Cambodia Hindu deity
The head belonging to the Harihara statue is reattached to its body during a ceremony at Cambodia's National Museum in Phnom PenhREUTERS/Samrang Pring

France has returned to Cambodia the severed head of the statue of a Hindu god, allowing it to be reunited with its body. The piece was brought back and reattached to the body more than 130 years after its separation.

In 1882 or 1883, French researchers took the head of the 7th century statue of the Hindu deity Harihara from the Phnom Da temple in southern Takeo province to be displayed at the Guimet Museum in Paris. The reunion was held on 21 January at the National Museum in Phnom Penh and attended by about 200 government officials, representatives of foreign governments, ambassadors and museum officials.

Thai Noraksathya, a spokesman for Cambodia's Ministry of Culture, told AFP, "The head and the body of the statue had been separated for 130 years. When the head is reattached to its body, it is like we are reconnecting the soul of our national heritage."

The deity Harihara combines aspects of Vishnu and Shiva, two of the most important Hindu gods who represent the creation of the universe and its destruction, respectively.

"After it was separated 130 years ago, we are welcoming the reunification of the head and the torso of Harihara," Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said at the ceremony. "According to our Khmer culture, the reunion is symbolic of prosperity." He later urged other countries to return Cambodian artefacts in their possession.

Of late, more and more relics have found their way back to Cambodia. Two stone statues — a 9th century head of Shiva and a late 12th to early 13th century male divinity head — from the Angkor period were looted during the civil war and taken to Europe. Three decades after their European sojourn, the pieces were returned to Cambodia by Norwegian collector Morten Bosterud in October 2015.

In 2014, three 1000-year-old Hindu mythology statues which had been stolen from a temple were returned. While being a predominantly Buddhist country today (more than 90% of its population is Buddhist), Cambodia has a long Hindu past with Hindu kings leaving an indelible mark on art, culture and architecture.

Angkor Wat in the province of Siem Reap, the world's largest religious monument, was originally a Hindu temple complex. It was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple.