Friday, April 26, 2013

Banteay Srei: A Marvel in Miniature

Banteay Srei is unlike any of the other Angkor temples.  Built in the 10th century by a counselor/guru to the king, this Hindu temple is in an isolated location 20 miles north of Angkor.  Compared to other temples, it is much smaller in scale.  Our guide Chek referred to it as a "female temple", because of its size.  It is not a royal temple, since it was not built by a king.

(Note:  Don't forget that any of the photos in this blog can be made larger by single clicking on them.  This will help to show the detail, especially on the close-ups of the carvings.)

The visitors outside the walls help define the scale

Constructed of pink sandstone, Banteay Srei is distinguished by its intricate carvings dedicated to Shiva, the third god in the Hindu triumvirate of three Supreme gods.  The other two are Brahma, the creator of the universe, and Vishnu, the protector of the universe.  Shiva's role is to periodically destroy the universe, but in a good way:)  Got to keep things fresh, you know.

This beautiful carved doorway sits just inside the front gate

Blow-up of previous photo shows Shiva, serpents, elephants

Shiva's wife Parvati is highlighted in the carving below.  She is generally considered to be benevolent, but she has some wrathful incarnations.  She seems pretty mellow here.

Note the elephants around Parvati and the lions at bottom left and right

It only takes a few minutes to walk around the temple grounds.  The focus is on the carvings, not the layout.

4 courtyard monkey gods (Hanuman) replace real ones in museum

Below is an even more elaborate set of carvings above another doorway.  We had to do a little after-the-fact Googling to find out what is happening here.  It seems that maybe Vishnu is deferring to Shiva's need to destroy a few things for the long-term good.

Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma have many avatars, some shown in blow-up below

Shiva surrounded by Vishnu's horse head and lion head avatars

Since Cambodia is now 90% Buddhist, even the temples that were originally Hindu-only now contain Buddhist shrines within.

Coconuts, incense and lotus buds are seen at many Buddhist shrines

Below is another set of two "close and closer" photos of an intricately carved doorway area:

Just when we thought the carvings couldn't get more detailed.....

.....we were treated to this montage of animals, people and chariots

On the way out, the back side of Banteay Srei was delightfully quiet:

Just us, the tiny temple and the girl with the white hat

We made quick (< 30-minute) visits to two other temples on Sunday morning.  The first of these was Preah Neak Pean.  It's small enough that you can see the entire temple from one vantage point.

Preah Neak Pean has one central pond surrounded by four other rectangular ponds. Together they form a cross.  The waters of Preah Neak Pean were said to have curative powers, so sick people were often brought here.

Central pond tower, with serpent head and tail on either side

Sacred water flowed through the mouth of a different stone creature into each of the four side ponds.  The four creatures are a man, a lion, a horse and an elephant.  The healing for devotees happened in the side ponds.

Side pond closest to entrance, with elephant mouth

The other temple we visited in the morning was Ta Som.  Its macro architectural features were similar to those we had seen elsewhere.

A peaceful courtyard in Ta Som

Foreground and background blend together in late AM sunlight

Ta Som did have some interesting interior spaces and cool trees:

Looking up to the peak of a "lotus bud", above an altar

Chek shows how the Sralong and Trang trees are intertwined

The little girl in the corner is morning vendor, afternoon student

Two more temples to go in the afternoon, and we will have equaled the ten wineries we visited over 2+ days in South Africa.  Symmetry!

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