23 March 2012

Banteay Srei - Citadel of beauty

We walked in the morning light past the linga -- sacred symbol of Shiva -- towards one of the smallest temples in Angkor. As we came to the main gate we saw why this temple is known as Banteay Srei -- meaning the "Citadel of Women" or perhaps "Citadel of Beauty". It is a temple in miniature when compared to the grand state temples of Angkor Wat or Banyon and its stonework glowed a warm shade of red thanks to the pink sandstone that is used throughout.

We were instantly captivated by the delicate carvings of female figures and detailed mythological narratives that cover every available surface.

Banteay Srei was built in the later half of the 10th century by Yajnavaraha, guru to the future king Jayavarman V. The temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, has remained in use at least until the 14th century. It was rediscovered only in 1914, and was the subject of a celebrated case of art theft when a young Frenchman, André Malraux, stole four devatas in 1923 (he was soon arrested and the figures returned). Ironically, Malraux later became the French Minister of Culture in the deGaulle administration.

The main sanctuary stands on a t-shaped platform. The monkey guardians are reproduction sculptures.

Below stands one of the two library buildings; in the centre is a false door for spirits.

Rob asks Mr. Thy a question as we stand in the second gopura of Banteay Srei.



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