October 30, 2023
PHNOM PENH – In Preah Suramarit Kosomak Kirirom National Park, a monumental religious statue project is underway, where skilled sculptors are meticulously crafting natural rock into both Hindu-style and Buddhist statues. These statues hold profound significance for spiritual practices and are poised to become a captivating attraction.
Located about 112km from Phnom Penh, Kirirom National Park is a renowned natural tourist destination in Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Srouch district. Within its picturesque landscapes, monks have commissioned artisans to transform mountain rocks into statues, drawing inspiration from Hindu aesthetics and significant events in Buddhist history.
Venerable Veth Bona, a monk from Preah Porthisattva Kirirom Pagoda within the national park, stated that the area is locally known as “Prasat Kampoul Pram (the five-tower temple), or Phnom Teveak (the mountain of Deva)”. This locale is poised to become an attractive religious monument.
Venerable Bona stated that this project is led by chief monk, Heak Lang. He said that when travelling from Treng Trayeung market to Kirirom National Park, it’s approximately 17km to reach the site, and for visitors looking to extend their adventure to the Kirirom Eco-Tourism Resort, an additional 10km of travel is required.
He revealed that the project is conveniently positioned adjacent to his pagoda and is situated along the route leading to the eco-tourism resort. Historically, this area served as a serene retreat for monks to engage in meditation, both before and after the rainy season, owing to its rich natural forests, which provide a tranquil and revitalising ambiance. In this serene setting, five imposing rocks, stand prominently.
He explained that the primary purpose of the project is to safeguard the forests. However, the chief monk of the pagoda recognised the need for a more holistic approach, understanding that the preservation of forests alone might not suffice. Consequently, a decision was taken to skilfully carve the natural rocks in the area, creating not only a religious and cultural monument but also ensuring its seamless integration with the surrounding natural environment.
Venerable Bona stated that this hill encompasses a vast area of approximately 30ha, earmarked for development. Currently, he is in the process of enlisting skilled craftsmen to transform large pieces of rock into a diverse array of statues, including Hindu deities such as Indra, Vishnu and Shiva, drawing inspiration from examples from over 200 temples across Cambodia. Additionally, the project includes statues depicting the rich history of Buddhism.
“With concern to the Hindu statues, I conducted personal visits to numerous temples across Cambodia, meticulously observing and studying each. Notably, I explored Khmer temples situated in Thai provinces of Surin, Sisaket and Sa Kaeo, drawing inspiration and diligently recording detailed observations,” he said.
He explained that the cost of carving is determined on a per-square-meter basis, set at $500 per square meter. Notably, some of the Buddha statues boast impressive dimensions, measuring 8m wide and 18m tall. When converted to square meters, this equates to an expenditure of nearly $100,000.
Funding for this endeavour has been generously provided by the dedicated students of the chief monk and the monks themselves. They have consciously chosen not to solicit financial contributions through social media platforms.
He further mentioned that for the road leading to the monument, he has employed individuals to clear a 1,500m path. Presently, over 50m of this road have been paved with concrete, at an estimated cost of approximately $180,000. Separately, inter-ministerial representatives have already conducted site visits and expressed their support, asserting that this development aligns with their long-term vision.
However, Venerable Bona clarified that the monument remains under construction, and as of now, no buildings have been erected. The area is envisioned as a space for visitors and Buddhists seeking a tranquil place for meditation. It also aims to provide the general public with a serene and peaceful environment.
“It is not a pagoda but a religious monument surrounded by lush forests. I am creating a space for meditation. For instance, individuals can visit for periods ranging from four to ten days if they wish to temporarily disconnect from society and experience a meditative and tranquil atmosphere. We will make suitable arrangements,” he said.
Sun Meanchey, director of the Kampong Speu culture and fine arts department, told The Post that Phnom Teveak project is a venture initiated by the Preah Porthisattva Kirirom Pagoda, under the guidance of the pagoda’s chief monk who requested the department’s inspection due to the intricate carving work involved.
He stated that the carvings are divided into two distinct areas on the same site. The first area is dedicated to depicting the history of Buddhism, while the second area showcases Brahmanism, mirroring the style of statues found in Cambodia’s temples. The monks have secured funds from philanthropists to support this endeavour and have instructed the craftsmen to replicate the style of the original statues.
Meanchey stated that the monks exhibit great thoughtfulness and precision in their work, particularly in the creation of the monument. Consequently, he has maintained close cooperation with them and has conducted numerous site visits for inspections, in collaboration with the provincial authorities and the culture department.
“The resulting statues aren’t misshapen; it’s a common expectation that achieving 100 per cent exact replication of the originals is challenging. Even experts from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, to whom I provided images of the statues for validation, are impressed with the craftsmanship,” he said.
Ros Sok, director of the Kampong Speu provincial department of tourism, told The Post that the statues are anticipated to draw cultural and religious tourists seeking to admire these intricate works of art. The Ministry of Tourism has also established a cultural tourism initiative.
“If the project proceeds, it is poised to draw an increased number of visitors to Kirirom National Park, which already boasts a multitude of attractions for visitors, and the addition of another cultural and religious site would be a valuable enhancement,” he said.
He stated that in addition to the establishment of this new religious monument within the national park, there also exists a Buddhist cultural centre that serves as a central hub for worship and the propagation of Buddhist teachings.