Tower Faces of King Jayavarman VII :
The Bayon built by King Jayavarman VII is best known for its large number of serene faces sculpted on its towers (tower faces). Originally there were 49 towers, decorated with large carved faces looking into each of the four cardinal directions. Close to 200 tower faces, the largest ones being almost 2½ meters high, decorate the 37 remaining towers of the first and second enclosure. While most towers contain four faces, some only have three, and one tower only bears a single face, probably due to a lack of space.
Initially the faces were believed to represent Brahma, the Hindu God of creation depicted with four heads. When it was later established that the Bayon was not a Hindu temple but a Buddhist one, 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 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.
More photos of Prasat Bayon Temple here.
Our group trip photos in Instagram.