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Three enormous statue heads unearthed at Banteay Chhmar temple, Cambodia

Three enormous statue heads unearthed at Banteay Chhmar temple, Cambodia


A renovation of Banteay Chhmar temple in Cambodia left workers astounded after three enormous Angkorian-era statue heads were found under half a metre of soil – two intact and one broken.  The heads were part of a causeway depicting an ancient Hindu legend in which gods (devas) and demons (asuras) worked together to churn the ocean and release Amrita, the nectar of immortal life.

According to a news release in Phnom Penh Post, the statue heads are made of sandstone and date back to the end of the 12 th-century reign of Jayavarman VII, a king of the Khmer Empire in present day Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The heads were found at Banteay Chhmar temple, which comprises one of the most important but least understood archaeological complexes from Cambodia's Angkor period.  The complex is oriented to the east, where there's a dried baray (artificial body of water), which had a temple on an island (mebon) in its centre. Besides the main temple and the mebon, there are other eight secondary temples. The outer gallery of the main temple is carved with bas-reliefs depicting military engagements and daily life scenes.  Four stelae detailing Jayavarman VII's genealogy were placed at each of the four corners of the third enclosure wall, mirroring the stelae that occupied the four corner-shrines of the king's capital at Angkor Thom.

Main entrance to Banteay Chhmar Temple, Banteay Chhmar

Main entrance to Banteay Chhmar Temple, Banteay Chhmar (Wikimedia)

According to preservation official Mao Sy, the newly discovered statue heads probably broke off decades ago and became naturally buried by layers of earth brought in by floods. However, this may have been a blessing, as Banteay Chhmar Temple has already suffered extensive looting, and the flooding may have saved them from becoming lost to history.

The Phnom Penh Post reports that the heads were part of a causeway depicting the famous Hindu fable known as ‘the Ocean of Milk’. According to Hindu cosmology,  the Ocean of milk is the fifth from the center of the seven oceans that surround directional space.  At the suggestion of Vishnu, the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) worked together for a millennium to churn the ocean (by pulling on the Serpent King) and release Amrita, the nectar of immortal life. When the Amrita finally emerged along with several other treasures, the devas and asuras fought over it. However Vishnu in the form of Mohini the enchantress manages to lure the asuras into handing over the Amrita, which she then distributes to the devas. Rahu, an asura, disguises himself as a deva and tries to drink some Amrita himself, but Surya (the sun-god) and Chandra (the moon-god) alert Vishnu to this deception. Vishnu then decapitates Rahu just as he is about to swallow the nectar, leaving only his head immortal.

A bas-relief at Angkor Wat depicts the devas and asuras

A bas-relief at Angkor Wat depicts the devas and asuras working together to stir up the Ocean of Milk in an attempt to free the elixir of immortality called amrita. (Wikimedia)

The causeway at Bantaey Chhmar is believed to have originally resembled that seen at Angkor Thom, in which a row of statues is seen pulling the Serpent King to church the Ocean of Milk. Taking into account the size of the heads found at Bantaey Chhmar, the causeway must have once been quite a spectacle.

The causeway at Angkor Thom consists of a row of statues pulling on the Serpent King

The causeway at Angkor Thom consists of a row of statues pulling on the Serpent King. (BigStockPhoto). It is believed the newly found statue heads at Bantaey Chhmar formed part of a similar causeway.

The statue heads will undergo restoration, along with the Banteay Chhmar temple, and it is hoped that the more international visitors may travel to the spectacular ancient site once reparation is completed.

Featured image: One of the statue heads being lifted from the ground at Banteay Chhmar. Credit: Phnom Penh Post.

By April Holloway



Wondering what happens to the subject line we enter. I was referring to Pangea. So my first line of my comment made sense. Without the subject, a reader may wonder if a page is missing. Or a nut.


I hope I spelt it right. Geologists say that in the Triassic period (200 mil) present day India separated from Africa and went on a cruise. North-north east direction.

Jurassic period and then one more that I don't remember came later. Around 65 mil years back the himalayas started to rise upward.

That period 200 to 65 mil is what this story is describing. None other.

Indians were very realistic and wouldn't have wanted to confuse those who came in late (like us) by referring to the milky way as an ocean of milk. They'd have said the milky way was like diamonds.

So anyway, that was when life first formed by the collection of mutually compatible elements.

I'll give you an odd fact. We have this flood story in almost every civilization worth its flint arrowhead. Nobody ever talks about the formation of the Himalayas. It's like it always existed. Since time started.

Maybe true. Because India is the only country in the world which had a clearly demarcated boundary, The oceans and the mountains. It was an isolated lab where the gods could experiment.

Unlike us, the God's (Brahma actually) are successful the first time.

Looking at the size of this head (20 feet or so), the mind boggles thinking of the size of statue it was upon.

Tsurugi's picture

I do too. To me, it sounded astronomical. The "Ocean of Milk" I associated with our galaxy(the Milky Way, ofc!), and "pulling on the Serpent" to "churn" the Ocean of Milk....well, the Serpent in this case may be a reference to electromagnetic and/or gravitic forces, similar to the world snake in some mythologies whose body is so long it wraps all the way around the earth.

Hubble telescope has taken some amazing images of galaxies that have come in close proximity to objects or macrostructures(galaxies or galactic clusters) that represent an immense well of gravitic and electromagnetic force, causing huge disturbances in the body of the galaxy(i e., the "churning") and spawning an intense and prolonged period of new star formation and old star destruction.
As current theory states, the fusion process and later nova explosions of stars is what forms the higher elements essential to organic life.

So, that's one possible interpretation, maybe...?

rbflooringinstall's picture

I really wonder how much truth is in that Hindu tale.

Peace and Love,


DeAegean's picture

Just wait until they unearth the statue of liberty when we are all ancient history.

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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