Ban­teay Srei Tem­ple

Cambodia Insight - - CONTENTS -

Although it’s out of the way, true tem­ple buffs won’t want to miss Ban­teay Srei, a beau­ti­ful 10th-cen­tury Hindu tem­ple com­plex about 23 miles north of Angkor Wat.

The tem­ple con­sists of low walls sur­round­ing peaked struc­tures of deep red sand­stone. Ban­teay Srei means “Ci­tadel of Women,” or “Ci­tadel of Beauty”, and it is said that the re­liefs on this tem­ple are so del­i­cate that they could only have been carved by the hand of a woman. Oth­ers be­lieve the name is prob­a­bly re­lated to the in­tri­cacy of the bas re­lief carv­ings found on the walls and the tiny di­men­sions of the build­ings them­selves. The well-pre­served re­lief carv­ings on the cen­tral build­ings de­pict scenes from an­cient Hindu tales.

The build­ings them­selves are minia­ture in scale, un­usu­ally so when mea­sured by the stan­dards of Angko­rian con­struc­tion. These fac­tors have made the tem­ple ex­tremely pop­u­lar with tourists, and have led to its be­ing widely praised as a “pre­cious gem”, or the “jewel of Kh­mer art.”

His­tory of Ban­teay Srei

Com­pleted in 967, Ban­teay Srei was the only ma­jor tem­ple at Angkor not built for the king; in­stead it was con­structed by one of king Ra­jen­dravar­man’s coun­sel­lors, Ya­jnyava­hara. The tem­ple was pri­mar­ily ded­i­cated to Shiva (the south­ern build­ings and the cen­tral tower were de­voted to him, but the north­ern ones to Vishnu). It lies near the hill of Ph­nom Dei 25 km (15 miles) north­east of the main group of tem­ples, where the cap­i­tal of the time (Yashod­hara­pura) was lo­cated.

The tem­ple was sub­ject to fur­ther ex­pan­sion and re­build­ing work in the 11th cen­tury. At some point it came un­der the con­trol of the king and

had its orig­i­nal ded­i­ca­tion changed; an in­scrip­tion of the early 12th cen­tury records the tem­ple be­ing given to the priest Di­varaka­pan­dita and be­ing reded­i­cated to Shiva. It re­mained in use at least un­til the 14th cen­tury.

The tem­ple’s orig­i­nal name was Trib­hu­vanama­h­es­vara — “great lord of the three­fold world” — named as usual after the cen­tral im­age (in this case a Shaivite linga). The town of Is­vara­pura was cen­tred on the tem­ple.

The tem­ple was re­dis­cov­ered only in 1914, and was the sub­ject of a cel­e­brated case of art theft when An­dré Mal­raux stole four de­vatas in 1923 (he was soon ar­rested and the fig­ures re­turned).

The in­ci­dent stim­u­lated in­ter­est in the site, which was cleared the fol­low­ing year, and in the 1930s Ban­teay Srei was re­stored in the first im­por­tant use of anasty­lo­sis at Angkor. Un­til the dis­cov­ery of the foun­da­tion stela in 1936, it had been as­sumed that the ex­treme dec­o­ra­tion in­di­cated a later date than was in fact the case.

Un­for­tu­nately, the tem­ple has been rav­aged by pil­fer­ing and van­dal­ism. When to­ward the end of the 20th cen­tury au­thor­i­ties re­moved some orig­i­nal stat­ues and re­placed them with con­crete repli­cas, loot­ers took to at­tack­ing the repli­cas. A statue of Shiva and his shakti Uma, re­moved to the Na­tional Mu­seum in Ph­nom Penh for safe­keep­ing, was as­saulted in the mu­seum it­self.

To pre­vent the site from water dam­age, the joint Cam­bo­dian-swiss Ban­teay Srei Con­ser­va­tion Pro­ject in­stalled a drainage sys­tem be­tween 2000 and 2003. Mea­sures were also taken to pre­vent dam­age to the tem­ples walls be­ing caused by nearby trees.

Ma­te­ri­als and style

Ban­teay Srei is built largely of a hard red sand­stone that can be carved like wood. Brick and la­t­erite were used only for the en­clo­sure walls and some struc­tural el­e­ments. The tem­ple is known for the beauty of its sand­stone lin­tels and ped­i­ments.

A ped­i­ment is the tri­an­gu­lar space above a rec­tan­gu­lar door­way or open­ings. At Ban­teay Srei,

ped­i­ments are rel­a­tively large in com­par­i­son to the open­ings below, and take a sweep­ing gabled shape. For the first time in the his­tory of Kh­mer ar­chi­tec­ture, whole scenes of mytho­log­i­cal sub­ject matter are de­picted on the large ped­i­ments.

A lin­tel is a hor­i­zon­tal beam span­ning the gap be­tween two posts. Some lin­tels serve a struc­tural pur­pose, serv­ing to sup­port the weight of the su­per­struc­ture, while oth­ers are purely dec­o­ra­tive in pur­pose. The lin­tels at Ban­teay Srei are beau­ti­fully carved, ri­valling those of the 9th cen­tury Preah Ko style in qual­ity.

Note­wor­thy dec­o­ra­tive mo­tifs in­clude the kala (a toothy monster sym­bolic of time), the guardian dvara­pala (an armed pro­tec­tor of the tem­ple) and de­vata (demi-god­dess), the false door, and the colonette. In­deed, dec­o­ra­tive carv­ings seem to cover al­most ev­ery sur­face.

Ac­cord­ing to pi­o­neer­ing Angkor scholar Mau­rice Glaize, “Given the very par­tic­u­lar charm of Ban­teay Srei – its re­mark­able state of preser­va­tion and the ex­cel­lence of a near per­fect or­na­men­tal tech­nique – one should not hes­i­tate, of all the mon­u­ments of the Angkor group, to give it the high­est pri­or­ity.” At Ban­teay Srei, he writes, “the work re­lates more closely to the art of the gold­smith or to carv­ing in wood than to sculp­ture in stone”

What to See at Ban­teay Srei

Ban­teay Srei’s style is a mix of the ar­chaic and the in­no­va­tive. Although Ban­teay Srei’s col­oration is unique, many other shades of sand­stone were even­tu­ally to be­come the norm.

Ped­i­ments are large in com­par­i­son to en­trances, in a sweep­ing gabled shape. For the first time whole scenes ap­pear on the ped­i­ments, while the lin­tels with cen­tral fig­ures and kalas on looped gar­lands look back­wards. The guardian dvara­palas and the colonettes are also old-fash­ioned. Dec­o­ra­tion cov­er­ing al­most ev­ery avail­able sur­face is deeply sculpted and fig­ures rounded. The style is also seen in parts of Preah Vi­hear.

Like most Kh­mer tem­ples, Ban­teay Srei is ori­en­tated to­wards the east. The fourth eastern gopura is all that re­mains of Is­vara­pura’s outer wall, ap­prox­i­mately 500 m square, which may have been made of wood.

The gopura’s eastern ped­i­ment shows In­dra, who was associated with that di­rec­tion. A 67 m cause­way with the re­mains of cor­ri­dors on ei­ther side con­nects the gopura with the third en­clo­sure. North and south of this cause­way are gal­leries ori­en­tated north-south (one to the north and three to the south half­way along, with a fur­ther one on each side in front of the third gopura).

The third en­clo­sure is 95 by 110 m, with gop­uras in the la­t­erite wall to the east and west. Nei­ther ped­i­ment of the eastern gopura is in situ: one is on the ground nearby, while the other is in Paris’s Guimet Mu­seum. Most of the area within the third en­clo­sure is oc­cu­pied by a moat (now dry) di­vided into two parts by cause­ways to the east and west. The suc­ceed­ing sec­ond en­clo­sure has a la­t­erite wall of 38 by 42 m.

The brick in­ner en­clo­sure wall, a 24 m square, has col­lapsed, leav­ing the first gopura iso­lated, while the la­t­erite gal­leries which filled the sec­ond en­clo­sure (one each to north and south, two each to east and west) have largely col­lapsed. The eastern ped­i­ment of the east gopura shows Shiva Nataraja. The cen­tral part of the west gopura was en­closed to form a sanc­tu­ary, with ac­cess be­ing to ei­ther side.

Be­tween the gop­uras are the build­ings of the in­ner en­clo­sure: a li­brary in each of the south­east and north­east cor­ners, and in the cen­tre the sanc­tu­ary set on a T-shaped plat­form that is 0.9 m high.

Be­sides be­ing the most ex­trav­a­gantly dec­o­rated parts of the tem­ple, these have also been the most suc­cess­fully re­stored (helped by the dura­bil­ity of their sand­stone and their small scale). As of 2005, the en­tire first en­clo­sure was off-lim­its to vis­i­tors, as was the south­ern half of the sec­ond en­clo­sure.

The li­braries are of brick, la­t­erite and sand­stone. The south li­brary’s ped­i­ments both fea­ture Shiva: to the east Ra­vana shakes Mount Kailash, with Shiva on the sum­mit; the west ped­i­ment has the god of love, Kama, shoot­ing an ar­row at him.

On the north li­brary’s east ped­i­ment, In­dra cre­ates rain to put out a for­est fire started by Agni to kill a naga liv­ing in the woods; Kr­ishna and his brother aid Agni by fir­ing ar­rows to stop the rain. On the west ped­i­ment is Kr­ishna killing his un­cle Kamsa.

Glaize wrote that the four li­brary ped­i­ments, “rep­re­sent­ing the first ap­pear­ance of tym­pa­nums with scenes, are works of the high­est or­der. Su­pe­rior in com­po­si­tion to any which fol­lowed, they show true crafts­man­ship in their mod­el­ling in a sk­il­ful blend of styli­sa­tion and re­al­ism.”

The sanc­tu­ary is en­tered from the east by a door­way only 1.08 m in height: in­side is an en­trance cham­ber (or man­dapa) with a cor­belled brick roof, then a short cor­ri­dor lead­ing to three tow­ers to the west: the cen­tral tower is the tallest, at 9.8 m.

Glaize notes the im­pres­sion of del­i­cacy given the tow­ers by the an­te­fixes on each of their tiers. The six stair­ways lead­ing up to the plat­form were each guarded by two kneel­ing stat­ues of hu­man fig­ures with an­i­mal heads; most of those now in place are repli­cas, the orig­i­nals hav­ing been stolen or re­moved to mu­se­ums.

En­trance to Ban­teay Srei tem­ple

An­other in­tri­cate carv­ing

The com­bat be­tween Vāli and Su­grīva as de­picted on the western gopura

One of sev­eral fasle door­ways

The guardian Dvara­pala

Carv­ing of a De­vata

Kala, a myth­i­cal crea­ture rep­re­sen­ta­tive

of time and of the god Siva.

Aerial view of Ban­taey Srei

Ban­taey Srei

Show­ing the scale of Ban­taey Srei

De­tail of a carv­ing

Man/mon­key stat­ues­cred-des­ti­na­­bo­dia/angkor-ban­teay-srei­teay_s­rei

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