Our little exploration at Angkor Thom's Royal Grounds definitely gave us some sweat but one that was really memorable. We actually didn't have any itinerary for our next destination so I suggested to visit the temples I haven't seen yet. And one in particular was located outside the main temples. Checking on the maps, it was 29 km away! Mani had second thoughts but I persisted that it would be a waste not to go there since we were already riding his motorbike so it shouldn't take us long to get there. And he said yes!
So I will bring you with me in this amazing adventure in Banteay Srei or "The Citadel of Women" through these photos and words that I think might not suffice in describing its immense beauty and grace. But nonetheless, I need to share this for it is one of the most sought after temple destination in Cambodia due to its unique architecture and distinct style. So forgive me in advance that this might just be a bit longer compared to my previous blogs but it is definitely worth your time!
WELCOME TO BANTEAY SREI TEMPLE
Our journey starts at the East Gate which was inviting enough for us to enter and be carried over to another ancient world. Going through it, we then walked past ruined galleries and pillars along its 67m causeway. It was evident that this place was already giving off a different feel and look compared to the bigger temples I visited like Ta Prohm, Bayon or Preah Khan.
Banteay Srei has 3 rectangular concentric enclosures despite its relatively small floor area. The East Gopura is part of the third enclosure that protects the temple. Some part of its walls are already torn down. After the third enclosure, we passed the second and first enclosures which are just literally an estimated 3m apart.
All walls are made of bricks which are of laterite materials already in its burnt red orange hues but mostly intact for the third and second enclosures. However, the inner enclosure have already collapsed immediately exposing its hidden jewel to the naked eye of visitors.
Entering the first enclosure brings us to a whole new magical experience. At this point, I was holding my breath as I witnessed Banteay's delightful and impressive detailed carvings on all its structures. Not only the temples seemed to be somewhat miniature in size compared to the colossal temples we've previously visited, its bright dark red color makes it a strong catch to the eyes.
Banteay Srei's Buildings
Apparently, all the structures here are made of red sandstone which is only unique to Banteay Srei. It is said to be of the best quality because of the preserved detailed bas reliefs and buildings which have survived a thousand years! Now, these detailed bas reliefs and structures are the reasons why this temple is referred as the "precious gem of Khmer Art".
There are two libraries on both sides we passed by on our way to the Central Sanctuary which one must take a considerable amount of time to admire. The Northern and Southern Libraries are almost identical but with distinct carvings on their pediments and lintels. Unfortunately, a rope prevents us from further getting up close with the buildings same goes with the central sanctuary and the shrines behind it. You can only observe and contemplate its beauty from afar.
Just past these two libraries awaits the Central Sanctuary made of three towers built on an elevated pedestal or foundation. The tallest in the middle measuring about 10m. Its walls finely decorated with devatas, floral and concentric patterns. It is guarded by two human statues facing the east and human statues with animal heads on the other side. The central tower is connected to a pavilion or shrines at the back.
Banteay Srei's History
Banteay Srei's original name was Tribhuwanamahesvara which means "great lord of the threefold word". Then it was changed to what it is now known for; which translates to Citadel of Women or Citadel of Beauty due to its intricate and delicate bas reliefs that was believed to be carved by Ankorian women during that time.
Built in 967, Banteay Srei was built not by the great kings but commissioned by one of King Rajendravarman's royal counselors/advisors. This temple was primarily dedicated to Siva (God of Destruction). It went into further development during the 11th century. It was then rediscovered in 1914 and a theft incident made this site an eye of interest. Restoration started in the 1930s through a process called anastylosis.
Banteay Srei's Bas Reliefs
Banteay Srei has the most detailed and well-preserved bas reliefs amongst all other temples. Not only are they beautiful but they clearly depict mythological creatures, story and history worth mentioning.
BURNING OF THE KHANDAVA FOREST
This carving illustrates a story from the Mahabharata where Indra rides his three headed elephant to protect the forest through a massive rainfall against the Pandava brothers who wants the forest burned down
SIVA AND KAMADEVA
This carving illustrates Siva seated on Mt. Kailasa with Kamadeva (God of Desire) on his left aiming an arrow at him and Goddess Parvati on Siva's right receiving a beaded necklace. Below Siva are bearded old men followed by animal-head creatures and common people at the lowest.
RAVANA SHAKING MOUNT KAILASA
Siva is sitting on top of Mt. Kailasa with his right foot pressing down the mountain which is being carried or shaken by the ten-headed Ravana. Animals are trying to flee and bearded old men can be seen sitting and praying on the mountain.
KRSNA SLAYING KAMSA
Krsna is slaying his uncle Kamsain in a wrestling arena with other people watching.
A guardian deity half kneeling over a monster known as kala.
OTHER CARVINGS AND SOME DOORWAYS
There are still a lot of carvings depicting Hindu deities and myths that can be seen all around Banteay Srei's structures. Since this temple is small, it takes about an hour or two to really fully immerse yourself in its wonder.
We took two hours exploring Banteay Srei and after our hearts were full, me and mani exited through the west gopura.
If the other famous temples gave you this feeling of masculine power, Banteay Srei is all about delicate beauty and feminine grace. I still couldn't fathom how they were able to make a small scale temple with such exquisite fine carvings.
This early classical 10th century Khmer temple is a must-go destination because of its perfect balance of architecture and decorative art! Thank you for making it all the way here. Hopefully, you were able to enjoy our adventure virtually. See you on my next solo travel series! Keep posted.
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