Angkor Thom City (Classical Style) :
Angkor Thom city (two miles north of Angkor Wat) is moated walled classical style city that covers nearly four square miles and is laid out in a square and for centuries it was the seat of the Khmer government. The ruins are scattered over this large area. Most of the main temples were built under King Jayavarman VII, who felt Hinduism had failed his kingdom, and thus converted to Buddhism and followed the teachings of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and dedicated his temples to Buddha. Angkor Thom means “Great City.”
Temples inside the walls of Angkor Wat include Bayon, Phimeanakas, Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Prah Palilay, Tep Pranam and Prasat Suor Prat. Many of the original buildings, such as the king’s place, were made of wood and have 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 like the stone heads of the smiling king. Around it is the remnant of a moat (now dry) that was once eight miles long and 300 feet wide and filled with crocodiles to deter attackers. A causeway led to the Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King.
Five gates, which are more or less intact, mark the entrance to the site, The main gate was made with 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 our massive faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, so that each face pints n a cardinal direction.
The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling king stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.
Hindu Deities In A Buddhist Temple :
The Bayon was built as a Buddhist temple in Angkor classical style. A statue of the main idol, a seated Buddha image sheltered under the hoods of the snake Mucalinda, was discovered in a pit under the main shrine. A few decades after the death of King Jayavarman VII, the temple was turned into a Hindu temple with shrine for Hindu deities when King Jayavarman VIII reverted the official Khmer religion back to Hinduism, images of the Buddha were destroyed or turned into Hindu deities images.
Although the Bayon was a Buddhist temple with shrine for Buddha, other Hindu deities were also worshiped. Separate shrines were dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, while countless other deities were worshiped.
The Bayon is best known for the mysterious faces on its many towers. Due to its many alterations over time, the structure is of a very complicated design and has a cluttered feel, with the many towers and other structures cramping the monument. The Bayon has three enclosures. The galleried 3rd and 2nd enclosure, and the inner enclosure, which contains the 3rd floor platform with the 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 the temple was deserted and became overgrown by thick jungle. Clearing of the monument was done in the 1910’s. The face towers and the central sanctuary were restored by the EFEO in the 1940’s using the anastylosis method. Since the end of the 20th century, the Japanese Government Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA) maintains the monument.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara :
The Lotus Sutra is generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the doctrines of Avalokiteshvara. These are found in the Lotus Sutra chapter 25. This chapter 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. A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokiteshvara are described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings. The chapter consists of both a prose and a verse section. This earliest source often circulates separately as its own 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 is oriented towards the east, and so its buildings are set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis. Because the temple sits at the exact center of Angkor Thom city, roads lead to it directly from the gates at each of the city’s cardinal points. The temple itself has no wall or moats, these being replaced by those of the city itself: the city-temple arrangement, with an area of 9 square kilometers, is much larger than that of Angkor Wat to the south (2 km²). Within the temple itself, 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.”
View more photos of Prasat Bayon and its smiling king here.