In Hindu mythology, there are many stories about how Ganesha got his elephant head. One of them says that Lord Shiva cut off the head in a fit of anger and was adivced by Brahma to replce it with the head of the first living being he came across. Recently, Parvathi, Ganesha’s mother also got her head back and thankfully, it was the same one she lost.
This believe-it-or-not story comes from Cambodia, where once the statue of Parvathy was decapitated in the 15th century. This headless body was taken by French Archaeologists and exhibited in Paris.
Last autumn, the museum held an exhibition on Vietnamese art which paid tribute in its catalogue to a retired American diplomat, John Gunther Dean. The catalogue recounted Mr Dean’s efforts, as ambassador to Cambodia in the early 1970s, to rescue ancient Khmer art from the ravages of the Khmer Rouge, which was determined to expunge all record of Cambodia’s past.
To thank the museum, Mr Dean, now 80, offered a gift from his own collection of ancient Khmer artefacts. Last month, the gift arrived, the sculpted head of a woman found at the Bakong temple site in 1939.
“I asked him for a Khmer head because we only had headless statues but I didn’t think for a moment about a possible match,” said Pierre Baptiste, the museum’s curator for south-east Asian art.
“I brought the head into our [Cambodian] hall looking for a place that it could be exhibited,” said M. Baptiste. “I had a sudden notion the two pieces resembled each other but then thought, ‘no, things never happen that way’.
“I put the head on the statue’s shoulders. It shifted a few millimetres. I heard the little click that you get when two stones fit together and the head fell perfectly into place. It was as if it had put itself together. I still get goose-bumps thinking about it.” [ After 500 years, sheer chance reunites head and body of Hindu statue in Paris]