As part of celebrations to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between India and Cambodia in 2022 and to confer Distinguished Alumni Award to H.E. Ms. Eat Sophea, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC), Kingdom of Cambodia, H.E. Dr. Vinay P. Sahasrabuddhe, President, ICCR, visited Cambodia from 27 to 30 August 2022, the first-ever visit to Cambodia.
Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, that promotes culture and soft diplomacy through cultural exchange programmes with partner countries.
On the first leg of his journey to Cambodia, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe arrived in Siem Reap on 27 August 2022. In his first meeting, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe and Dr. Devyani Khobragade, Ambassador of India to Cambodia, met H.E. Mr. Chum Sopheakmakara, Acting Director General, APSARA National Authority.
The discussions were held on issues related to upgrading Mekong Ganga Cooperation Asian Traditional Textiles Museum (MGCATTM). After the meeting, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe paid a visit to MGCTT Museum with H.E. Mr. KIM Sothin, Dy. Director General, APSARA, to inspect the galleries and displayed objects. On the same day, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe visited the world-renowned Angkor Wat temple (restored by India from 1986-1993).
On 28 August 2022, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe inaugurated a Photo Exhibition, “ Dhyanalaya,” of the completed conservation and restoration work of the Hall of Dancers, Ta Prohm Temple (Carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India team from 2007-2022) along with H.E. Mr. KIM Sothin, DDG, APSARA and Dr. Devyani Khobragade, Ambassador of India to Cambodia. The inauguration was followed by interactions with scholars from Archaeology, Conservation, tourism from APSARA National Authority, and another international team working in the Angkor Park area. After that, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe visited Ta Prohm temple (India completed 2 phases of restoration, and the third phase, which started in 2016, is expected to complete in 2026) to review the restoration and preservation work being undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
On 29 August 2022, as part of his tour to Cambodia’s second and final leg, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe paid a courtesy call on H. E. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Kingdom of Cambodia, along with Dr. Devyani Khobragade, Ambassador of India to Cambodia. The discussions were held on bilateral cooperation in Fine arts, Culture, and Education. Dr. Sahasrabuddhe touched upon some projects viz. Engaging Buddhist scholars of both countries, teaching Hindi in Cambodian Universities and Khmer language in Indian Universities, in interacting with young political leaders of both countries, whi be undertaken jointly.
Dr. Sahasrabuddhe stated that these projects would further strengthen the cultural relations between India and Cambodia. H.E. Sackona, on behalf of the Government of Cambodia, expressed profound gratitude to the Indian Government for the assistance provided to Cambodia in various sectors, especially conservation and development work in temple restoration of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Preah Vihear temple, and requested for India’s continued support for the repair and conservation work of Preah Vihear temple, being undertaken by India at present.
This was followed by a “Knowledge India Dialogue” seminar at the National Institute of Diplomacy and International Relations (NIDIR), MOFAIC, Kingdom of Cambodia. Dr. Sahastrabuddhe inaugurated the programe, followed by welcome remarks by H.E. Tean Samnang, President, NIDIR. Samdech Dr. Khy Sovanratana, Acting Rector, Preah Sihanoukville Raja Buddhist University, opened the Knowledge India dialogue.
Scholars from different universities, faculty, and students of NIDIR participated in the seminar. The discussions were held on various topics like India’s Act East policy, India – Cambodia cultural links, etc. Dr. Saharabuddhe shared his views on the importance of Yoga, Ayurveda, Cultural Coherence and Buddhist connections, reviving the Buddhist circuit, Tourist activities from Srilanka to Lumbini, connecting other important Buddhist sites, to be concluded at Bodh Gaya.
In the evening on the same day, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe, at a glittering function held at Hotel Raffles, conferred the “Distinguished Alumni Award 2021” on H. E. Ms. Eat Sophea, Secretary of State, MOFAIC, Kingdom of Cambodia. ICCR instituted an “ICCR distinguished alumni award” in 2015 to recognize ICCR alumni who have made significant achievements in their field and have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of understanding, goodwill, and friendship between India and their country.
The ceremony was attended by H.E. Sry Thamrong, Minister delegate attached to Prime Minister, H. E. Ms. Chan Sorey, Secretary of State, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and nearly 100 ICCR and ITEC alumni. The award ceremony commenced with opening remarks by H.E. Dr. Sao Chivoan, Secretary of State, Ministry of Rural Development and President of Cambodia- India Alumni Association (CIAA), chief guest, who shared his views on works done by the association and requested to increase the ICCR Scholarship Slots for Cambodian students.
H. E. Sao Chiovan expressed his gratitude to ICCR for supporting Cambodian students, thereby improving their lives. Dr. Sahasrabuddhe recalled the age-old civilizational and cultural links between the two countries and the role of ICCR in promoting cultural relations between India and other countries. In his speech, Dr. Sahasrabuddhe agreed to increase ICCR scholarship slots for Cambodian Students and stated that shortly, ICCR would start the best organization award for the Organizers of Association.
H. E. Ms. Eat Sophea recalled her first visit to India under the ICCR scholarship scheme and other visits made to India from time to time and expressed her deep gratitude to ICCR for selecting her for the award. The Ambassador of India thanked all distinguished guests for attending the function. The award ceremony was followed by a reception and a classical dance by Mr. Kapil Sharma, a Dance teacher in the Embassy.
On 30 August 2022, Dr. Sahastrabuddhe paid a visit to the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) and met Dr. Heng Sophady, Rector, RUFA, with senior faculty. The discussions were held on issues related to cultural connection and focused on ways to make this stronger besides an increasing number of scholarships and programs for students in the field of Architecture and Archaeology.
This was followed by a meeting at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) with H.E. Mr. Sok Touch, President of RAC. Discussions were held on mutual cultural and academic cooperation—representatives from many Universities viz. SBU, RUFA, RUPP, and Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) participated in the meeting. Dr. Sahasrabuddhe announced that books would be presented to the RAC library during Diwali, besides working on the Annual Orientation Course on Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s views on Buddhist Philosophy and Teachings.
The modalities for working out an MoU between RAC and prominent universities of India were also discussed. This was followed by a visit to the residence of Dr. Pheng, Chancellor of PUC, wherein discussions were held on academic cooperation. Dr. Sahasrabuddhe discussed the primary school education system and Indian famous comic books on Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Bud, DHA, which can be introduced in Cambodian schools by translating into the Khmer language.
The visit by Dr. Vinay P. Sahasrabuddhe, President ICCR, to Cambodia would lead to more productive education and cultural diplomacy cooperation.
Such high-level visits to commemorate the special events are expected to enhance exchanges between the two countries and give further impetus to bilateral relations.
Photo by: Supplied