Bantaey Srei, unique aspect of Khmer temples

A temple dedicated to Shiva stands in Cambodia as it has for the last millenium. Bantaey Srei is celebrated by Ankgorian enthusiasts worldwide. The ”Women’s citadel” is appreciated for it’s unique character, color and scale. It is thus radically different from it’s very famous regional counterparts.

Patrick Hacikyan/

Numerous tourists, visitors and pilgrims regularly come to Bantaey Srei for various reasons. Although it is lesser known than the major connstructions of Ankgor Wat and Angkor Thom, it’s unique character make it worth the extra trip. Whan compared to other temples, Bantaey Srei stands out for it’s size. The scale to which this temple has been built is quite small in comparison to the other Khmer temples. It is thus considered a mini temple, although not miniature in size as such, only smaller in scale: the doorways and arches, the roofs, have all been built with the same grandeur, still human sized, only slightly smaller dimensions.

Secondly, Bantaey Srei is known for it’s beige-rose colored buildings. Indeed, unlike the stone temples of Ankgor Wat, that were built from a historical quarry in a nearby mountain, Bantaey Srei used red sandstone.

Red sandstone and laterite are the materials that were used for the building of Bantaey Srei.

This sandstone is very malleable, so it lends itself well to sculpture. However, the stone is also very hard and resistant to time and the elements. Therefore, the intricacy and detail of the carvings of Bantaey Srei are still very observable today. In the beginning of the first restorations of this temple, earlier construction dates were presumed for this very reason. The carvings were so exquisitely preserved, that the archaeologists estimated they were much younger than they in fact are.

The main construction at the center of Bantaey Srei

There lies the exquisiteness of Bantaey Srei, the elaborate character of the aesthetics of this temple. One may there see the detail of the patterns of sculpture at the ”Citadel of Women”. They are much richer and finer than the surrounding temples. Almost every square meter is riddled with carvings having a very deep meaning, most of which are related to Hindu mythology of opposing forces. Many scenes illustrate the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Maurice Glaize, a French archaeologist among the first to have studied Angkor, noted that ” the carving work at Bantaey Srei relates more closely to the skill of a woodcarver or a goldsmith, than to conventional stone sculpture”.

One of the many devatas giving the temple it’s modern Khmer name.

If this place is called the ”Citadel of Women”, it should be known that this is a modern Khmer name of the temple. It is presumed that it got it’s name from te abundance of Devatas, female figures from Hindu tradition. The original name of this temple, however, is “Tribhuvanamaheśvara”, or: Great Lord of the Threefold World. It has a southern area seemingly devoted to Shiva whereas the northern side has devotions to Visnu. The temple was not built by the king, but by two courtiers, named Vishnukumara and Yajnavaraha. It was completed and consecrated on the 22nd of april 967.

Bantaey Srei, unique, and always guarded by it’s stone sentinels.

If you go to Bantaey Srei, do take the time to observe the microcosm of detail in the carvings of this place. You will meet mythical creatures representing time and grand cosmic forces represented in this colossal yet minature sized work. The best times to appreciate the absolute splendor of Bantaey Srei, is sunrise. At that time, the full presence of this construction can be intimately appreciated. Do not miss the orchestra at the back of the temple. If you are lucky, there will be musicians that will be playing traditional Khmer music. They are made up of musicians thet have been victims of landmines, all proceeds go to help other victims of this scourge. A beautiful way to conclude a visit to this very unusual Khmer Temple from another time.

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