Bayon Temple

The Bayon temple was constructed in the late 12th century (1181 - 1220) by King Jayavarman VII. Bayon is the second most important temple in the area after Angkor Wat. Bayon was also considered the last stone temple ever built in the period of the Khmer empire. That means when the Khmers had finished the Bayon temple, they were not able to build any more stone temples because the country began to decline.

Bayon is located exactly in the center of Angkor Thom, which is 1.5 km away from each of the monumental gates. Before the restoration was done by the French, you could not see its temple structure at all because of the dense jungle. But in 1916 they had cleared the forest away from the buildings and then they began to restore them until the war broke out in Cambodia in 1970.

Bayon translated to Khmer means "The Magic". They designed it with 49 towers and it is believed that each tower is decorated with a combination of the four faces of the compassionate Bodhisattva Avalokesvara and King Jayavarman VII's face as well.

The 54 towers of Bayon and Angkor Thom represent the 54 days of the lunar calendar of the two cycles of the moon. In addition, as 54 is considered a lucky number astrologically speaking, King Jayavarman VII also arranged the territory of the Khmer Empire with 54 provinces. Thus, Bayon temple was also a replica of the Khmer Empire's territory.

When the French began to work on this temple, they thought Bayon was a Hindu temple dedicated to Brahma (The Creator) and built in the 9th century. They thought this because of the four faces on each tower and because the temple looked too old as they did not yet know about the Rolous Group temples.

But in 1933 when the excavation work began at the central tower, they began to realize that Bayon was a Buddhist temple, not a Hindu temple, and built in the late 12th century, not the 9th century. While excavating at the center chamber of Bayon, they found a big broken Buddha and Sanskrit inscription. It clarified the temple’s function , symbology , date, and the reign of the temple builder. The French repaired this statue in 1935 at the request of king Monivong and they decided not to put this magnificent Buddha statue in the original spot at Bayon. They moved it to Vihear Prampi Loveng, which located along the road to the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom.

Besides finding the Buddha-King statue in the central tower, the French also found an image of Lokesvara. This was more proof for the French scholars that Bayon was a Buddhist temple. They found the Lokesvara image on the second level. Later, the French decided to open the stone floor from the third level in order to allow the visitors to see the Lokesvara image easily from the third level.

The Chinese ambassador Chou Ta kuon, who living in the city of Angkor Thom for one year (1295), called Bayon Temple the "Golden Tower", because at that time the tip of its central tower was gilded.

An addition, he also mentioned there were dozens of gold Buddha statues in some chambers of Bayon as well. The base of the central tower of Bayon was designed with a round shape. This concept was symbolized as the "Wheel of Life" in Buddhist beliefs. The base of Bayon's central sanctuary was also arranged with 16 chambers. The 16 chambers of Bayon are symbolic of the 16 spokes of the Wheel of Life of Buddhism.

Originally, in each chamber of the central tower of Bayon there were statues of various religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Personal Cult, and Animism. This concept was to prove that King Jayavarman VII had a great tolerance to all religions. Also, the main tower of Bayon was decorated with 8 faces of the compassion Lokesvara, but now most of these stone faces on the main tower have been damaged by vandalism in about the 14th Century.

The minor towers of Bayon are only decorated with four faces, and their sizes vary. The reason for this is that they built these towers to represent the provinces of the Kingdom, and the tower are larger and smaller depending on the size of each province.

As the minor towers of Bayon were representative of the provinces of the Khmer empire under the reign of king Jayavarman VII, each shrine in the towers contained a Buddha statue which had been brought from the appropriate province. Thus, Bayon was very much a spiritual temple of King Jayavarman VII, because this temple combined spiritual powers from the sacred Buddha statues which came from different part of the Kingdom.

The outer galleries of Bayon have a measure of 140m from north to south and 160m from east to west. All around these galleries there are very remarkable bas-reliefs which depicting the daily life of the common people, the royalty, the dignitary and the sea trade of Chinese merchants with Cambodia, and to record the war history with Chams when they invaded Angkor in 1177-1181 .

But the bas-reliefs of the inner galleries on the second level of Bayon depict traditional ceremonies in the royal palaces, the excursions of pilgrims, Khmer legends, the daily life of hermits, and Hindu and Buddhist mythologies.

Most of the visitors like Bayon more than any other temple in the Angkor area. This is mainly because Bayon's layout was designed with more complicity than most, making the visitors feel they are in a mysterious and fantastic setting. This is especially true when the visitors are at the second and third level of the temple. Those levels are constructed with their corridors inter-connecting, creating very gloomy and secret rooms.

The faces that stare at you from the Bayon towers symbolize one of the four sublime states of Buddhism including Charity, Compassion, Sympathy, and Calmness to everyone in the universe.



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