress at the site due to heavy tourist presence, soil compaction, injuries to roots and stems and fungal attacks.  To restore the health of the trees and reduce stresses, interventions and treatments were worked out and applied by FRI Team with  regular follow up and training to local officials.

ASI team, with the help of local staff and workers restored the Hall of Dancers. This again was a very challenging task as there were three huge trees standing inside and the existing structure was in a very dilapidated state. During the excavation of the plinth in the Hall of Dancers, two large sandstone headless Buddha statues in sitting position (Dhyan Mudra) were discovered. This was a significant archaeological find in decades.

Phase II of the project was completed in July 2015 and the new phase of project will commence in 2016.

The commendable work by the ASI and Forest Research Institute (FRI) teams has received appreciation from APSARA authorities (Cambodian Authority in charge of Angkor Heritage Park), international community and millions of tourists, who visited the Ta Prohm temple.