Banteay Srei Temple
Banteay Srei is the most beautiful temple of Cambodia constructed with pink sandstone which has much better quality than grey sandstone used to build Angkor Wat, Bayon, Taprom and other temples. Pink sandstone is very hard that 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.
Banteay Srei temple was built by a Brahmin Yajnavaraha with his younger brother in 967AD in the middle of 10th century after the death of king Rajendravarman II. Then king Jayavarman V was still very young about 15 years old when his father king Rajendravarman II had died. Thus, all administrative affairs and religious practices include to build temples was under organized by his guru Brahmin Yajnavaraha. Brahmin Yajnavaraha was also a royal blood who was a grandson of king Hurshavarman I.
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 inscriptions on the door piers of its structure, the original name of the temple was Isvarapura which means “City of Shiva”. 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.
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 1970sto the 1980s damaged this temple structure again. Then it was restored again by a Swiss team.
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 the11th 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.
Causeway: The first causeway of Banteay Srei is 67m long, paved with laterite stone. There’re 34columns 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 3000years. 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.