Tower Faces of King Jayavarman VII :
Prasat Bayon temple is best known for its large number of tower faces. In the past, there were 49 towers decorated with large carved faces looking into each of the four cardinal directions. About 200 faces, the largest ones being almost 2.5 meters high, decorate the 37 remaining towers of the first and second enclosure. Most of the towers have four faces but some towers only have three faces. One tower only bears a single face due to lack of space.
Initially, archaeologists believed that these tower faces represent Brahma (the Hindu God of creation). Later on, it was established that the Bayon was not a Hindu temple but a Buddhist one so archaeologists believed the faces to be of Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The similarity of statues of Jayavarman VII and the face towers had led some to believe that it is the King himself whose face is depicted on the towers.
The Site Of Prasat Bayon :
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.