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India pledges support for Angkor Wat restoration

12th-century temple at risk from encroaching tropical forests

Mumbai

Indian archaeologists have submitted a proposal to the Cambodian authorities to restore the 12th-century Ta Prohm temple, part of the Angkor Wat complex. The restoration will be conducted in five phases, over 10 years, at a cost of $5.5 million.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a government institution, has submitted two detailed reports to its counterpart, the Apsara Authority in Cambodia. India has offered to provide technical assistance, materials and all the necessary funding. The two countries signed an agreement for the restoration of this temple two years ago when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Cambodia.

The reports will be vetted by a three-member panel of experts from Italy, France and Japan—all countries which are heavily involved in helping restore other temples at Angkor Wat, which are deteriorating because of the extreme humidity and the surrounding tropical forest. The ASI has pointed out that it will only be able to work between the months of November and April, when there is a let-up in the rains.

K.T. Narasimhan, an archaeologist who is leading the ASI team, noted that there were about 145 trees which are between 150 and 200 years old in the Ta Prohm compound. Their roots have penetrated many of the stone structures and dislodged some.

According to Mr Narasimhan, the temple will be restored without removing any of the trees. However, this is easier said than done since the roots can cause further damage.

Because Khmer kings were influenced by Hindu proselytisers from India, Angkor’s temples bear the heavy imprint of South Indian architecture. Ta Prohm is built using stone as the only core material. Indian archaeologists are thus well placed to help conserve these buildings.

The ASI was involved in restoring the large Angkor Wat temple itself between 1986 and 1993, when remnants of the Khmer Rouge which was ousted in 1979, continued to disrupt life in Cambodia. The guerillas, who sheltered in the surrounding forest, kept harassing guards in the temple complex and complicated the restoration work. However, the ASI’s use of chemicals in attempting to prevent moisture from seeping into the structures has since been criticised by European restorers.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'India pledges support for Angkor Wat'