Banteay Srei temple in the early morning light.

Banteay Srei


Constructed when: late 10th century - Constructed by: King Rajendravarman
Religion: Hindu (Shiva) - Architectural style: Banteay Srei
Location: 35 kilometers north-east of Siem Reap




The detailed sandstone carvings of Banteay Srei, are incredibly well preserved for a late 10th century structure, that pre-dates Angkor Wat by close to 200 years.


The jungle is ever present and ready to swallow the temple once again if it is given a chance.

Banteay Srei (or Banteay Srey) is a 10th century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Located in the area of Angkor in Cambodia, at 13.5989 N, 103.9628 E, it lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km (15 miles) north-east of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. These factors have made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and have led to its being widely praised as a "precious gem", or the "jewel of Khmer art."

Consecrated in 967 A.D.[citation needed], Banteay Srei was the only major temple at Angkor not built by a monarch; its construction is credited to a courtier named Yajnavaraha, who served as a counsellor to king Rajendravarman. The foundational stela says that Yajnavaraha was a scholar and philanthropist who helped those who suffered from illness, injustice, or poverty.

Originally, the temple was surrounded by a town called Isvarapura. It has been speculated that the temple's modern name, Banteay Srei, is due to the many devatas carved into the red sandstone walls.

Yajnyavaraha's temple was primarily dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Originally, it was carried the name Tribhuvanamahesvara — great lord of the threefold world — in reference to the Shaivite linga that served as its central religious image. However, the temple buildings appear to be divided along the central east-west axis between those buildings located south of the axis, which are devoted to Shiva, and those north of the axis, which are devoted to Vishnu.

The temple's modern name, Banteay Srei — citadel of the women, or citadel of beauty — is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves. Some have speculated that it relates to the many devatas carved into the walls of the buildings.

Banteay Srei was subject to further expansion and rebuilding work in the eleventh century. At some point it came under the control of the king and had its original dedication changed; an inscription of the early twelfth century records the temple being given to the priest Divarakapandita and being rededicated to Shiva. It remained in use at least until the fourteenth century.

Restoration

The temple was rediscovered only in 1914, and was the subject of a celebrated case of art theft when André Malraux stole four devatas in 1923 (he was soon arrested and the figures returned). The incident stimulated interest in the site, which was cleared the following year, and in the 1930s Banteay Srei was restored in the first important use of anastylosis at Angkor. Until the discovery of the foundation stela in 1936, it had been assumed that the extreme decoration indicated a later date than was in fact the case. To prevent the site from water damage, the joint Cambodian-Swiss Banteay Srei Conservation Project installed a drainage system between 2000 and 2003. Measures were also taken to prevent damage to the temples walls being caused by nearby trees. Unfortunately, the temple has been ravaged by pilfering and vandalism. When toward the end of the 20th century authorities removed some original statues and replaced them with concrete replicas, looters took to attacking the replicas. A statue of Shiva and his shakti Uma, removed to the National Museum in Phnom Penh for safekeeping, was assaulted in the museum itself.