My Cambodia Trip, Part II–Angkor Thom and the Bayon, the only Angkorian State Temple dedicated to the Buddha

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Day #2 evening, we flew from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. This is our hotel room in Siem Reap. Note the mosquito nets over the beds.  Luckily we didn’t have to use them!

Day #3, we are approaching the gate of Angkor Thom (Great Angkor or Great City). These elephants can carry visitors into Angkor Thom.

We are at the gate to Angkor Thom.  It was built by Angkor’s greatest king, Jayavarman VII (1181-1219).  At the center of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon.

An elephant rider going towards the gate of Angkor Thom.

The south gate of Angkor Thom is most popular with visitors, as it has been fully restored and many of the heads of statues remain in place.

In front of the gate stands giant statues on the causeway of both sides of the gate, a motif taken from the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas. The story appears in the Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana.

The gate is 20m in height, decorated with stone elephant trunks and crowned by four enormous faces looking out in the four cardinal directions. These faces, which in some way are related to the icon of Lokeshvara, at the same time symbolize the power of the king, demonstrating his domination of the four quarters of the world.

As we approached the gate, we saw female images which I think are Apsaras. What is an Apsara? An Apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.  The figures found in the Angkor Wat complex are primarily from Hindu Mythology found in Indian epics like the Mahabharata.  Cambodia is influenced by Indian cultures and religions, which are Hinduism and Buddhism.   After the trip, I researched a little, and found that according to some scholars, these are not Apsaras, but Devatas, who are deities, but not dancing or preparing to dance.  Devatas are usually featured alone or standing still.  In the Angkor Wat complex, there are nearly 1,800 Apsaras and Devatas.  We will see many more later. From the description of these scholars, this image is probably a Devata.

Bas-reliefs in Angkor Thom– Most bas-reliefs are inspired by subject matters of the ancient Indian Epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. But this summary relief gives glimpses of Khmer life–cock-fight.

The Bayon

“The Bayon.. is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom. Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences.

The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.  The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythologicalhistorical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.”

The following pictures feature the massive stone faces and the beautiful bas relief in Bayon.  According to scholars, King Jayavarman VII bears a strong resemblance to the face towers of the Bayon.

Compare his image to these stone faces, and make your own conclusion!

“Mona Lisa of the East”, as described by the tourist guide!

Buddhist symbolism in the foundation of the temple by King Jayavarman VII

I found this information from Wikipedia cannot be abridged, as it is so important and interesting to understand the history and background of the Bayon.

“According to scholars, King Jayavarman VII bears a strong resemblance to the face towers of the Bayon.

The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only Angkorian state temple to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha, though a great number of minor and local deities were also encompassed as representatives of the various districts and cities of the realm. It was the centrepiece of Jayavarman VII‘s massive program of monumental construction and public works.

The similarity of the 216 gigantic faces on the temple’s towers to other statues of the king has led many scholars to the conclusion that the faces are representations of Jayavarman VII himself. Others have said that the faces belong to the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara. The two hypotheses need not be regarded as mutually exclusive. Angkor scholar George Coedès has theorized that Jayavarman stood squarely in the tradition of the Khmer monarchs in thinking of himself as a “devaraja” (god-king), the salient difference being that while his predecessors were Hindus and regarded themselves as consubstantial with Shiva and his symbol the lingam, Jayavarman as a Buddhist identified himself with the Buddha and the bodhisattva.”

Apart from the Buddhist symbolism, the Colossal towers in the Bayon also show the complex mythical imageries and architectural symbols which display the artistic achievements of the king’s architects. The next few pictures feature the beautiful bas relief and the colossal buildings in Bayon.


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