The Jewel of Khmer Art: The Temple of Banteay Srei, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Friday, April 18, 2014

My room mate in a 6-bed hostel room in Siem Reap was having sex with someone but I was too tired to care about the free show. Besides, they were all covered in a blanket so I really can't see anything. I could have let my imagination run wild but I had to wake up early the next day to go to the last few temples left in my bucket list.

The alarm set off at exactly 7 in the morning. The sun was already up and so was my room mate who was already gone—apparently not a believer of a morning-after cuddle. Downstairs, Da Mao, my tuktuk driver, was already waiting for me and some of my new friends I met at the hostel: Kristof from Germany, Sofia from Sweden, and Lauren from Canada.

Since we already visited the major temples on our first day, the plan was to visit the temples in the outer circuit. Da recommended that we see the temples of Preah Kanh, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup temples first before visiting Banteay Srei (I had never seen too many stones in a span of 2 days in my entire life!). He knew I was dying to see Banteay Srei but he wanted to save the best for last. And, boy, I wasn't disappointed.

A little history of Banteay Srei
Unlike the other temples in Angkor, Banteay Srei was not built by a king and, because of that, it is not considered as a royal temple. It was built in 967 AD by one of King Rajendravarman's counsellors, Yajnavaraha, on a land that was granted to him by the king and was dedicated to the Hindu god, Siva. 

Banteay Srei's Eastern Gopura.

The Jewel of Khmer Art
Banteay Srei is commonly called as the "citadel of women" because of the pink sandstones used to built the temple. Although not as grand as the other temples in terms of size and scale, it makes up for its intricate details carved in its walls and pillars that are simply incomparable to the other temples. 

Note: The sandstones used in Banteay Srei are harder than the ordinary sandstones used in the other temples, which makes it able to withstand the test of time.

Carving of a Hindu deity on top of a kala.

When we reached the temple premises, the first thing that caught my attention was the gopura in the eastern section because of the carvings depicting a half-kneeling Hindu deity sitting on top of a monster known as the kala. The carvings were so intricate that it appeared to be three-dimensional when I looked at it from below. 

Inside the complex, I realized I barely scratched the surface. There were more carvings etched in the three shrines (with the main shrine at the middle dedicated to Shiva) that continue to stand up to this day, cordoned off to prevent its intricate carvings from deteriorating. Each doorway has sculptures that resemble human bodies but with heads that vary from monkey, lion, garuda (mythical bird-man) and yaksha (demon).

One of Banteay Srei's Shrines. 

Da said that the best time to go here is around early to mid morning and shortly after lunch (when people are out for lunch). And he was right. Only a few people, including a group of young Buddhist monks, were there when we visited the temple.

Calling Banteay Srei the "Jewel of Kmher art" is an understatement—she is art personified. The impressive carvings on its walls beg to be photographed, even as the sun mercilessly shined down on me, I absolutely had no regrets missing the free show.

Young Buddhist monks at Banteay Srei.

Banteay Srei's Central Shrine Area.

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