Exquisite Banteay Srei

Tourists to the Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap in Cambodia often complain of being “templed out”. After a few hours of climbing up and down steep and ancient steps, more than one temple starts looking alike. Of course everybody remembers Angkor Wat and its massive towers, Bayon and its mysterious faces and even Ta Phrom with its silk cotton tree roots and the infamous Angelina Jolie ‘tomb raider’ association- people tend to remember that especially. It is easy, faced with the magnificence of these temples, for the hundreds of other smaller temples in the region to fade into a kind of background commonality and be clumped together as ‘the other temples of the Angkor region’.

Entranceway at Banteay Srei
Entranceway at Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei is a temple that often gets missed out of the tourist itinerary- a pity considering how exquisite and spectacular it is. I first read about Banteay Srei in John Sors ‘ A Temple of a Thousand Faces’ book.

I visited Banteay Srei very early in the morning. While the crowds are busy piling on their breakfast or focusing on the main attractions of Angkor Wat & Thom I snuck out in a car with a guide and landed up at a semi-closed gate some 20 kilometres away from the main temple group. It takes a bit of walking through fields adjoining a marshy lake to come up against what can only be described as a vision in pink sandstone.

Ornate Gopura at Banteay Srei
Ornate Gopura at Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei is unique in that it is almost the only grand temple to have not been built by a king. The first thing that strikes you about the temple is its size- Banteay Srei is extremely compact especially when compared to its larger cousins. But what it loses in size, the temple more than makes up in artistic detail. As you go through the outer walls into the main compound you see that almost every inch of space on the sandstone walls has been squeezed into yet another sculpture- sandstone being more malleable for sculpting than the laterite used for building the other major temples.

Monkey Carvings at Banteay Srei
Monkey Carvings at Banteay Srei

The fact that the temple’s name translates into ‘Citadel of Women’ probably has something to do with the aura of feminine beauty that you find everywhere in the temple- numerous carvings of female devatas, intricate  ornamental motifs of flowers and mythological scenes literally transport you back to your childhood days when you were hearing tales from Ramayana and Mahabaratha on your grandmother’s lap.

Carving Panel with Ravana Shaking Mt Kailasa
Carving Panel with Ravana Shaking Mt Kailasa

I stared in awe at the scene of Ravana lifting Mount Kailasa. The details show an almost curious Ravana looking up to see the effect his actions are having at the top. While pandemonium reigns among the sages and the animals in the middle level, a slightly worried Parvathi demurely sits on the lap of a very unconcerned Shiva. There are numerous other stories on the walls- Vali battling Sugriva, Indira on his elephant Iravatha, Narasimha killing Hiranya Kashipu. I tried to remember the last time when I saw so many stories depicted so beautifully on the walls of a temple and couldn’t come up with anything. Because the temple is in a fragile state, you are not allowed to enter the inner courtyards and have to be content with staring at the details from the outer walls. Which I was happy to do even though I was told that a bribe would happily get me inside- something about me wanted to leave this behind for generations to come.   

And there you have it- the first week of the challenge is already done! 5 alphabets down and 21 more to go- do you think I’ll finish this? And do you think you’d still be reading my blog at the end of the month?

E for Exquisite
E for Exquisite
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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Shahira says:

    Exquisite architecture, indeed !

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      It took my breath away!

  2. Wow. Amazing. Really breathtaking. 🙂

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      thanks!

  3. magnificent. The doors are incredible. Too bad this temple gets overlooked.
    Wow one week already. Thanks so much for your visits.
    Tail wagging 🙂

  4. Lav says:

    Those tiny little details are so exquisite!!!

  5. The intricate detailings are absolutely stunning! But what is more amazing is your photography, which speaks volumes about your love for art. I have said this before n will say it again; very few people actually care about the story behind the sculptures. Just amazed! Will definitely read your blog even beyond this challenge. 🙂

  6. Nirmala says:

    What beautiful temple indeed!

  7. Apar says:

    Exquisite indeed! Have read & heard the story of Ravana lifting Kailasha. This carving is too beautiful to describe in words ( which of course you have done great). Makes one wonder what more is around wishing you could have entered & told us how the place is inside. Such gifted artisans must have lived around the time these temples were built. This thought comes to me when I see temples in India too. How these structures have stood the test of time and I hope they last forever more! To conclude my long comment… I definitely will be reading your blog …

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Hey Apar, thanks you have been one of the few people who have been reading my blog for quite a while.
      About the carvings- yes, they are just so different in quality and style from others I have seen before. And it’s like everywhere in that temple. I will post a few more pictures soon so you can see!
      Thanks and hoping you can also travel to Cambodia sometime soon!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      thank you

  8. akaimiko says:

    Wow, this is a gorgeous temple! Definitely deserving of more significant recognition. Great things come in small packages, after all!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Absolutely I think they has squeezed in carvings into every imaginable bit of space in that temple. Thanks for visiting

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