Category Archives: Antiques

A Fusion of Religions: Khmer Buddhist and Hindu Antiques

ANKORAngkor, the lost capital of Kambuja (Cambodia) was rediscovered by the French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860. only about 150 years ago. Yet it has revealed culture, art and architecture that is unparalleled in South East Asia. Following the fall of Kambuja to the Siamese in 1431 AD, the splendor of the capital was lost to the jungle for the next four centuries. As the vegetation took grip on these magnificent buildings, their roots failed to shake the robust structures built through the masonry of ancient architects and artisans. Lost to man, snakes took shelter and the wild animals roamed claiming the territory that the humans took from them. Gods and nature mingled once again hidden from the greed and breed of the human race.

ANKOR TRIADUpon its discovery, the world was stunned by the treasures that it  revealed. Here was a fusion of two most ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, with no signs of conflict between the two. Vishnu and Buddha mingled sometimes as one, Shiva’s serpent (Naga) guarded the Buddha. Uma shared the platform with Buddha and Vishnu, while Linga adored the temple with Buddha. The mythology of Hindus adapted to Buddha’s philosophy of life was in harmony.

Having remained undisturbed for generations,  now a prolific number of magnificent work of art and sculpture from Angkor started emerging.  As these arefacts from the Khmer state started to reach the western world. If all these artifacts were to be real how did such a large number of objects survive? Or all these fake! the invention man’s greed.

ANKOR 2Experts may use the look and feel method for authenticity but they too are not infallible. Recalling that these bronzes were smelted and cast at over 1000 deg centigrade some tell tale marks should remain. The inner core of clay would be black showing evidence of firing and and a discerning buyer could employ Thermoluminescence (TL) dating but this is currently expensive, the current going rate being approximately £ 240.00 per object. If there is no remaining fired core clay within the bronze cast a metallurgist may help in dating. in order to understand this dilemma we have to go back nearly 2000 years in history to the advent of Christian era.

According to legend an Indian named Kaundinya on arrival to the larger Malay Peninsula, called Funan, formed an alliance with a Nagini princess, hence probably the early Naga influence on the state. For the next 1000 years Kambuja remained a Hindu state with a balance of Brahma, Shiva (Linga) and Vishnu as deities. Almost all art, bronzes and culture are centered on these deities from 600 to 1200 AD until Buddhism arrived in the 13th century. A remarkable peaceful union of the two religions followed with their sculpture encompassing the Hindu deities and Buddha.

ANKOR VISHNUDuring the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century in Kambuja religious fervor set in fueling  an output of a large number of smaller bronzes. This new demand exerted pressure on the craftsmen, contributing to some poor quality bronzes. Good quality pieces became relatively less. By the time Khmer State starting to fade in the 15th century its treasures had got redistributed to rest of South Asia where they have survived into modern times. In addition, continuous wars and invasion by the neighboring states contributed to redistribution of Khmer treasures and artifacts in Siam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and as far as Tibet, Malaysia and China.

Some of my early collections are from these countries. Even as late as early 18th century the hostility between Siam and Cambodia continued causing further outflow of Khmer art and sculpture into other parts of the region. It is not surprising to encounter such relatively large number of ancient Khmer artifacts in the west over the past century, given the high output of Khmer bronzes for over a millennium. Some may be fakes or reproduction of the past century but certainly some jewels in sculpture cannot be painted with the brush.

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Antiques & Art Collecting: Pleasure or for Money

For those who love the past, antiques are not only a source of pleasure but also could be an investment. Whatever your interest may be, sculpture, coins, stamps or art there are some fundamentals to buying and enjoying.  The motive to buy should be love and passion for the object. The joy of holding, looking and feeling the artifact should override the thoughts on its value and investment, unless you are a trader.

What you seek may be available from multiple sources, markets, ANKOR1antique shops, auctions and internet. Buying an antique on impulse without any knowledge about it is an excusable sign of passion. If it turns out to be not of
any monetary value you still have the pleasure of owning the object. Or who knows it might be your lucky day, like the Egyptian cat from the attic turned out to be worth millions of pounds. Or an unrecognized old master painting bought for its frame than the picture.  But the chance of this happening is very small and you would be wise to know your subject well before hand. The information on the web is almost limitless and little browsing may reward you amply. But there is no substitute to experience. As a collector for over four decades I made some costly mistakes at the onset. I Still make some wrong decisions but they are few and far in between.  

ANKOR TRIADBig auction houses like Christies, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s are not the only places to find value and you probably cannot afford their prices which would cover commissions and something like 30 to 40% overheads to the seller.  Like tap water served in a fancy bottle with a big price tag they can be illusions hyped by inappropriate descriptions. A Moon Stone from Sri Lanka turned down by one of the big London auctioneers was later found by experts to be worth over half a million pounds. Sometimes it can be the reverse. At one of the leading auctioning houses I have come across a statue holding a sword being described as Buddha. Buddha never held a sword unless rarely in a Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism. I have also seen Shiva and Vishnu being confused and so on. We must realise they are not always the experts. Also do not depend too much on internet valuers for your antiques. You would be surprised at their ignorance. At least I have been surprised more than once.  

ANKOR 2Visiting the antique markets you would often find the traders often passing on their objects as owned by their family members: ‘my mother loved this’; ‘this has been in the family for years’; ‘my father left this for the family’: ‘this is my aunt’s’ etc. You have to disregard their statement and judge what you are buying on its own merit. It is easy to miss a subtle defect in the hurly burly of the market, so examine your purchase carefully as it is unlikely you can have a comeback on it. On the whole by virtue of Britain’s past, once the greatest empire ever in the world, UK antique markets are a good source where objects from the colonial past emerge from house clearance. As the older generation who collected these objects from various parts of the world die out the chances these antiques coming to the market will dwindle and wind down. There can only be so many antiques in the world and once they find a new home they are unlikely to come back to the market any sooner.

CEYLON WAR STAMPSInternet purchase is another kettle of fish where you have to tread with care. A lot of research is needed before you buy. Look for similar objects on the net. Ask for more photographs and information if you are in doubt. It is not the same as having the object in your hand before you buy. Sometimes the pictures do not tell the full story. Do not be surprised that the thousand year old object that you bought is a few months old when it arrives. The EBay is not very good at stopping such rogue dealers from trading apart from mostly making sure that you get your money back. The rogue antique trader will move to some other customer but at least you know now whom to avoid, but at a cost. Most of all use reliable payment gateway such as PayPal or reputed credit card with a guarantee to protect your purchase.  

JAMAICA DISCOVERY 1921Buy for Pleasure Today; Leave the Value to Tomorrow and your next generation

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