Banteay Srei – The Citadel of The Beauty
Prasat Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei, a tenth century temple locates about 25 km north of Angkor. Banteay Srei is different from other temples in Angkor area, it’s a unique temple which almost become every visitor’s favorite site. The special attraction of Banteay Srei is the excellent intricate decoration carved in the pinkish sandstone. The charm of Banteay Srei made it become a precious gem and a jewel in Khmer art in which the sandstone relief carvings are among the finest in Khmer art, in invention, richness and execution. Visiting Banteay Srei when the morning sun shines on the temple and its carvings on the pinkish sandstone, is a heavenly beauty.
Banteay Srei was built in 967 in the reign of Rajendravarman II (944-968) and completed just one year before the king died. Banteay Srei was not the royal temple, but its constructor was Yajnavaraha, a Brahman of royal descent who was the spiritual teacher to king Rajandravarman II and king Jayavarman V. The temple is dedicated to Shiva, the trinities deity of Hindu, and there was a Shiva linga named Tribhuvanamahesvara housed in the central sanctuary. After the temple was built, there were settlements around this area, and it has become a small city called Isvarapura.
According to the inscription of this temple, the original name of it is Tribhuvanamahesvara as the name of the Shiva linga. But the temple has got a modern name as Banteay Srei means citadel of the woman or citadel of the beauty.
Architecture Plan of Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is built facing east, rectangular in plan and surrounded by three concentric enclosures and a moat. Entering the temple from the east through a gopura which the fronton of its porch depicted Indra on his three-headed elephant. This is the largest gopura of the temple, the others decrease in size towards the central sanctuary. Passed the east gopura, a causeway of about 67 m long which made of laterite with sandstone boundary stones line on both side. At the middle of the causeway, there are three small long galleries on the left and another one on the right. Visitors can choose to turn left or right to see the carvings of the gallery. On the fronton of the right side gallery, show a carving of Vishnu in his avatar as Narasimha (a human with lion-headed) clawing Hiranyakasipu, an asura who received a bless of lasting life from Brahma. On the left side (the central one), the fronton shows Umamahesvara motif in which Shiva and Uma riding sacred bull, Nandi. The other two galleries at either sides are shorter and have no carvings.
At the end of the causeway visitors arrived the outermost enclosure (third enclosure) made of laterite, measures 95 m by 110 m, with a gopura at the east flanked by lions and another one at the west. On the inner door frame of the east gopura, there are inscriptions. Right in front of this gopura, there are two long galleries on each side of the porch. The north gallery depicted a scene from Ramayana of Viradha arrests Sita.
Crossing the gopura, visitors are inside the second enclosure with a moat separated by broad ground causeway which also have one on the west. Walking through to the west by crossing the moat, there is another gopura of the second enclosure with double-tiered fronton. The second enclosure is 38 m by 42 m and also have a gopura at the west.
Entered the gopura, the innermost brick enclosure can be seen (measured 24 m by 24 m), but most are collapsed. So there are many bricks on the ground. The distance between the second enclosure and the innermost enclosure is only 9 m. And the tiny, exquisite building which can be seen directly ahead, is the innermost east gopura. Almost the space of the second enclosure had contributed to the six long galleries built by laterite around the walls of the enclosure.
The three sanctuary towers stand in a row, close together, in T-shaped platform of 0.9 m high. All the sanctuary towers has an opening porch to the east with the false doors on the other three sides. The central towers is dedicated to Shiva which is higher than the two at both sides. It could be accessed through an antechamber (mandapa). The southern tower is also dedicated to Shiva, while the northern tower is dedicated to Vishnu which is an unusual arrangement. (The three-tower layouts at Phnom Krom and Phnom Bok, dedicated to Shiva at the center, Vishnu to the north, and Brahma to the South).
In front of each tower are guardians with human body but the heads varied from monkey, lion, garuda, and yaksha. However, most of the heads are stolen, and the survived head are copies. In front of the north tower are guardians with garuda heads, the south tower guardians are lion-headed.
Two libraries made of laterite and sandstone locates just a few meters away from the towers. There is a shrine in brick at the west gopura, behind the central towers, contained a statue of Shiva with Uma sitting on his thigh which now in the National Museum, Phnom Penh. The west gopura of the second enclosure also have a fronton depicted a scene from Mahabharata in which Bhima leaps in the air with a stave to strike Duryodhana. The fronton is now also in the National Museum.
Carvings of lintel and fronton of the inner enclosure
East gopura of inner enclosure, east facing fronton carved multi-armed Shiva is dancing, at his feet are a drummer and Kareikkalam-meyar, his disciple. The west facing fronton shows Durga, Shiva’s consort, multi-armed and dancing. Below is a lintel carved Vishnu in the form of horse, Hayagriva, clutching the head of demons.
On the southern library fronton shows asura Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa, all the hermits and animals are run away with frighten, even Uma also holding her husband Shiva with scare. On the west facing fronton, depicted a scene of Kama, God of Love, on the order of Uma, draws an arrow at Shiva to wake him up from meditation.
On the northern library east facing fronton is a scene from Mahabharata where Indra riding his elephant and creating rain to put out a fire in the Khandava forest, created by the god of fire Agni. Krishna and Arjuna (standing on each side in the fronton) on the request of Agni, help to stop the rain by drawing their arrows into the sky. On the west facing fronton is a scene of Krishna kills his uncle Kamsa, a bad king.
The east door of the mandapa, the fronton depicted Indra rides his three-headed elephant and the lintel below shows three simhas. The southern and northern door are show Kubera, God of Wealth.
The south sanctuary, east door fronton shows Shiva and Uma on Nandi, the lintel is Indra on Airavata. On the south door, both fronton and lintel are carved Yama on his buffalo, here he acts as the guardian of the South. On the west door, show Varuna riding hamsa, acts as the guardian of the West. On the north door is Kubera supported by simhas.
The central sanctuary, the south door fronton also shows Yama no his buffalo, the lintel is of two persons with arms around each other. Perhaps this is a scene when Arjuna and Shiva fighting for a wild boar in the forest while Arjuna is waiting to meet Shiva. On the west false door, the fronton is carved Varuna on hamas, the lintel is about Ravana abducting Sita. The north door, the fronton has Kubera on a throne supported by simhas. The lintel is from Ramayana where the two monkey brothers, Valin and Sugriva, fight for the thrown.
The north sanctuary, south door has Yama on the fronton and Krishna killing a demon on the lintel. On the west fronton, Varuna is supported by hamsas, and on the lintel is Vishnu riding his garuda. On the north side, is again Kubera on the fronton, the lintel is about Krishna kills a demon with double-torsoed. At the east door, the fronton is about Krishna kills a demon, the lintel shows Indra on his elephant, but the elephant has only one head.