Bayon

The confusion in the plan of the Bayon and the intricacy of its buildings results no doubt from the successive alterations to which the monument was subjected, that are evident just about everywhere.

These changes could well have been made either during the course of construction or at other times so not all necessarily corresponding to the reign of Jayavarman VII.
The Bayon is without a doubt Angkor Thom's most extraordinary monument.

The temple design would seem to have been repeatedly revised over the course of construction such that four different phases have been identified. The principal elements of the final lay-out are as follows:

  1. an orthodox cross encloses the circular central sanctuary
  2. the inner galleries form a rectangle enclosing, in turn, the orthodox cross
  3. another rectangle - the outer galleries - encloses and communicates with the first through passages on each of the four axes.

One of the specificities of the Bayon is its towers crowned with faces looking out to the four cardinal points. Modern Khmer call them "Prohm Bayon", with the name "Prohm" (Brahma) remaining as a vestige of Cambodia's Brahmanic past. The multiple scholarly attempts to identify the Bayon faces have generally focussed on Brahmanic-Mahayanic gods, in view of the religious particularities of Jayavarman VII's reign.

The most frequently cited is Lokesvara, a Buddhist divinity widely venerated during that time. It is also possible that the faces represented that of Jayavarman VII himself, as a new expression of an old Khmer tradition of belief in the apotheosis of kings.

The Bayon is also remarkable for its bas-reliefs, in particular those of the outer galleries. Certain reliefs depict historical events such as naval combat against the Cham on the Great Lake .Taking up on the artistic innovations of the Baphuon, others show touching scenes of daily life amongst common people.It is the Bayon, more than any other temple, which materializes the assembly of the principal gods of the Angkorian Empire.

Inscriptions engraved on the doorjambs of the temple's many small sanctuaries tell us that these once harbored statues of different provincial or even local divinities. It is tempting in fact to call the Bayon "Tevea Vinichay", or "Assembly of the Gods", the name of the throne hall in Phnom Penh's Royal Palace.

The central tower of the Bayon once sheltered a Buddha seated on the naga. Cast into the well of the central tower with the 13th-century return to Brahmanism, this statue was discovered and transported for worship and display at Vihear Prampil Loveng in 1935.


One of the faces adorning the towers


Some of the towers with the faces looking North and East


Detail of the famous reliefs depicting scenes from everyday life


Early morning worship at Bayon in one of the outer galleries

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