Prasat Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km (16 mi) north-east of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. These factors have made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and have led to its being widely praised as a "precious gem", or the "jewel of Khmer art."
Classic carvings at Banteay Srei include delicate women with lotus flowers in hand and traditional skirts clearly visible, as well as breathtaking re-creations of scenes from the epic Ramayana adorning the library pediments (carved inlays above a lintel). However, the sum of the parts is no greater than the whole – almost every inch of these interior buildings is covered in decoration. Standing watch over such perfect creations are the mythical guardians, all of which are copies of originals stored in the National Museum.
When Banteay Srei was first rediscovered, it was assumed to be from the 13th or 14th centuries, as it was thought that the refined carving must have come at the end of the Angkor period. It was later dated to AD 967, from inscriptions found at the site.
Banteay Srei was the only major temple at Angkor not built by a monarch; its construction is credited to the courtiers named Vishnukumara and Yajnavaraha who served as a counselor to king Rajendravarman II. The foundation stela says that Yajnavaraha, grandson of king Harsavarman I, was a scholar and philanthropist who helped those who suffered from illness, injustice, or poverty. His pupil was the future king Jayavarman V (r. 968- ca. 1001). Originally, the temple was surrounded by a town called Isvarapura.
Yajñavaraha's temple was primarily dedicated to the Hindu god Siva. Originally, it carried the name Tribhuvanamahesvara—great lord of the threefold world—in reference to the Shaivite linga that served as its central religious image. However, the temple buildings appear to be divided along the central east–west axis between those buildings located south of the axis, which are devoted to Siva, and those north of the axis, which are devoted to Vi??u.
It has been speculated that the temple's modern name, Bantãy Srei, is due to the many devatas carved into the red sandstone walls.
The temple's modern name, Bantãy Srei—citadel of the women, or citadel of beauty—is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves. Some have speculated that it relates to the many devatas carved into the walls of the buildings.
Bantãy Srei was subject to further expansion and rebuilding work in the eleventh century. At some point it came under the control of the king and had its original dedication changed; the inscription K 194 from Phno? Sandak, dated Monday, the 14th or 28 July 1119 A.D. records (line B 13) the temple being given to the priest Divakarapa??ita and being rededicated to Siva.It remained in use at least until the fourteenth century according to the last known inscription K 569, dated Thursday, 8 August 1303 A.D.
Banteay Srei is built largely of a hard red sandstone that can be carved like wood. Brick and late-rite were used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. The temple is known for the beauty of its sandstone lintels and pediments.
The site consists of three concentric rectangular enclosures constructed on an east–west axis. A causeway situated on the axis leads from an outer gopura, or gate, to the third or outermost of the three enclosures. The inner enclosure contains the sanctuary, consisting of an entrance chamber and three towers, as well as two buildings conventionally referred to as libraries.
The gopura is all that remains of the outer wall surrounding the town of Isvapura. The wall is believed to have measured approximately 500 m square, and may have been constructed of wood. The gopura's eastern pediment shows Indra, who was associated with that direction, mounted on his three-headed elephant Airavata. The 67 m causeway with the remains of corridors on either side connects the gopura with the third enclosure. North and south of this causeway are galleries with a north–south orientation.
The third enclosure is 95 by 110 m; it is surrounded by a laterite wall breached by gopuras at the eastern and western ends. Neither pediment of the eastern gopura is in situ. The west-facing pediment is now located in the Musée Guimet in Paris. It depicts a scene from the Mahabharata in which the Asura brothers Sunda and Upasunda fight over the Apsara Tilottama. The east-facing pediment is lying on the ground. It depicts a scene from the Ramaya?a in which a demon seizes Rama's wife Sita. Most of the area within the third enclosure is occupied by a moat divided into two parts by causeways to the east and west.
The second enclosure sits between an outer laterite wall measuring 38 by 42 m, with gopuras at the eastern and western ends, and a brick inner enclosure wall, measuring 24 by 24 m. The western gopura features an interesting bas relief depicting the duel of the monkey princes Vali and Sugriva, as well as Rama's intervention on Sugriva's behalf. The inner enclosure wall has collapsed, leaving a gopura at the eastern end and a brick shrine at the western. The eastern pediment of the gopura shows Siva Nataraja; the west-facing pediment has an image of Karaikal Ammaiyar, one of the three women amongst the sixty three Nayanmars (hounds of Siva). Likewise, the laterite galleries which once filled the second enclosure (one each to north and south, two each to east and west) have partially collapsed. A pediment on one of the galleries shows the lion-man Narasi?ha clawing the demon Hiranyakashipu.
Between the gopuras on the collapsed inner wall are the buildings of the inner enclosure: a library in the south-east corner and another in the north-east corner, and in the centre the sanctuary set on a T-shaped platform 0.9 m high. Besides being the most extravagantly decorated parts of the temple, these have also been the most successfully restored (helped by the durability of their sandstone and their small scale). In 2010, the first enclosure is open to visitors again, but the inner temples are roped off and inaccessible.
The sanctuary is entered from the east by a doorway only 1.08 m in height: inside is an entrance chamber (or ma??apa) with a corbelled brick roof, then a short corridor leading to three towers to the west: the central tower is the tallest, at 9.8 m. Glaize notes the impression of delicacy given the towers by the antefixes on each of their tiers. The six stairways leading up to the platform were each guarded by two kneeling statues of human figures with animal heads; most of those now in place are replicas, the originals having been stolen or removed to museums.
The enchanting temple of Banteay Srei is nearly everyone's favorite site. The special charm of this temple lies in its remarkable state of preservation, small size and excellence of decoration.
The unanimous opinion amongst French archaeologists who worked at Angkor is that Banteay Srei is a 'precious gem' and a 'jewel in Khmer art'.
Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’ and it is said that it must have been built by a woman, as the elaborate carvings are supposedly too fine for the hand of a man.
Banteay Srei is one of the few temples around Angkor to be commissioned not by a king but by a brahman, who may have been a tutor to Jayavarman V. The temple is square and has entrances at the east and west, with the east approached by a causeway. Of interest are the lavishly decorated libraries and the three central towers, which are decorated with male and female divinities and beautiful filigree relief work.
Prasat Banteay Srei is 38 Km from Siem Reap International Airport. from Phnom Penh Royal Railway Station it is 330 Km.
To reach Banteay Srei, follow the main road north out of Siem Reap, turn right at Angkor Wat and follow the road to Srah Srang where you turn right past Pre Rup.
At the East Mebon there is a check post where you need to obtain clearnce. Turn right again at the road before the East Mebon; pass through the village of Phoum Pradak, where there is a junctions (if you continue straight, after about 5 minutes, you will reach Banteay Samre). At this point, you come to a fork; take the road on the left and follow it to Batneay Srei which you will reach shortly after crossing two rivers - on your left hand side. The roads have been recently repaired and it takes about 30 minutes from Siem Reap to get to the temple.
Banteay Srei is about 32km northeast of Siem Reap and 21km northeast of Bayon. Banteay Srei is well signposted and the road is surfaced all the way, so a trip fr
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