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7.10: Khmer Empire Bayon Temple (13th Century)

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  • Bayon Temple (7.47) built in the center of the walled city Angkor Thom, the capital of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century. The temple appears as a mountain rising from the ground behind the walls of the city. Constructed to evoke the form of the Buddhist cosmic mountain of Mt. Meru, the structure honors the many gods from the Khmer empire. The temple was the last of the state temples built at Angkor Thom and was a centerpiece of a massive building program that included bridges, walls, and supplementary buildings to support the city.

    Bayon Temple complex
    7.47 Bayon Temple complex

    The decorating the thirty-seven massive towers, the temple is known for its vast sculptures of faces (7.48), gazing outward in four directions on every tower. Wet and humid weather allowed lichen to grow on the rock (7.49), causing deterioration. The large stone faces resemble other sculptures of Jayavarman VII (7.50), in Cambodia, characterizing him as a bodhisattva. Fifty-four enormous pillars have a face carved on each side, appearing to look out to the cardinal points. Today, over 200 giant faces still intact.

    Facial sculptures at gateway
    7.48 Facial sculptures at gateway
    Deteriorated face
    7.49 Deteriorated face
    Temple faces
    7.50 Temple faces

    A Bodhisattva is someone motivated by compassion and has a wish to become Buddha like.

    The elongated temple faces east along an east-west axis in a square, and the city and temple combination covers an area of nine square kilometers, more significant than the Angkor Wat temple. The temple itself does not have walls because the city was enclosed like a fortress, along the roadway into the temple, faces of the gods stand guard (7.51). There are three enclosures or galleries in the lower and upper terraces. The outer walls of the galleries have extensive bas-reliefs illustrating musicians, horsemen, elephants, battles, and processions. The temple contains two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, a combination of mythological, ordinary, and historical scenes relating stories of businesspeople, friends drinking and dancing, elephants pulling carts, people picking fruit from trees or farming, scenes of everyday life (7.52).

    Entrance faces
    7.51 Entrance faces
    7.52 Bas-reliefs

    The central tower was first made in the cruciform but later converted to a circular design. At the heart of the central tower is a 3.6-meter statue of Buddha, the flared hood of the serpent king guarding the statue of Buddha. At some point, the statue was removed and later found at the bottom of a well. When it was recovered and pieced back together, it has been restored to its proper location. The temple has undergone many changes based on the government in charge and their current religious beliefs.