Angkor Thom City (Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) :
Angkor Thom (means “Great City”) is located about two miles north of Angkor Wat and this is where Prasat Bayon is located and it used to be surrounded by a moat. The city is about four square miles, laid out in a square and for a long-long time, it was the seat of the Khmer government. The ruins are scattered all over this large area. Most of the temples here were built in King Jayavarman VII reign, who felt Hinduism had failed his kingdom, and thus converted to Buddhism and followed the teachings of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
Temples within the walls of Angkor Thom includes Phimeanakas, Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Prah Palilay, Tep Pranam and Prasat Suor Prat. Since buildings such as the king’s place were made of wood it has long since disappeared.
The buildings at Angkor Thom city are not as large or well preserved as those Angkor Wat, but they are still quite impressive all the same with all their classical style structures. Some people like Angkor Thom city more than Angkor Wat because some of the features are more interesting such as the stone heads of the smiling king. Around it is the remnant of a moat (now partly dry) that was once eight miles long and 300 feet wide and filled with crocodiles to deter attackers. There’s a causeway bridge that leads to the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King.
Five gates, which are more or less intact, mark the entrance to the site, The main gate has sculptures of 54 gods, one on each side, and the same number of demons on the other. Unfortunately, some of the figures have had their heads knocked off by looters. The others are crowned by the massive faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara so that each face points to a cardinal direction.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara :
The Lotus Sutra is known to be the earliest literature on the teachings and doctrines of Avalokiteshvara. Lotus Sutra Chapter 25 is devoted to Avalokiteshvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name. There’s a total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokiteshvara as described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings. The chapter consists of prose and a verse section. This earliest source is often circulated separately as its sutra, called the Avalokiteshvara Sutra, and is commonly recited or chanted at Buddhist temples in East Asia.
The Site Of Prasat Bayon A Buddhist Sanctuary :
The temple’s orientation is to the east, hence the main building is set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis. As the temple is located at the exact centre of Angkor Thom, roads lead to it directly from the gates at each of the city’s cardinal points. Bayon has no wall or moats, these being replaced by those of the city itself: the city-temple arrangement, with an area of 9 square kilometres, is much larger than that of Angkor Wat to the south (2 km²). Inside the temple building, there are two galleria enclosures (the third and second enclosures) and an upper terrace (the first enclosure). All of these elements are crowded against each other with little space between. Unlike Angkor Wat, which impresses with the grand scale of its architecture and open spaces, the Bayon “gives the impression of being compressed within a frame which is too tight for it.”
Hindu Deities In A Buddhist Temple (Prasat Bayon) :
The Bayon was originally built as a Buddhist temple. Statue of a seated Buddha sheltered by the hoods of the snake known as Mucalinda was discovered in a pit under the main shrine. After the death of King Jayavarman VII, the temple was turned into a Hindu temple by King Jayavarman VIII when he came to power. Bayon served as the official Hindu temple of the Khmer empire as Hinduism became the official religion. Buddha sculptures were destroyed or turned into Hindu images.
Although the Bayon was a Buddhist temple, the shrine of other Gods was also built such as the shrine to worship Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, and countless other deities.
The Bayon is best known for the serene multi-faced towers. Due to its many alterations over time, the structure is of very complicated design and has a cluttered feel, with the many towers and other structures cramping the monument. The Bayon has three levels. The 2nd and 3rd level are galleried, and the inner enclosure has a central sanctuary.
Two concentric galleries are sculpted with bas reliefs. The inner galleries contain mainly religious and mythological scenes, while the outer galleries mainly show historical events, battles and scenes from daily life.
At some point in time, the temple was abandoned and was taken over by the jungle. In the 1910s excavation work started, the face towers along with the central sanctuary were restored by the EFEO in the 1940s using the anastylosis method. Since the end of the 20th century, the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA) maintains the monument.
More photos of Prasat Bayon Temple here.
Our group trip photos on Instagram.