Defining the Jewel of Khmer Art: The Banteay Srei

Bas relief at Banteay Srei

A trip to the Angkor Wat complex demands that one too, must include in their visit the famous and graceful beauty of all Angkor, the Banteay Srei. Considered not to be a royal temple however, it places it own stature as the Jewel of Khmer Art in all of Cambodia for its fine details, carvings on red sandstones and devatas as well as dverapalas adorn its great edifices. This temple is a miniature scale compared to the gargantuan temples of all Angkor Wat complexes yet it captures the imagination of all visitors, tourist and backpackers.

It was a humid 30 minutes tuktuk ride from Angkor complex and in between the trips, I slept while holding on to the side railings of my tuktuk. I arrived at the Banteay Srei an hour past noon and the sun was too mightily shining on the complex. I walked pass the entrance and had the customary ticket punch and then unfolding before me as I walk to it closer and closer is the great Banteay Srei. 

Entrance gate to the Banteay Srei

Phallus at the causeway at Banteay Srei

Banteay refers to the citadel was built by Yajnavaraha, the royal counsellor and the guru of the future King Jayavarman V. Upon the edict of the King, he was granted this rich land on the banks of the upper Siem Reap river. It dates back to as far as 2nd half of the 10th century and was finished a year before King Rajendravarman died. Banteay Srei is surrounded by lush greeneries and in ancient times, surrounded by a village named Isvarapura.

What made this temple famous in the western world was the singular notorious act of theft by 21-year old Frenchman Andre Malraux, later to become Minister of Culture under Charles de Gaule. Malraux was accosted by authorities after he removed four apsara figures from Banteay Srei in 1923, fortunately enough; the stolen apsara figures were recovered however the incident heightened the interests of the world on the heritage and cultural value of Banteay Srei. The temple complex then was renovated in 1931 and in 1936.

Inscriptions at the wall at Banteay Srei

Bas relief of the Kala creature at the Banteay Srei

What I saw in the Banteay Srei is regal and royalty in its greatness and beauty. I read the inscription on the door-frame of the Gopura II as well as those fancy stones lining at the causeway of the Banteay Srei. Consecrated in 22 April 967, the Banteay Srei is also called the “citadel of women” or rather “citadel of beauty”, this is so perhaps because of its exquisite detailing of bas relief on its entire temple.

One thing that captured my attention is the detailed carvings on red sandstone of a “Kala”, a mystical creature representing time and of God Shiva. The intricate detailing of the bas reliefs are great source of artistry and craftsmanship, a genuine jewel of Khmer Art.

The Banteay Srei grounds

Bas relief at the Banteay Srei




Categories: Banteay Srei, Cambodia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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