Active Project

Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery Conservation Project

Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia


The Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery, located in the temple complex of Angkor Wat, displays a spectacular 49 meters of intricately sculpted bas-reliefs that are part of a larger ensemble of scenes from the Battle of Kuruksetra, the Ramayana, the 37 Heavens and the 32 Hells, and Angkor Wat’s patron, Suryavarman II (1113 – c.1150) going into battle. The most significant bas-relief in the eyes of the Khmers, located in the Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery, portrays devas and asuras in a dramatically rendered tug of war, representing the eternal struggle of good and evil that churns amrit, the elixir of everlasting life, from the primordial ocean.

How We Helped

In January 2012 the WMF team removed the gantry crane erected in February 2008 for conservation of the roof of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery, marking the completion of the original WMF-APSARA collaborative project. This four-year venture has been a remarkable training experience for WMF’s Khmer workers, who have collaborated with stone conservators and engineers to develop a sophisticated system for removing stones, working on them, and returning them to the roof. The project will conclude with the addition of a group of finials to the roof of the gallery based on fragments found near the structure. Work on the roof was closely coordinated with the German conservation team working in the galleries of Angkor Wat to maximum benefit for the site. Prior to commencing the conservation work, the Gallery was carefully surveyed and documented. Previous restorations started in the 1960s by the French Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient and completed by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1993 were analyzed using on-site observation and archival research. The results of this campaign are documented in Angkor Wat – Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery: Fundamental Structural Issues at the CSM Gallery and Adjacent Towers, Vol. I (May 2005.) A stone-by-stone conditions survey was carried out using interactive GIS-based materials and documentation tools. An environmental monitoring system was designed and installed and mineralogy research was conducted, along with a non-destructive examination of both surface and sub-surface characteristics and conditions using ultrasonic pulse and microwave radar testing. This second campaign of work was reported in Angkor Wat – Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery; Technical Analysis and Conservation Planning, Vol. II. (April 2005.) In January 2013 a celebration at Angkor Wat commemorated the completion of conservation work on the gallery.

Why It Matters

Angkor Wat is perhaps the most famous of the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk represents a crowning achievement of Khmer artistry. Projects such as the roof conservation work demonstrate that all monumental complexes must be looked after by a wide range of specialists and all components must be taken into consideration. The building, the roof, and sculpture together give Angkor Wat its special character and the conservation and stewardship of the site must look at the entire range of materials and conservation challenges. Visitors and worshipers enjoy the experience of coming to Angkor because all these elements have been preserved in their original setting. WMF, APSARA Authority, and the many professionals working together at the site demonstrate that conservation is a collective activity.

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