Banteay Srei Temple
Banteay Srei Temple

Date:                               Built in late tenth century (967)
Religion:                         Hinduism
King:                                Rajendravarman II (944-968)
Posthumous name:    Sivaloka

Banteay Srei is the most beautiful temple of Cambodia constructed with pink sandstone which has much better quality than gray sandstone used to build Angkor Wat, Bayon, Taprom and other temples. Pink sandstone is veryhardthat makes the carving of Banteay Srei still very exquisite although it’s more than 1000 years old. Banteay Srei temple is considered as a jewel of art of Khmer civilization. Most visitors feel in deep appreciation with its special workmanship.
King Rajendravarman II died one year after he had started to build this beautiful temple. Then king Jayavarman V, who was his 15 year old son too young to complete his father’s project, so Yajnavaraha and his younger brother who were king’s teachers played a great role to manage this temple construction.

The intact inscription tells us that, Isvarapura, which means the home of god Shiva,was the original name of this temple. The local people renamed this temple as Banteay Srei which means a ‘Women Temple’because Cambodian culture praises women than men and this temple also has fine carvings as women beauty.

Main entrance:
The first and the main entrance of Banteay Srei temple locates to the east. It has very magnificent carvings.
Pediment:  its pediment has Indra’s figure in the middle. Indra was a god of rain and a king of heaven.He was always carried by a three-headed elephant.
Kala: below the elephant, there’s a figure of a demon head called Kala who was a monster in Hindu mythology. It was normally decorated over the temple doorway as a guardian.
Frame: The frame of this pediment was decorated with Makara that was a Hindu mythical sea monster which had similar body to snack’s, but it has a lion head and sometimes it has an elephant trunk as well.
Naga: at the end of this pediment, there’re three-headed Nagas, appearing from the mouth of Makara.
Octagon columns: Near the door frame, there’re octagonal columns decorated with fancy carvings, supporting the pediment.
Wooden roof: This entrance structure originally had wooden roof, because in early Angkor time the ancient Khmer architecture didn’t find technique to build stone roof yet. The stone dome roof of the ancient Khmer architecture just appeared in the 11th century.
Windows: There’re some windows in this structure. Each of them has five window bars while the window of Angkor Wat has seven window bars.

The first causeway of Banteay Srei is 67m long, paved with laterite stone. There’re 34 columns on each side. Along this causeway, there’re long halls, one on the right and another one on the left. Today, these buildings only have some sandstone pillars, and laterite wall, since their wooden roofs have gone. These buildings were shrines used to pray by Brahmins.

The northern shrine:
This shrine was used to pray by Brahmins, twice a month, during full moon and new moon times. Today, this building has only some sandstone pillars, and laterite wall, since its wooden roof has gone.
Pediment: Its pediment has beautiful carvings, about a famous Hindu myth where Narashimha was killing a demon called Hiranyakashipu by tearing his chest. Narashimha was a half human and a half lion and he was Vishnu’s fourth reincarnation, who came to kill a demon king called Hiranyakashipu.This legend began when Hirayasa who was Hiranyakashipu’s older brother, tried to kill Phumidevi, the god of earth, by sinking the earth into the ocean. Vishnu appeared and took a form as a Boar called Vihara to help the god of earth and killed Hiranyasa. Hiranyakashipu promised to take a revenge on Vishnu for his brother. Then he went to Mt, Mandara to upgrade his power by standing with only one leg for 3000 years. After doing meditation for 3000 years, he became the strongest. Brahma appeared to ask him to stop his meditating because it made too strong power and shook the three worlds. Brahma blessed Hiranyakashipu immortal life. He would not die in the day or at night, not die outdoor or indoor, would not be killed by man or by the beast, and would not be killed by weapons such as sword, disc or trident. after he had been blessed by Brahma, Hiranyakashipu conquered the three worlds and occupied as a tyrant. Vishnu was smart. He appeared in a form of a man with lion head at down and he used lion claws to kill the demon at the door frame. A bad demon king was killed finally.
Lion with elephant trunk: at the end of this pediment, there’s also a lion carving with elephant trunk coming out from Makara’s mouth.

The southern shrine: The northern shrine which was used with the same to purpose to the one we have just seen.
Pediment: its pediment has Shiva’s figure with his wife, Pavati, ridding on a bull called Nandin. This Hindu legend began when Shiva first met his wife. One day when Shiva was meditating on Kailasa Mountain, he saw Pavati was falling down from the heaven. Suddenly, Shiva used only one hair string to save her life. Both of them fell in love and then Shiva married her as one of his nine wives.
Kala head: below the bull, there’s Kala head again,
Garudas and Nagas: at the end of the pediment, there’re figures of Garudas and Nagas appearing from Makara’s mouth.

Second enclosing:
the second enclosing wall of this temple measures 110m by 90m.
Moat: there’s amoat running along the wall surrounding the main shrine. 
Plan:  the ancient Khmer temples had similar plan. For example, each temple has the entrance, a causeway, a moat surrounding the temple complex so on. However, of course, the special style of each temple is completely different.
Previous condition: when Banteay Srei was discovered, most of its structures had completely collapsed and overgrown by trees. A French soldier who worked in the geography department of the French colony discovered Banteay Srei temple in 1914 when he explored into the jungle of Angkor Archeological Park. Ten years later, after they had known its location, Mr Henri Marchal, a French architect in the Angkor Conservation Department, was sent to study Anastylosist system from Dutch architects who were restoring Borobudur temple in Indonesia. Anastylosis is a Greek word and a restoration method without using new material and without new carvings.When Mr. Henri Machal and his teams were working here, they were often attacked by Khmer Isarak who struggled to fight against the French colonialism. Luckily, they restored Banteay Srei successfully, after they’d spent 10 years of the project. Unfortunately, the war from the 1970s to the 1980s damaged this temple structure again. Then it was restored again by a Swiss team.

The second entrance: There’re inscriptions on its door frames which were written by a Hindu priest, Yajnavaraha. These inscriptions tell us the date of the temple building, the king and his religion, ritual ceremonies with the sacred flame, holy water for the people in the whole kingdom, and also about Shiva’Linga and his wife’s Yoni. In the center of this structure, there’s a sandstone Yoni which still stands in the original spot, but Shiva’s Linga on the top has gone.

The Third entance:
This structure was designed with double doors. Its towers have a unique style that we haven’t seen in Angkor Wat, Bayon and other temples at all. At the end of the pediment, there’re beautiful spiral carvings like conch shell. On the top, there’s a carving in a form diamond with flame. Unfortunately, the carving in a form diamond with flame of the first gate was stolen in 1993. The lintel of the inner tower has carving about Laksmei. She was a Goddess of Beauty, good fortune, and also a chief divine dancer. She was being blessed with holy water by two white elephants in the cleaning ceremony before she was transferred by Garuda to get married with Vishnu, after she had just emerged from the sea of milk.

Central area: There’re rectangular buildings, built of laterite, surrounding the central shrine. There’s a Bull statue kneeling and facing to the central shrine.
In the front of this Bull statue, there’s the fourth entrance structure. Its lintel hascarvings about Shiva’s dancing. Shiva danced to bring good luck to the universe, especially to rotate the world, so that he could be able to control the fates of all creatures of the universe. Shiva would destroy every bad fate happening to any creature, and then he ordered the new and good prosperous fate to happen. There’re two libraries which are still standing which were built of laterite, pink sandstone, wood and brick. These libraries have blind doors to the east while the real doors are facing west opposite the temple shrines which are facing east.

Northern library:
The northern library has delicate carvings about Mahabarata which is a famous Hindu myth. On the top of the pediment, there’s a figure of Indra who was a god of Rain and a king of heaven, ridding on a three headed elephant Aravata. This legend began when Angi who was the god of fire, fired the Khandava forest for his starvation and to upgrade his power. Indra was sending rainwater down to the earth to put out a fire. Agni was very angry with Indra who was putting out his fire.He asked two heroes, Krisna and Arjuna, who were walking through the forest to help him to stop Indra’s rainwater. We could see a lot of wild animals who were scared and running away as well as the birds.On the right, Krisna who had four arms and who was Vishnu’s eighth reincarnation was standing on a chariot, carrying a disc as weapon.  Ajuna was also standing on another chariot on the left, carrying a crossbow. Both of them agreed to help Agni and then Ajuna used his crossbow to shoot rainwater of Indra while Krisna used his disc to clear the sky for Agni to burn the forest. Even only drop of the rainwater could not fall down to the earth at all.Indra gave up and the fire ate the whole forest.
The west pediment of north library: the west pediment of the north library also has carvings about Mahabaratta. It’s a short scenewhere Krisna who was a hero of the story was killing Kamsa, his uncle, to take a revenge for his parents. Krisna was capturing his uncle in a room. Dozens of Kamsa’s wives were being shocked, then Krisna through the death body of Kamasa down stair.we could see his concubines weeping and mourning.
South library: The south library comprises beautiful carvings about Shiva’s legend.
Eatern Pediment: This legend began when Ravana who was a demon king shook Mt Kalasa where was Shiva’s home. In the center of the below part of the pediment, we could see a demon king with 10 faces and 20 arms. He was shaking the mountain to disturb Shiva’s meditating on the top because he was very jealous to Shiva’s power. Brahmins and wild animals were shocked; as they thought the earthquake was shaking the mountain where they were living.  Only lord Shiva who knew what was happening. To help the creatures especially Pavati, his wife who was holding him, form being Scared, Shiva just pressed his toe down with great power on the demon’s head. Because of Shiva’s great power, Ravana could not be able to hold and shake the mountain anymore, and then the mountain fell down to crush him. Ravana couldn’t move at all. He begged Shiva to let him free as he promised he would not come to disturb Shiva for 1000 years. Shiva agreed and kindly offered a sacred sword to Ravana. From then, Shiva felt safety to do his meditation.
Western pediment: on the top, Shiva was sitting in the middle and he was giving rosary to Pavarti who is on the left, and Kamashutra, a god of love, was carrying a bow shooting on the right side. This legend began when Shiva heavily focused on meditating to help the worlds from evil spirits and he had forgotten to take care of his wife for many years. Kamashutra who was Shiva’s son, used a crossbow with an arrow of love made of 1000 different kind of flowers to shoot Shiva’s heart to make him aroused ( sexual feeling ). Because of the arrow of love, Shiva was handing a rosary to Pavati as he would not meditate anymore, and he wanted to make love with wife again by Kamashutra’s request. Below that, there’re carvings of Shiva’s followers discussing good and funny stories.

Apsara carvings adorned the towers are beautiful and unique.  They show their beauties with sway standing different from the straight standing of Apsara figures of Angkor Wat, Bayon.
The three towers: The main shrine of Banteay Srei was designed with three towers symbolizing the three principle Hindu gods.
The middle tower: the middle shrine was dedicated to Shiva. It originally had a gold Linga and a gold Yoni sculpture in it. Its doorways were guarded by men statues in an action of kneeling.
Left Tower: the north shrine was dedicated to Vishnu. It originally had a Vishnu statue. its doorways used to be guarded by Garuda statues and by half man, half lion statues in an action of kneeling.
Right Tower: The Brahma shrine to the south originally had a Brahma statue.
In 1923 before the restoration took place one year, Mr, Andre Malreaux ,a young French who later became a very famous minister of culture of France, had brought his wife Clara and his friend Mr. Claud to steal four Apsara sculptures from the central shrines. Later, they were arrested in PP and were sent to the jail in Cambodia for one week until he agreed to return those sculptures. Fortunately, Mr. Henri Marchal, the French who restored this temple could bring those adorable Apsaras to put in the original spots.
West entrance: The west entrance of Banteay Srei has amazing carvings about Ramayana. There’retwo monkeys fighting against each other. They were brothers. An older monkey called Balin and a younger one called Sokriva. on the right, Rama was shooting Balin with his magical crossbow as Sokriva had promised he would send monk troops to help Rama to fight the demons if Rama helped to kill his older brother and after he was crowned as monkey king.

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