Let me start with the most amazing temple I have ever set eyes on…Banteay Srei.
Banteay Srei is on the outskirts of Siem Reap and it takes about an hour to reach there. As we drove through the countryside, our guide (the ever smiling, talented Ratanakeath!), was reminiscing about the atrocities of the war and its continuing impact, especially concerning the land-mines. The region had seen the worst deluge due to Khmer Rouge. The land was extensively mined and has been responsible for the death and maiming of countless Cambodians. Midway to Banteay Srei, there is a small Cambodian Land Mine Museum. It houses the collection of land mines which have been deactivated by a remarkable man, Aki Ra. He was a child soldier with the Khmer Rouge and was responsible for laying countless mines in the area. After the war was over, having witnessed the havoc created by the mines, he began de-mining the area with rudimentary tools, including just a stick!
When we reached Banteay Srei, it was unlike any of the other temple environs we had visited. The whole place was beautifully landscaped with an aesthetically designed visitors centre replete with state of art displays and information about the temple and its restoration.
At first glance, Banteay Srei is not as impressive or imposing as Angkor Wat. What you see is a group of peaked structures of deep red stone, encircled by low slung walls. But as you enter the portals of the temple, you are awestruck with its immense beauty.
The Banteay Srei comprises of four enclosures encircled by a moat with blossoming water lilies. Within the fourth enclosure (the most outer one) is a walkway leading to the main Eastern entrance. The walkway was lined by galleries on either side, of which most of the sandstone pillars are still standing. Both pediments and lintels on the galleries contain very finely carved ornamentations. Among them are a depiction of the abduction of Sita, Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata and Varuna.
The third enclosure consists of a wall that enclosed a moat, which is now dry.
Within the second enclosure are two library buildings opening to the West. The false doors in these two libraries are beautifully carved. The pediments of both libraries are embellished with carvings of mythological stories.
One of the pediments on the library to the right of the entrance shows a magnificent depiction of the burning of the Khandava forest, a story from the Mahabharata. According to the story, the fire god Agni wanted to burn the Kandhava Forest because of a stomach ailment. Disguised as a brahmin, he goes to Arjuna, who is one of the Pandavas, and makes a request that he is hungry and needs to be satiated. Since Arjuna could not refuse a request from a brahmin, he agrees to Agni’s request. Agni then reveals himself and tells Krishna that he is hungry and the only way he can satiate his hunger is to help him consume the Khandava Forest by letting him burn it. Arjuna reluctantly agrees to help him.
The Kandhava Forest was also the home of Takshaka, the king of nagas (snakes) and Maya, the architect of asuras. When Agni starts the fire, Takshaka was not in the forest. Because Takshaka’s family is inside the forest, he begs his friend Indra to help them to escape the fire. Indra agrees and uses his power to bring rain on the forest to douse the fire. Arjuna stops the rain by creating a layer of arrows. Krishna helps him by staying on the other side of the forest. Agni then consumes the forest. The story ends with Takshaka’s son Avasena escaping the forest and Maya seeking asylum from Arjuna.
This is one of the most beautiful and detailed bas-reliefs in the temple. As you can see in the image, Indra is on the top bringing down the rain. Arjuna on the left is firing arrows to stop the rain. Between the forest and Indra, there is a layer of arrows created by Arjuna. On the right is Krishna, who is holding his signature Sudharshana Chakra, helping Arjuna. Between Arjuna and Krishna, there are animals,Takshaka’s family, and Maya and other asuras, who are trying to escape the fire.
Another carving shows a scene of Ravana lifting Mount Kailash. Ravana, the King of Lanka depicted with ten heads and twenty arms lifts the Mount Kailash while Shiva sits calmly with Parvathi on his lap.
The inner sanctuary contains three towers each of them covered with exquisite carvings of devatas. The lintels on the towers contain several depictions such as the fight between Vali and Sugriva.
Each and every nook and corner of the temple is intricately carved. As I cast my glance from one panel to another, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and detail of the sculptures. One can spend endless hours looking at the deeply carved bas reliefs, delicate and detailed freestanding statues and intricately carved floral designs that cover the walls like tapestry. The design of the whole structure is harmonious and as close to perfection as one can imagine. The special charm of Banteay Srei lies in its remarkable state of preservation, small size and excellence of its embellishments. It is pure beauty!
The temple's original name was Tribhuvanamahesvara "great lord of the threefold world" — and was dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu. The town of Isvarapura was centred on the temple. The modern name, Banteay Srei “citadel of the women” is generally taken to refer to the intricacy of the carvings of the apsaras and devatas that adorn the structure. Built in the mid-10th century AD by a counsellor to King Jayavarman V called Yajñavarāha, it is the only significant temple at Angkor not built by a king. Some describe it as being closer in architecture and decoration to Indian models than any other temple at Angkor. It was built much before the foundation for Angkor Wat was even laid.
The temple was rediscovered only in 1914. Like many other temples in the Angkor region, it was also extensively pillaged. Among the most notorious of these pilferers was French novelist Andre Malraux, best-known today as the author of the modern classic Man’s Fate. A heavyweight intellectual in his day, he was a major influence on Albert Camus and was regularly rubbing shoulders in Paris with the likes of Andre Gide and Jean-Paul Sartre. At the age of 22, Malraux was broke. He had lost all his mining stock in a 1922 crash, obliging him to find a new source of incom. By combining his considerable knowledge of global art with a natural disposition toward adventure, he devised a cunning solution: sail to Cambodia (then in French-governed Indochina) and quietly relieve a Khmer temple of its valuables. He would then sell these to enthusiastic buyers in New York. In the early 1920s, the Banteay Srei temple was still something of a mystery. Malraux first heard about it when he found a rare book at the Bibliotheque Orientale in Paris, which gave an account by a certain Lieutenant Marek, who had rediscovered the temple in 1914. Malraurx removed seven sculptures, damaging some of the pieces in the process. On their arrival at Phnom Penh he was arrested and sent to three years incarceration. Back in Paris there was a wide campaign for his release spearheaded by the surrealist Andre Breton. The letter of protest boasted signatures from such notables as Andre Gide, Francois Mauriac, Max Jacob and the Gallimard brothers and his sentence was suspended. It is a travesty of justice when In 1958, Charles de Gaulle appointed him the Minister of Cultural Affairs!
Andre Malraux was the original tomb raider!
As I was leaving, the sun was right above making the pink sandstone temple shine like a ruby.
It was a gorgeous sight.
My heart quickens
As shafts of iridescent light
Caress the sculptures
In a golden glow
Illuminating the tenantless
These are moments
When paradise feels near
And when feelings alight on a page
Words seem to write themselves . . .
Glimpses At: photos.app.goo.gl/fNMfVaJS3SSBm32T2
I would like to hear your comments. Kindly post them here rather than in google photos!