Bayon Temple – The State Temple of Angkor Thom

Prasat Bayon – Face Towers Temple

The face towers of Bayon Temple

In 1177, during the reign of Tribhuvanadityavarman, a king crowned by a rebellion after Yasovarman II, Champa led the army force by sailing through Mekong river, across Tonle Sap Lake and up the Siem Reap river, defeated Tribhuvanadityavarman and controlled Angkor.  In 1181, King Jayavarman VIIsuccessfully led his strong minded armies to gain back Angkor and chased Champa out of the kingdom. The kingdom was again united with the name of Khmer Empire under the reign of King Jayavarman VII. Right after the victory over Champa, King Jayavarman VII started many public constructions through out the country such as roads, rest houses, hospitals, and especially temples which were built to dedicated to the Khmer ancestors and as worship places for his citizens. The temples were built not only in Angkor area, but also other provinces of Cambodia. Some main temples at Angkor built during his reign are Ta Prohm temple, Preah Khan temple, Neak Pean temple, especially Angkor Thom, a new capital with Bayon Temple as the state temple.

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

Bayon temple was built at the late 12th century and the early 13th century in the middle of capital Angkor Thom, in a distance of 1.5km from the four entrances of Angkor Thom. Bayon was built as the state temple and dedicated to Avalokiteshvara of Mahayana Buddhism and it’s the last temple of Angkor period.

Bayon Temple – Taken from the East entrance terrace in Sep 2011

Bayon Temple – View from the north entrance

Bayon was confirmed by many scholars that the temple has gone through several architectural changes and some later additions. The entral sanctuary was originally built on the ground surface, but later it was lift up a terrace of about 35m high. A 4.75m high Buddha was found in the central sanctuary of Bayon, later moved to house in Preah Vihear Seven Sections (ព្រះវិហារ៧ល្វែង) which also located in Angkor Thom complex.

Bayon Temple – Lion guardian at east entrance terrace

The construction plan of Bayon is complicated and seems still in the mystery, especially the four face towers. Many various conclusions from many scholars about the meaning of this towers. Mostly said that the four face towers represent Buddhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Other majority claimed that the Bayon faces represent the face of King Jayavarman VII as his power dispersed to all directions. The towers of the whole temple counted to be 54, and they are said to represent the 54 provinces of Khmer Empire during the reign of King Jayavarman VII which the territory of the kingdom was continuously extended.

Bayon Temple – Entrance with Lion guardians and naga balustrades

 Architecture Plan

Bayon temple was built with three separate levels, the first and second levels contain galleries featuring bas-reliefs. The east entrance is the the main entrance to the temple which is a broad two-tiered terrace, 72m long guarded by lions, leading to the East gopura of the outer enclosure or the first level. However, some visitors prefer to enter Bayon from the North entrance after their returning path from the Elephant Terrace, Baphuon Temple, and other within Angkor Thom complex.

The first level is 156m long and 141m wide, grounded by gallery with four corner pavilions, and four cruciform gopuras on the north-south and east-west axes. The gallery was originally roofed. Two libraries in the first level ground, one in north-east and another one in south-east.

The second level or inner enclosure measured to 80m long and 70m wide. The gallery of bas-reliefs in this level has face-towers in each corner and four gopuras on the central axes.

At the third level there are a series of chambers with towers at each corner. The area is somehow confusing due to passageways being walled up, visitors may find themselves walking in a maze. The central sanctuary is circular, which is uncommon in Khmer art, with 25m in diameter and reaches a height of 43m above ground level. At this level visitors are surrounded with face-towers, some on the gopuras, some on the corners, and even the free standing alone on the upper terrace. Visitors could choose to take picture of the Bayon face-towers from any angle with any face that you feel most welcome to you.

Bayon Temple – Dancing Apsara in pairs, carved on the pillars.

The Outer Bas-reliefs

The bas-reliefs of Bayon are mostly depicted about daily life activities of the citizens during Angkor period, which show the prosperous life of Angkorian during that time. The historical scenes with battles and processions also being a part of the outer gallery. However, there are also bas-reliefs about mythical scenes on the inner gallery.

Bayon Temple – The north east outer gallery leaving only the pillars, taken from the north entrance

Begin your visit at Bayon from the long terrace with lion guardians and naga balustrades toward East entrance. As you stand at the beginning of the terrace, the face-towers of Bayon appear as a wall surface which all the towers seems has no spaces in between, like they are carved in a single wall. As you walk closer, the towers begin to resolve themselves. The entrance gopura is originally roofed, but now it is partly collapsed, in front stand Buddhist temple guardians, Dvarapala, at both side of the entrance. Their head were stolen. Right at the entrance, notice the lightly carving of dancing Apsaras on the pillars, they are usually in pairs.

Passing the entrance gopura, visitors arrived at the 4.5m outer bas-reliefs gallery. Start your journey with bas-reliefs by turning left. The outer gallery divided into three horizontal panels, depict a military procession with banners, warriors are armed with shields and spears, have short hair and wear a loincloth, accompany them by musicians, moving from left to right. King Jayavarman VII and the commanders of the troops mounted on elephant with a number of multi-tiers parasols and insignias. At the end of the procession, military food are carry on the covered wooden carts. At the lower tier, Chinese are identified by their goatee beards and exotic headdresses.

Bayon Temple – Outer Gallery, The military procession of Khmer army

South-east Corner Pavilion

At the south-east corner pavilion, the bas-reliefs are incomplete. There is a temple with three sanctuary towers, the central one taller than the others and placed a linga. To the right of the towers are three uncarved blocks that probably intended to carry the figure of high ranking person, because of the parasols and banners signs of rank. There are ladies carrying fans and betel-nut container lining the steps to approach this unknown figure. Underneath the stairs is a superb kendi (drinking vessel).

South Gallery

By now visitors arrived the south gallery, which features the most interesting and well known bas reliefs of Bayon. It begins at the upper half of the wall with a palace scene, attendants surrounding the ruler. Below is a historical scene of the naval battle in 1177 on Tonle Sap between Khmer and Champa. The Khmer armies are identified with no head covering, and the Chams are wearing hats in the shape of inverted lotus. The warships of both sides manned by oarsmen, while the warriors armed with spears and shield. The action of the battle is shown by the bodies being thrown overboard, the warrior fall into the water and being eaten by crocodiles. On the bottom row are scenes of daily life along the shores of the Tonle Sap: two women catching lice from the hair, mother playing with her children, a woman is giving birth and writhing in pain, a hunter aims a crossbow at a buffalo, people playing board game on boats, a scene of cockfight, fishermen on the Tonle Sap. Following, the princesses surrounded by their suitors, wrestles, sword fighters, chess players.

Further along the gallery, again the battle between Khmer and Champa: the Chams arrive in boats and disembark, the battle on land with the Khmers, disguised as winning. Then the king in his palace, celebrating their victory.

West Gallery

Many carvings in this section are unfinished. At the lower tier: warriors with their commanders, mounted on elephant, crossing the forests with mountains behind. Near the center, two hermit climb the tree to escape from a tiger. Above, are scenes of temple construction: worker drag a block of sandstone, other carry materials, grinding and polishing sandstone. Beyond the door, scenes of civil war: crowds of people threatening others armed and ready to fight. Further on there is fighting between Khmer combatants.

In the second part of the west gallery is a scene of hand-to-hand combat in which warriors armed with clubs harass others who protect themselves with shields. Remarkably, a large fish swallowing a small deer. Beyond the door is a procession, a ruler rides on an elephant, surrounded by many parasols. An inscription near by says, ‘the king then withdraws to the forest to celebrate Indrabhiseka the coronation’.

North Gallery

Only the lower part of the wall has been carved. It begins with entertainments of Angkor period: there are fencers, a tight-rope walker, wrestles, on the lower level musicians, an acrobat supporting three children, a juggler spinning a wheel with his feet. All these are presided over by the king, seated in his court. There is a line of animals, including rhinoceros, pig, rabbit, deer, puffer fish, and lobster.

At the other end, in the shade of trees, hermits sitting in meditation. By the river banks, a group of women carry gifts. Near the door, more fighting between Khmers and Chams.

The wall of the second part of the north gallery is almost entirely collapsed. On the remains are more scenes of fighting with Chams. These show the Cham troops attack in ranks from the west, and the Khmers retreat to the mountain. This could be about the battle in 1177, when the Cham took Angkor, before king Jayavarman’s successes in 1181.

Bayon Temple – A commander on his chariot, throwing his spear.

North-west Corner Pavilion

Scenes of Khmer warriors and elephants on the march.

East Gallery

The battle between the Khmers and the Chams continues, both army converging on the center, where elephants seem to be participating in the battle: one uses its trunk try to tear out the tusk of an opposing elephant. The Khmers are shown to be winner.

Bayon Temple – Second level enclosure

The Inner Bas-reliefs

The inner gallery are separated into small sections, because of its construction with wide three-doored gopuras. The depict subjects are from Hindu mythology which has long been popular for Angkorian temples. Enter the inner gallery from the east, turn left and start walking with the reliefs on your right.

East Gallery

Between the two towers, there are some scenes of the life of hermits with animals in the forest. Shiva as an ascetic, one arm raised, stands in a doorway. At left he is sitting indoors, then descending a mountain with an acolyte. Facing east, a palace scene with a ruler, wives and members of the court, entertaining a royal party with dancers, singers and musicians.

Small gallery next to the south tower, Shiva as an ascetic, seated in a palace with hermits. In the middle, hermits pray before a figure seated in a cave, hermit pick up lotus flowers. A hunter fires an arrow at a fleeing deer.

On the right of the door, princesses and their servants in a palace. To the left, Cham army on the march with the Khmer leaders, there is also a king riding an elephant.

South-east Corner

Warriors march in procession, their commander mounted on elephant.

South Gallery

Another military marching, then a combat between two princes followed by a palace scene. Next, a figure sitting on the summit of a mountain; a garuda and a giant fish at the base of Mount Meru with ascetics and animals. At the end, there are two palaces, sitting the rulers’ wives. Princesses in their room, looking in a mirror, combing her hair.

Between the East and the central towers, a group of related scenes telling a story of Pradyumna, the child of Krishna and Rukmini, who is thrown into the sea by a demon, eaten by fish and saved by fishermen when they open up the fish. The story starts in the middle of the wall and reads from left to right.

On the upper part, three princesses kneel before a figure seated on a throne, surrounded by fans, parasols, and Apsaras flying overhead.

In the last part of the south gallery: a mountain with wild animals, a tiger devouring a man. Shiva in his celestial palace surrounded by his followers. ascetic along the banks of pond. In the center, four-armed Vishnu surrounded by flying Apsaras.

West Gallery

Bayon Temple – Devata on west inner gallery wall

Four-armed Vishnu mounted on a garuda and subduing demon. Between the towers, Vishnu superimposed on scene of the construction of a temple with workers moving stone block. Then the scene of daily life: two people playing chess in boat, a cockfight. Shiva in a palace with Vishnu on his right; an ascetic meditating in a grotto and swimming amongst lotus; a bird carries a fish in its mouth.

After the center of the west gallery: a procession of warriors on horseback with commanders sitting in chariots pulled by horses. The most interesting relief in the next area is about the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, with the present of Hanuman assists the gods on the side of the tail.

Bayon Temple – the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, showing the jar of amrita, near by is Vishnu in human form instructs the churning process. Next to the jar is the turtle head, Kurma, a avata of Vishnu. West inner gallery

North Gallery

In this gallery, more depicts of Hindu Gods: Dancing Shiva with ten arms, and also the present of Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesha, Rahu. At between two towers, again Shiva on his bull, Nandi, surrounded by ascetics and women. A scenes similar at Angkor Wat, which the God of Love Kama shoots an arrow at Shiva, during his meditation, on the order of Uma. Also, a lovely scene of Shiva and Uma on Nandi appear here. After is a episode from the Mahabharata of Shiva granting a favour to Arjuna.

On the left of the door: Ravana shaking mount Kailasa; servants with offerings; ascetics meditating; Shiva blesses his worshipers; a king leads a march follow by army with elephants and horses, musicians, princesses in palanquins and an oxen cart.

East Gallery

Military procession with musicians, foot soldiers framed by horsemen and a chariot drawn by horses; a six-wheels chariot mounted on sacred geese; the ark of sacred fire; a king carrying a bow mounted on an elephant; a man saluted to the feet of Shiva for blessing before going to battle.

At between two towers: the Legend of the Leper King. The king fights against a giant serpent. Next, he orders his servants off and they descend a staircase. Women surround the sick king and examine his hands. According to a legend, is that he contracted leprosy from the serpent’s venom, and the last scenes show the progression of the illness.

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