The New Zealand resident who broke a Buddha statue in Cambodia says she did so because it was inside a temple dedicated to another deity.
Willemijn Vermaat, 40, who moved to Wellington from the Netherlands eight years ago, had been on a four-week holiday to Laos and Cambodia when she entered the 12th-century Bayon Temple in Siem Reap late on her final night.
She was later questioned by the Apsara Authority about pushing over a Buddhist statue, which broke into four pieces, but she said it was out of her control.
Delayed by rain, she said, she was standing in the temple entrance way after permitted viewing times when something strange happened to her.
“I was drawn to go into the inner sanctuary where the Buddha statue was,” she said. “When I got in there I got a very strange feeling that something was talking to me, but it was like it was my own thoughts.
“It was telling me I had to clean up the temple because there was too much rubbish, from the monks and other people.”
She said the voice identified itself as the Mesopotamian goddess Inana, who told her the temple was not a temple of Buddha, rather one belonging to her.
While cleaning, Vermaat, who has a PhD in linguistics, was discovered by three monks, who allowed her to walk away even though she had been in there after the 6.30pm cut-off time for visitors.
The monks then alerted the Apsara Authority, which started searching for her. “I was hiding in the jungle until I didn’t hear them searching for me any more. So I returned to the inner sanctuary and I had to meditate.
“I was told I had to move the Buddha but I said I didn’t want to as it’s such a great religion and nothing to make fun of. So I tried to sit on his lap but that didn’t work so I pushed him out, and I was apologising to him, but that must have been when I broke it.”
Breaking it was not intentional but it was quite heavy and hard to move, she said.
It did not look like an old statue, rather one that had been put there for decorative purposes.
The Cambodian Daily reported it dated from the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century and had already been broken into several pieces when rediscovered, but was restored in 1988 so that it could be put on display at Bayon.
But other Cambodian media said it was a replica made in 1988.
Vermaat said she felt bad about breaking the statue but it should not have been in there as it was not a Buddha temple and did not look anything like the many other Buddhist temples she had seen in Asia.
The voices abruptly stopped soon after her meditation so she walked out of the temple.
“I went to where I was supposed to meet my tuk-tuk driver and one of the guys from the authority was there and then eight or so others came and took me to my guest house.
“Two of them took my statement and I told them I had pushed over the Buddha but then they let me go.”
She had spent so long in the temple that she had missed her evening flight to Bangkok but flew out the next day.
Vermaat said she was not fazed by people who thought she might be crazy. “They can take it as they want, there are things in this world that we cannot always explain.”