A big Buddha’s impending unveiling

Sulata Sarkar and her team during the construction of the big Buddha in August 2008.

INDIAN philanthropist Sulata Sarkar’s dream gift to the people of Siem Reap is nearing completion, with a special ceremony held last Friday to mark the construction of a pedestal to house the monumental project.

Back in August 2008, Sulata Sarkar told The Post she had almost completed a two-and-a-half-year “labour of love” that she is bequeathing to the people of Siem Reap.

She had commissioned the carving of a huge sandstone Buddha statue to sit on top of a lotus stand which, in turn, will be placed on a large pedestal.

The statue is over seven metres tall and weighs an estimated 70-80 tonnes.

It was originally commissioned in May 2006 and the plan was for it to be installed in December 2008 on a site in front of Siem Reap’s Preah Norodom Sihanouk Angkor Museum, which opened in November 2007.

But, as they say, better late than never. The two-and-a-half-year labour of love turned out to be a five-year labour of love. Due to a variety of problems, the statue’s installation is running behind schedule, but if all goes well it will be in place some time this month.

And a beaming madam Sulata Sarkar oversaw a colourful ceremony last Friday afternoon that involved Sanskrit chanting and was observed by heavyweights from UNESCO and the Apsara Authority.

Calcutta-born Sulata Sarkar is one of those wonderfully eccentric characters that bless this planet from time to time. She’s a generous soul, and paid for the project through her US-based Cinema Art Yoga Foundation, which has also built a $2 million Asian art museum in California.

Back in August 2008, she told The Post she wanted to bequeath something to the people of Siem Reap, and when she surveyed local citizens as to what they would most like, the Buddha statue was the most popular request.
Sulata Sarkar at the ceremony blessing the Big Buddha pedestal last Friday. 

She commissioned a former soldier-turned-stone-carver, 78-year-old Him Tour, to make the statue in Siem Reap.

She said: “He is an amazing man for his age, and he spent so much time sitting on top of that statue working in the hot sun. It took strong willpower to continue the task.”

Sulata Sarkar said Azedine Beschaouch, permanent scientific secretary for UNESCO, together with the then-Indian Ambassador to Cambodia Aloke Sen, helped her find a permanent site for the statue.

She said: “I was first offered a site at the Angkor Wat complex, but this was not suitable because they shut the area early in the evening and I want this statue given to the public so they can enjoy it any time they want.

“Then the AEON 1% Club, the Japanese company involved with building the museum, gave me some land outside the museum, and that is where the statue will be placed.”

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