Prasat Bayon In Khmer History :
Prasat Bayon as a Buddhist Sanctuary of Theravada Buddhism is very important in Khmer history. Buddhism has existed in Cambodia since at least the 5th century, and in its earlier form was a type of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism has been the Cambodian state religion since the 13th century (except during the Khmer Rouge period), and is currently estimated to be the faith of 95% of the population.
The history of Buddhism in Cambodia spans a number of successive kingdoms and empires. Buddhism entered Cambodia through two different streams. The earliest forms of Buddhism, along with Hindu influences, entered the Funan kingdom with Hindu merchants. In later history, a second stream of Buddhism entered Khmer culture during the Angkor empire when Cambodia absorbed the various Buddhist traditions of the Mon kingdoms of Dvaravati and Haripunchai.
For the first thousand years of Khmer history, Cambodia was ruled by a series of Hindu kings with an occasional Buddhist king, such as Jayavarman I of Funan, Jayavarman VII, who became a mahayanist, and Suryavarman I. A variety of Buddhist traditions co-existed peacefully throughout Cambodian lands, under the tolerant auspices of Hindu kings and the neighboring Mon-Theravada kingdoms.
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, 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.”
Hindu Deities In A Buddhist Temple (Prasat Bayon) :
The Bayon was built as a Buddhist temple. 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 when King Jayavarman VIII reverted the official Khmer religion back to Hinduism, images of the Buddha were destroyed or turned into Hindu images.
Although the Bayon was a Buddhist temple, other Gods 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.
View more photos of Prasat Bayon here.