Discover the Enchanting Bayon Temple at Angkor

The Bayon, also known as Prasat Bayon, is a mesmerizing Khmer temple nestled in the heart of Angkor, Cambodia. Built during the late 12th century or early 13th century, it served as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII and stands as the focal point of his capital, Angkor Thom. Over the years, the temple underwent modifications and enhancements by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings, each adding their unique religious touch.

The Bayon's most captivating feature lies in the multitude of serene stone faces adorning its towers, which rise majestically from the upper terrace and encircle its central peak. Additionally, the temple boasts two remarkable sets of bas-reliefs, offering a captivating blend of mythological, historical, and everyday scenes. The Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (JSA) has acclaimed the Bayon as the epitome of the baroque style in Khmer architecture, distinguishing it from the classical style of Angkor Wat.

History and Enigma of the Bayon Temple: 

With its grandiosity, the Bayon vies with Angkor Wat as the favorite monument among visitors. However, while the two share aesthetic appeal, they differ in purpose, design, architecture, and ornamentation. Shrouded by dense jungle, the Bayon's exact position in relation to other Angkor structures remained a mystery until later years when it was unveiled to stand at the very center of Angkor Thom city.

Initially, the Bayon was mistakenly associated with the city of Yasovarman I, dating it to the ninth century. However, the discovery of a pediment featuring an Avalokitesvara in 1925 revealed it to be a Buddhist temple, shifting its date to the late twelfth century. Despite this archaeological evidence, the Bayon remains an enigmatic temple, with its symbolism, original form, and subsequent transformations yet to be fully deciphered.

The Bayon's construction began approximately 100 years after Angkor Wat, and while the basic structure and earliest parts remain unknown, it is believed that the temple initially embodied the symbolism of a microcosm of Mount Meru, conforming to the temple-mountain concept. Subsequent phases expanded and modified the middle part, leading to the Bayon's present form, characterized by its impressive scale and harmonious composition.

Unraveling the Mystique of the Bayon: 

Over 2,000 imposing stone faces adorn the 54 towers, giving the Bayon its awe-inspiring character. With slightly curving lips and eyes shadowed by lowered lids, these faces remain silent, yet their presence leaves visitors to ponder their mysteries. Scholars identify the faces as images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, symbolizing the omnipresence of the king. The distinct features, including a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, and lips curling upwards slightly at the ends, create what is famously known as the "Smile of Angkor."

The Bayon's unique layout captivates with its absence of an enclosing wall, instead being protected by the city wall of Angkor Thom. Comprising three levels, the temple presents a seemingly simple plan but unfolds into a complex maze of galleries, passages, and steps, creating an ambiance of dim lighting and narrow walkways.

Entering the Bayon from the east, visitors encounter a square gallery adorned with eight entry towers in the shape of a cross. The pillars in front of the east entry tower showcase exquisite Apsaras motifs with dancers framed by intricately carved floral patterns.

The two galleries of bas-reliefs differ in elevation, with the outer gallery being on one level and the inner gallery on a different level, connected in a way that blurs the distinction between them. Richly adorned with bas-reliefs, these galleries provide captivating glimpses into Khmer mythology and historical narratives.

At the architectural pinnacle lies the third level, featuring the Central Sanctuary and the iconic faces of Avalokitesvara. The multitude of faces, positioned at varying levels, offer an endless fascination for visitors, leaving them in awe of their majesty and mystery.

The Bayon Temple, with its circular central mass and exquisite detailing, stands as a masterpiece in Khmer art, preserving the legacy of Cambodia's remarkable past.

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