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 Padmasree Prof. Sachchidanand Sahai, 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, Banteay Srei, 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.
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, who is currently the ASI team leader in Siem Reap, was part of the team, which restored parts of Angkor Wat.
In its present phase, the ASI is working for the restoration of the Ta Prohm temple since 2003. 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 Jayavarman VII 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 is extremely challenging and a multidisciplinary approach has to be adopted to deal with the complexities of the restoration process. While restoring, the original structure and stones have 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 is harmonizing the natural vegetation, in this case huge fig trees with the near millennia old structures of the temple. Drainage of water is a crucial aspect of restoration as all the temples are 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 a regular follow up and training to local officials.
ASI team, with the help of local staff and workers are presently restoring the Hall of Dancers. This again is a very challenging task as there are three huge trees standing inside and the existing structure is 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 recently discovered. This was indeed a significant archaeological find in decades.
ASI would be involved in restoration work in Ta Prohm temple in the current phase till 2014. The approved budget for this project is Rs. 34.16 crores. 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.