About Angkor Thom City

Date of Construction: late 12th – early 13th century
Religious Affiliation: Buddhist
Patron or King: Jayavarman VII (posthumous name: Maha paramasangata pada)
Artistic/Archeo. Style: Bayon
* Study: H. Dufour and Ch. Carpeaux (1901 – 1902 – 1904)
Entrance: South, North, East, and West
* Clearing: Commaille 1911 to 1913, Consolidation of the central tower by G. Trouvé in 1933, Anastylosis of the four-faced towers and of the central tower by M. Glaize from 1939 to 1946

The Bayon (Khmer: ប្រាសាទបាយ័ន, Prasat Bayon) is a richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built-in the late 12th or early 13th century as the state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII (Khmer: ព្រះបាទជ័យវរ្ម័នទី ៧), the Bayon stands at the center of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom (Khmer: អង្គរធំ). Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences.

The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The temple has two sets of bas-reliefs, which present a combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The main conservatory body, the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat (Khmer: ប្រាសាទអង្គរវត្ត).


Fifteen hundred meters of straight road separates the south gate of Angkor Thom from the Bayon. We recommend that skirting it to the right, you gain access to the temple by the long redented eastern terrace, embellished with lions and naga-balustrades, that corresponds to its main entrance. One can see that the naga motif here is representative of the last period, where the hood is straddled by a garuda. On either side are the remains of ancient pools.

The Bayon best presents itself in the morning when the sunlight is the most favorable. One should not fail, however, to return by the light of the moon, when the lines and shadows become softened and the stone and its verdant background composed in a perfect unity of hue and tone – when the faces, mellow and subdued, take on an emotive expression from which radiates a sort of lyrical charm – where each becomes exaggerated in over-scale, doubled in profile and infinitely multiplied. One dissolves in the serenity of this Buddhist tranquillity, embryonic amongst the phantoms.

“Previously”, Pierre Loti tells us, “it was necessary, in a complete tangle of dense undergrowth and hanging vegetation, to clear a path with a thrashing stick. Everywhere the forest entwines and constricts, choking and encumbering. The immense trees, completing the destruction, have taken hold even on the summit of the towers which serve them as pedestals. Here are the doors – the roots, like an old man, draping them with a thousand fringes.”

Like Commaille who effected the clearing works, we also mourn the loss of the “natural state” that contained so much potent charm. Alas “Every month, perhaps every day, some stones would fall. The complete ruin of the temple was only a matter of time, and it was necessary to consider how to halt it without further delay.” – which did not stop Paul Claudel however from accusing the archaeologists of having given the Bayon the appearance of “a sort of ugly game of skittles or a basket of bottles”.

Separated by less than a century, the Bayon is the antithesis of Angkor Wat. While this latter sits at ease in its successive enclosure walls, realizing according to a spacious plan a vast architectural composition through the harmonious equilibrium of its towers and its galleries, the Bayon, enclosed within the rectangle of 140 meters by 160 that constitutes its third enclosure (the gallery of the bas-reliefs), gives the impression of being compressed within a frame which is too tight for it. Like a cathedral built on the site of a village church, its central mass is crammed into its second gallery, of 70 meters by 80, in a jumbled confusion of piled blocks.

From a distance, with the only horizontal element being the last enclosure in the form of a base plinth, it appears as but a muddle of stones, a sort of moving chaos assaulting the sky. From wherever one views them – from the diagonal or from the fore – the fifty masked towers rear up on different planes to reinforce an impression of height.

On the upper terrace, however, calm returns. Dwarfed by the serenity of these stone faces, one no longer thinks of the vision of the whole or of the confusion in the plan. Wandering from one to another of the 200 masks – so distant from any normal proportion of architectural convention – one’s attention becomes drawn by their image. Gradually the chaos becomes order, and one perceives the profusion of towers as being made from a combination of elements grouped at the center in a sort of bunched sheaf. The building no longer matters, but only its symbolism.

The Bayon is not so much an architectural work as the translation to the reality of the spiritual beliefs of a grand mystic – the Buddhist king Jayavarman VII – with the four faces of each tower looking to the four cardinal points signifying the omnipresence of the bodhisattva Lokesvara, the kingdom’s principal divinity. If, as Mr. Cœdes believed, they are also the portrait of the sovereign himself identified as the god – if, like the further suggestion of Paul Mus, the towers corresponded to the different provinces of the kingdom – then their multiplication becomes symbolic of the radiant power of the god-king flooding the country.

However, the masked towers were also sanctuaries – proven by the short inscriptions engraved on the jamb-stones of their door openings that mention a substantial number of divinities – both Brahmanic and Buddhist – which can be considered as emanations of the bodhisattva Lokesvara. In the central tower was the idol itself of the kingdom – the “Buddha-king”, corresponding to the royal linga or “Devaraja” of the Brahmanic temple-mountains. Sitting on the coils of a naga, the features probably represented king Jayavarman VII himself.

Found broken in 1933 by G. Trouvé at a depth of 14 meters during excavation down the core of the central tower, this superb 3m.60 high statue has been completely restored. Solemnly presented to His Majesty Sisowath Monivong, the king of Cambodia, on the 17th of May 1935, it now sits on the south side of the road leading to the Victory Gate – not far from the royal square of Angkor Thom – sheltered in a small pavilion with a tiled roof.

The origin of the faced towers, a motif that did not, in any case, survive Jayavarman VII, remains to be discovered. Yi-Tsing, a religious Chinese of the 6th century, mentions brick towers in Nalanda (Bengal) crowned with “heads the size of a man”. Later, as this was characteristic of the representation of Brahma, it was he who was at one time recognized on the towers of the Bayon. The theme in fact is the same – that of the omnipresent god.

Description of the Monument

The confusion in the plan of the Bayon and the intricacy of its buildings results in no doubt from the successive alterations to which the monument was subjected, which are evident just about everywhere. These changes could well have been made either during the course of construction or at other times – so not all necessarily corresponding to the reign of Jayavarman VII.

In its present form the temple is composed; – of the level external gallery of the third enclosure, with four corner pavilions and four gopuras, – of a surrounding courtyard containing, to the east, two high libraries, – of the gallery of the second enclosure at varying levels with four corner towers and three intermediate towers on each side, the central of which forms a gopura, – of a system of galleries forming a redented cross with corner towers and four small square courtyards, – of an upper terrace, the outline of which follows at a slight distance the plan of the cross-formed galleries below, which it clearly dominates, – and of a circular central mass, whose peak towers 43 meters above the surrounding city ground level and which is ringed with an arrangement of loggias, preceded to the east by a series of small halls and vestibules and, finally, flanked on each of its other axes by a high tower.

It would seem probable, according to research by Mr. Parmentier and various archaeological excavations; –

1 – that the central block of the monument corresponding to the galleries of the second enclosure is part of a combination of galleries that once formed a redented cross surrounding a central sanctuary, perhaps raised, which was then adjusted to a rectangle by the addition of the internal galleries enclosing the four small courtyards. (10)

2 – that the upper crossed terrace carrying the central sanctuary was finally constructed by Jayavarman VII, when he decided to make the Bayon the temple-mountain of Angkor Thom – the siege of the Buddha king.

3 – that the present level of the surrounding courtyard corresponds to two successive in-fills, the sandstone base plinth of the second enclosure galleries continuing, with its cladding crudely cut, for 2m.50 below-ground – excavation has revealed the presence of a first pavement in laterite at this lower level with another at an intermediate level 1 meter higher.

4 – that the galleries of the third enclosure and the two “libraries” were built on this filled ground, and therefore towards the end of the project.

5 – that the surrounding courtyard was divided into smaller courtyards by sixteen buildings which have now disappeared – four on each side – whose laterite foundations can still be seen at ground level joining the galleries of the second and the third enclosures – just in front of each tower of the second enclosure and on either side of the axial towers.

There was originally an access stair to the upper terrace on each axis – the one to the east has been walled in at some time to be replaced by two symmetrical others that are steep and slippery. Some narrower concrete stairs have been formed in part of their width, easing the climb to the north, the south, and the east (the left-hand stairway).

Approaching the monument from the eastern terrace, one reaches the pillars of the cruciform gopura of the third enclosure, on which one can see the delightful motifs, sculpted in bas-relief within poly-lobed niches and set on a background decorated “in tapestry”, of groups of two or three apsaras dancing on lotus flowers. From here, turning to the left, one enters the gallery of the bas-reliefs that one should follow according to the ritual manner of “pradakshina” (keeping the monument constantly to one’s right) until reaching the south gopura.

This gallery is formed by a nave bordered to one side by a 4m.50 high wall – 3m.50 of which is sculpted – and to the other side by a double row of pillars forming a side-aisle. All the surrounding vaults have disappeared, as have those of the cruciform corner pavilions and gopuras.

The visitor with limited time should at least examine the reliefs in this south-east quarter gallery – the most interesting – pausing in front of each opening to the internal courtyard to enjoy the composition from different viewpoints.

From the south gopura, where there stood a curious statue of a hunchback and still is a delightful frieze of large apsaras above the north door, one enters the surrounding courtyard which one crosses to gain access to the axial tower-gopura, forming part of the system of galleries on varying levels. The general north-south axis of the Bayon is considerably offset to the west, leaving the rectangle of the second enclosure wider to the east. Here, the external section of the galleries, while simulating a half-vault on their exterior, have on their inner side a full vault covering a series of bas-reliefs whose continuity is broken by each tower.

Turning right at the center of the tower-gopura one follows, towards the east, the internal gallery with a side-aisle. At its far end – in the south-east corner tower situated at a lower level – one can see a statue of Buddha sitting sheltered by naga heads, set clearly against a background of light.

Bearing to the north, at the first encountered tower, one continues through the gallery of the redented cross that is bordered by a half-vaulted side-aisle. From here the view is blocked in less than a meter by the retaining wall of the upper terrace, added as an afterthought and which exactly follows its line, so completely masking the tympanums with scenes on each of the corner frontons. One descends to the small square courtyard of the south-east corner and gains – by the southern tower of the group of three which mark the eastern side of the second enclosure – the first stairs on the left, which lead up to the large terrace. This route gives a clear idea of the jumbled complication of the Bayon’s plan and of its countless alterations. The courtyards which must have existed in the initial form of the monument have been reduced to gloomy passageways without light or air, and one feels a long way from the elegant simplicity of Angkor Wat.

On the upper terrace, mystery reigns. Wherever one wanders, the faces of Lokesvara follow and dominate with their multiple presences, always countered by the overwhelming mass of the central core. These towers, rising everywhere to varying heights, are not in fact heads with four faces which could have been taken for some representation of Brahma, but simply a variation on the theme of the square “Prasat”, with four upper tiers and a crowning lotus, – but sculpted on each axis with human faces, varying from 1m.75 to 2m.40 in height, within the rising of the first two tiers.

Composed of a structure with a central chimney that had generally remained intact, and with facing blocks that are simply placed without any bonding in a manner that offers no resistance to roots, the towers appeared, after clearing, to be cracked from top to bottom – their vertical joints, stacked without any overlapping, having caused the mass of stones to split like over-ripe fruit. Dismantled and reconstructed according to the process of anastylosis and now held together by invisible iron cramps, the composition was just saved from the imminent ruin that threatened it.

The central mass is – a rare thing in Khmer building – circular in plan (in fact slightly oval) measuring over 25 meters in diameter at the base. Above its molded plinth, small triangular or rectangular loggias open to little porticoes with frontons forming a peristyle. Higher still is another level of small chambers, without access and lit by baluster windows, and then, marking the four cardinal points and their intermediaries, eight towers with faces – of which only a single face stands out in entirety – surrounded by a kind of circular walkway. Crudely cut or later hacked, they were perhaps covered in a plaster coating.

The high crowning motif is imprecise in form and ringed at its base with the few remaining elements of a final peristyle. It was perhaps itself also sculpted with four stone faces like the towers, or otherwise, it simply served to support a tall light-weight structure. This is, with no doubt, the “Golden Tower” described by Tcheou Ta-Kouan as “marking the center of the kingdom, flanked by more than 20 stone towers and at least one hundred stone chambers”. Repaired and consolidated in 1933 – after first having raised a sturdy scaffolding – the whole of this upper part was disintegrating. The substructure having maintained its stability, it was sufficient to restore the architectural elements which, as a facing, served as strengthening.

Internally, the obscure sanctuary chamber of 5 meters in diameter is surrounded by a narrow passageway. It was here that the idol of the kingdom was set up – the large statue of Buddha mentioned above, whose remains were found down the central well. One gains access from the east side through a series of cruciform chambers, three with towers, that are separated by small vestibules. Two long rooms on either side also towered, occupy the usual position of the “libraries”. One should note, near the northern one and below the terrace at its returning north-east corner, an admirably preserved fronton which, for a long time protected and concealed by the paving, has a standing Lokesvara as its central figure. It was this which first drew attention to the Buddhist nature of the Bayon.

The ornamentation is very dense, in the usual manner of this final period of Khmer art, but remains nonetheless careful. On a base of foliated scrolls and organic decoration, it has some delightfully delicate detail. Characteristic of this style are the false windows with partially lowered blinds concealing the height of the balusters, and the skirts with flowers and the belts with pendants of the smiling devatas whose head-dress is formed in small flaming discs set in a triangle – the deep relief has allowed their feet to be shown almost full forwards. We would also draw attention to the charming twinned apsaras, enlivening the window cills of the central mass, and to the interesting sculpted panel above the south stair that gives access to the terrace – probably a representation of the “Elephant of Glory”, charged to find the man designated by Destiny to take the vacant throne.

Re-descending into the gallery of the second enclosure by the same stairway that was first climbed, the visitor who is pressed for time can get some idea of the bas-reliefs in this gallery by entering the recess situated between the east axial tower and the tower immediately to the north – where the legend of the “Leper King” can be seen.

Returning eastwards to the crossed gallery, one can then finally pay a visit to the covered well, of a dozen meters in depth, that is to be found on the left towards its middle, protected by a hand-rail.

The Bas-Reliefs

The Bayon is the only temple to have two concentric galleries sculpted with bas-reliefs; – the internal gallery is complete in its ornamentation and was almost exclusively reserved for mythological subjects of Brahmanic inspiration, while the outer gallery, accessible to the mass of the faithful, was dedicated both to scenes of everyday life and to certain historic episodes – processions and battles – from the reign of Jayavarman VII. Remaining incomplete, these were to have shown – according to Paul Mus – scenes of contemporary mythology under the aegis of Lokesvara, of whom the deified king himself was but an emanation, given life by the sculptor’s chisel.

The Bayon bas-reliefs are less stylized and more deeply incised than those of Angkor Wat, and although often quite crude in execution and simplistic in form, they provide a source of documentation which is remarkable, both for the care taken in the representation of the smallest detail and for the qualities of observation which they show – and it is practically the only source we have that gives an idea of the customs and conditions of life in ancient Cambodia.

They are sculpted in superposed registers, with the lower panel representing, for the ancient Khmer who was ignorant of the laws of perspective, the foreground, and the upper panel the horizon. Starting from the eastern entrance, we begin with the southern section of the eastern side, keeping the monument to our right in accordance with the rite of “pradakshina”.

1 – Outer Galleries (3rd Enclosure) East Gallery, Southern Part

Here, in three highly accomplished registers, is a military procession marching from the south to the north. The soldiers are armed with javelins and shields, and most have short hair and bare heads, while a group on the lower register wear goatee beards and strange hairstyles pierced at the top. Musicians accompany them, with a small dancing figure beating an enormous gong with two sticks. They are flanked by cavaliers riding with neither saddle nor stirrups, while the chiefs are armed with bows or javelins and surrounded by parasols and banners in a forest setting. They sit on elephants guided by their drivers who brandish the usual hooks.

Towards the end of the line, enlivened with charming everyday scenes, one can see the army suppliers – the covered carts with axle-skates are exactly the same as those still in use today. On the upper panel, three princesses pass by, carried in rich palanquins. At the other end is the ark of the sacred flame, also to be found in the “historical gallery” of Angkor Wat.

Passing the door to the courtyard the direction of the march is reversed. The upper register, where one can see interior scenes and a few ascetics, has only its lower area remaining and shows again the same nature of procession, but where the elephants are only ridden by their drivers. The coconut-palms are treated in a realistic fashion, while one can see to the extreme left of the upper register, tied to a tree, an ox probably destined for sacrifice.

Beyond, in four-tiered panels, follow scenes of interiors. The roofs of the houses are shown with their finial ridges on which several birds are perched. The particular nature of the hair-styles, the costumes, and the objects suspended from the ceiling leads one to suspect that the figures represent some Chinese merchants in a business discussion.

South East Corner Pavillion

The sculptures of this gallery remain unfinished, with the first panel giving a good indication of the working methods of the Khmer. Passing a wall that has first been prepared (and of which one should note the unlikely bonding), they proceed with the direct sculpting first drawn in the sketch, – then slightly relieved, – then given volume – and finally finished. Two charming apsaras dance to the right, while to the left are outlined three towers surmounted by a trident. The central shelters a linga.

The other panels are dedicated to nautical scenes.

South Gallery Eastern Part

This section, which is one of the best, relates to naval combat that took place in the last quarter of the 12th century between the Khmer (whose hair is cut short) and the Chams (coiffed with a sort of upturned lotus flower). It shows a conflict of battleships with richly ornate prows – like galleys – where the line of oarsmen’s heads is dominated by warriors armed with javelins, bows, and shields. Bodies are thrown overboard, some to be devoured by crocodiles.

The larger king is sitting in his palace to the extreme right, presiding over preparations and giving orders, while below him a gamboling figure recalls the buffoons who rouse the oarsmen during water festivals in Phnom Penh. Numerous species of fish are shown, often amongst the trees – since the forest becomes flooded during the rainy season – faithfully reproducing the features of those that one can still find in the Great Lake today.

On the banks of the lake, as a lower register, events from everyday life are shown, depicted with much candor and humor; – market scenes, scenes of open-air cooking, of hunting or of attack by wild animals. A woman picks lice from one figure, while another plays with her children and a further mourns an invalid who lies in her arms. To the extreme left, a hunter, preparing to shoot a buffalo, holds his crossbow – similar to the weapon still favored in present-day Cambodia.

Past the door is a fishing scene showing casting nets – a junk, apparently mounted by Chinese, displays the curious arrangement of its anchor and pulley – while the occupants of another, which is flatter, amuse themselves with various games. At the base are more familiar scenes including a cockfight that is superbly composed with a great intensity of expression.

Then come palace scenes – princesses surrounded by their servants, dances, conversations, games of chess – with wrestlers, gladiators, and a wild boar fight below. The whole scene is surmounted by the faint outline of a larger reclining figure – this could perhaps be the king taking possession of his palace according to the rite, still in use, of the coronation ceremony.

The battle continues. At the bottom, we can see the Chams arriving in their battle junks. They land and, above, they battle against the Khmer who, in the form of giants with short hair and their bodies coiled in ropes, clearly dominate. Peace returns and the king, sitting in his palace, celebrates victory amidst his subjects who perform their various trades – like carpenters, blacksmiths, cooks – in preparation for a banquet.

To the far left, next to the last door that one passes, a narrow panel shows three registers with scenes of conversation above scenes of wrestling.

South Gallery Western Part

This section, where the lower register has been finished while the upper remains incomplete, is only of mediocre interest. There are more military processions with elephants playing an important role. The scene gives a precious indication of contemporary war machines, – one is a sort of large crossbow carried on the back of an elephant and maneuvered by two archers, the other is a catapult mounted on wheels. To the extreme west must be the bathing of the sacred elephants. They shelter under parasols and are being led to the river, represented below by a band of fish.

West Gallery, Southern Part

Here again, many areas have not been sculpted. On the lower panel, warriors and their chiefs mounted on elephants pass before a background of forests and mountains (indicated by a pattern of small triangles) while towards the center, an ascetic escapes from an inquisitive tiger by climbing a tree.

Above, one can see some intriguing methods of construction – workers haul a block of stone on which a foreman stands with a cane, others carry materials and more are grinding the blocks that are suspended from a special frame. Further, still, are isolated scenes describing the life of the ascetics.

Beyond the door extends a long panel that Mr. Cœdes refers to as “the civil war”. It shows a large crowd moving in front of a line of houses – perhaps a street – with men and women gesticulating and threatening, while others are armed ready for a fight. Above, a kneeling figure to whom two severed heads are being carried seems to present them to the multitude, while at the top, another in a palanquin approaches a prince who awaits him in his palace.

Further is the furious melee of fighters – semi-naked warriors with the usual hairstyle of the Khmer and with nothing distinguishing them from one another. Numerous elephants participate in the action.

Western Gallery, Northern Part

Warriors armed simply with sticks seem to chase others protected by small round shields and preceded by elephants. They pass a pool where an enormous fish is swallowing a small quadruped. A short inscription identifies it, explaining that “the deer is his nourishment”.

Another longer text, engraved under a large shrimp, indicates that “the king pursues and overcomes the vanquished”. The upper part of this panel, where the main characters would have been, remains unfortunately only in the sketch outline.

Beyond the door, the last inscription tells us that “the king then retires for a time to the forest where he celebrates the saint Indrabhisaka”, drawing Mr. Cœdes to conclude that “this peaceful procession through a backdrop of trees represents the king going to retreat in the forest before celebrating the Consecration of Indra” – recalling an ancient edited ceremony. At the end of the procession are women and children. Amongst others one will notice the king, always shown larger than those who surround him, standing on an elephant – and then, ahead, the ark of the sacred flame.

North Gallery, Western Part

The wall is only sculpted on its lower part, and there some parts remain only in the sketch outline. The first panel certainly follows that which precedes: – “the games in which athletes, jugglers, acrobats, and horses take part and which clearly constitute public merrymaking – one of the essential elements of the Indrabhisaka” (Mr. Cœdes). Above the interior scene, over which the king presides, is a curious procession of animals, giving an idea of the Cambodian fauna. At the other extremity, ascetics sit in the forest and then, on the bank of a winding river, a group of women to whom presents are being brought, close to a larger figure in sketch outline.

Beyond the door are more combat scenes where the Chams reappear as the traditional enemies of the Khmer.

North Gallery, Eastern Part

The wall has almost entirely crumbled, except for its two extremities where one can again find the same adversaries in battle. The Chams come from the west in tight ranks, but this time it is the Khmer who flee towards the mountain without appearing to offer serious opposition. The eastern part is highly animated and treated with a curious realism.

North East Corner Pavillion

Processions of Khmer warriors and elephants without particular interest. In the center of the pavilion is a fine circular pedestal of a type that is generally reserved for statues of Brahma. Its origin is unknown since its style differs from that of the Bayon and places it around the 10th century.

East Gallery, Northern Part

In a large deployment, Cham and Khmer forces are again in battle, forming a furious melee towards the center with the elephants themselves also taking part in the action. One of them tries, with his coiled trunk, to pull a tusk from another who opposes him. Another is unusually represented from the front. Countless standards, banners, and sunshades form a veritable back-cloth – and one can see, on the side of the Khmer who seem final to dominate, some curious grilled panels that were perhaps designed to stop the arrows from the adversary without obscuring the view.

2 – Inner Galleries (2nd Enclosure)

Once again, for the purpose of the visit, we will adopt the usual mode of circulation whereby on leaving the principal east entrance the monument is kept always to one’s right. Here we find, in fact, not one single surrounding gallery on a constant level, but rather a succession of independent chambers, cells, and truncated galleries that are clearly separate. The various panels of bas-reliefs should be considered as a number of tableaux, with only some of them evidently relating in direction to the development of the subject represented – we will indicate where necessary those that will be contrary to our circulation.

Eastern Gallery, Southern Part

1. between the towers

To the right, ascetics and animals in mountainous and forested scenery – in front (badly deteriorated) a palace scene dominated by a royal figure. To the left, another palace scene with the principal figure in the sketch outline.

2. vestibule

To the right, the king in a palace with some ascetics above rural and hunting scenes. In front, some Brahmans gather around a brazier within a temple surrounded by flying apsaras.

3. low gallery

To the right of the door, a princess in a palace amongst her servants.

– on the large panel in front and returning to the left.

The army in the usual procession, but where Khmer and Chams (?) are mixed. A royal figure stands on an elephant, preceded by the ark of the sacred flame.

South East Corner

Marching warriors and a chief standing on an elephant.

South Gallery, Eastern Part

1. lower gallery

A panel that is badly deteriorated and unclear. A procession of warriors (Chams?), – a fight between two high ranking figures, – warriors coming from the opposite direction, apparently of the same nationality. A palace scene next to which one can see a man climbing a coconut tree, and then an enormous garuda and a gigantic fish symbolizing the ocean into which the base of Mount Meru, represented as a mountain inhabited by ascetics and animals, is supposed to plunge. The procession again, with another high ranking figure. Behind is the palace façade of a palace that seems to have some of its rooms empty but for a few accessories, and others occupied with princesses – one smelling flower and another combing her hair in front of a mirror.

2. vestibule

A large royal figure wrestles with a lion (?). To the left, he holds the rear foot of an elephant that he has just overpowered.

3. between the two towers

Starting from the left-hand returning wall, above a line of warriors, a king leaves his palace that is decorated with a few accessories (a bow, a quiver, and a fly swat) – its main hall remains empty, while a princess sits with her servants. In front and from the left to the right is a less developed scene showing a battle against another prince and his army – then a palace next to a pool with another building where several figures surround a fire.

Next come to a group of musicians and men carrying an empty throne on their shoulders, leaving a palace that is occupied only by women – the lord being absent. On the lower register, a princess prepares to incarcerate a child in a chest – which looks as if it is destined to be dropped into the neighboring pond. A fisherman in a boat throws his net in the presence of a richly dressed princess on a sumptuous boat with apsaras flying above.

From the pool grows an enormous lotus, serving as a pedestal for some idol or figure whose image has been defaced, close to a group of worshippers who pay him homage.

It is quite probable that this scene leads as a prelude to some others, sculpted on the panel to the right on the return, and which has been identified as the history of “Pradyumna, the son of Krishna and of Rukmini, thrown into the sea by the demon Sambara. The child is eaten by a fish that the fishermen catch in their nets, offering it then to Sambara. In gutting their catch, the fishermen find Pradyumna (who is none other than the Kama, the god of love). A handmaid of Sambara, Mayavati (an incarnation of Rati, the wife of Kama) secretly rears the child who is to become her husband and who will later kill Sambara.” (Cœdes)

One can see the living child sitting in the stomach of the fish which the king wants to gut, and then presented to Mayavati who greets him.

South Gallery, Western Part

1. between the towers

On the right hand returning panel, though badly deteriorated, one can distinguish a figure lying in a palace. His wife sits by his bed, seeming to lament.

In front, a Shivaïte panel of appalling craftsmanship. The god is represented twice; – standing first on a throne and then on a lotus blossom with some figures in prayer, one of whom is stretched on the ground. A sort of coffin or shrine is carried on a cart.

To the left in the return is another Shiva, deformed and holding a trident over some apsaras dancing to an accompanying orchestra.

2. vestibule

To the right, in the return, at the base, one can see an interior scene where pigeons perch on the roof. Higher, temple architecture, from where Vishnou with four arms seems to descend towards a standing Shiva who holds a trident. In front, a similar scene, but without the four-armed figure.

3. lower gallery

Apsaras flying and a standing figure (Shiva?) girdled with a Brahmanic cord, receiving homage from some Brahmans. Mountain scenery inhabited by wild animals (a tiger eating a man) serves as a backdrop for a temple with closed doors.

Princesses walk by a pool on either side of a charming group of apsaras dancing on lotuses – above is probably Shiva, sitting in his celestial palace and surrounded by his court.

Further is the temple of Shiva (shown standing) in the middle of a pool with ascetics and animals on the banks. A tiger chases an ascetic, while other religious figures converse in a palace and several worshippers bow before the god. In the center of the panel stands Vishnou with four arms as a statue next to a pool, surrounded by flying apsaras. A crowd pays homage and one figure lies on the ground. They accompany the same coffin mounted on wheels mentioned above. Horses are shown in the procession, which comes from a palace shown on the left with its stair guarded by lions – an important figure seems to give orders, while numerous servants feverishly prepare for the departure. At the extremity, in the return, princesses walk in a garden beside a lake where one of them picks lotuses. We are perhaps witnessing the organization of some royal pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the god.

Western Gallery, Southern Part

1. lower gallery

To the right, women in a palace, where the main room is empty. In front is Vishnou with four arms, equipped with his usual attributes and standing on Garuda – “subduing, for his own sake or for the figure who stands behind him, an army of Asuras”. (G. Cœdes). Then is a scene in a partly empty palace.

2. vestibule

Another palace scene with apsaras dancing to an orchestra. To the left are women swimming and picking lotuses in a pool, near to an ascetic. Above, more dancers, and at the top, two wrestling figures.

3. between the two towers

To the right, the god Vishnu with four arms in a prayer scene over some episodes from the construction of a temple that are more detailed than those on the bas-reliefs of the external gallery; – workers haul a block of stone that slides on rollers, while more are rubbing and placing the blocks with the help of a special levering device. Others transport materials under the threat of a cane.

In front is Vishnou in another scene of prayer. His statue is seen above an evacuation hole for water disgorged from the interior of the monument. Apsaras fly and a crowd of servants carries trays in what is perhaps the inauguration ceremony of the temple. A nautical scene shows chess players in a richly decorated junk surrounded by other boats, and fighting cocks – the same subject as the “Nautical festival of Dvaravati” in the south-west corner pavilion of Angkor Wat. To the left in the return, under a palace scene (Shiva with Vishnou dancing on his right), are various scenes from the life of the ascetics, meditating in caves or swimming amongst lotuses close to a bird holding a fish in its beak.

West Gallery, Northern Part

1. between the towers

To the right in the return are some badly deteriorated palace scenes. In front of three registers, a line of warriors – mainly cavaliers – with two imposing figures, sit in their horse-drawn chariots. To the left, in the return, the procession continues.

2. vestibule

To the right in the return, two lords talking in a palace, young princesses in the hands of their dressers and, to the left, a temple sheltering a canopy set on a tiered pyramid (perhaps an incineration pavilion). In front, in the middle of an assembly of Brahmans – of which some surround a sort of hearth under a roof – an archer shoots an arrow while another prepares his weapon.

3. lower gallery

Another archery scene with, to the left, a lord in his palace.

The large panel has crumbled for part of its length. It shows the churning of the Sea of Milk, and its remains display some fine modeling. First is an assembly of Brahmans, then, under a flight of birds and apsaras, the body of the serpent – with the asuras at the head and the devas, helped by Hanuman the monkey, at the tail. A replica of the serpent crawls at the bottom of the ocean, represented by fish. At the center, the pivot is shown as a column resting on the tortoise (an incarnation of Vishnu). The shaft is held by the god in his human form with four arms, while another figure surmounts the scene, as at Angkor Wat, above the lotus-formed capital.

One can see the two discs of the sun and of the moon, as well as the flask destined to contain the Amrita – the elixir of immortality coveted by the gods and demons. To the left, a god sitting on a bird seems to want to appease the group of asuras in battle which terminates the composition. Their chief is standing on a chariot drawn by some superb lions.

North West Corner

A procession of warriors.

North Gallery, Western Part

1. lower Gallery

Palace scenes on three registers. Then, on two registers, a line of servants seem to carry offerings and follow a large figure towards a mountain inhabited by wild animals (elephants, rhinoceros, nagas, and other snakes), separated by a pool and crowned with a sanctuary. Its doors are closed. One can then see another more imposing temple. The doors are locked and guarded by two dvarapalas.

Some kneeling ascetics seem to receive another procession coming from the left and led by two tall figures carrying tridents. Perhaps they have just landed on the bank, since the scene becomes nautical, with a group of three large, richly ornate boats – the first two bear men with short hair and a lord holding a trident, the other, figures whose heads are covered with an upturned flower surrounding a central couple and entertaining themselves under a flight of birds. One returns, finally, to the firm ground where, in a mountain palace and amongst the ascetics, sit several figures. At least one carries a trident (Shiva?).

2. vestibule

In front, under a flight of apsaras and clumsily represented, is Shiva with ten arms dancing the “tandava” that sets the rhythm of the universe. Vishnou is at his right and Brahma with four faces at his left with Ganesha, while beneath is a devouring Rahu. On the returning panel of the wall; – at the top of a mountain populated with ascetics is another aspect of the “Trimurti” – Shiva sitting between Vishnu and Brahma – above an enormous charging boar.

3. between the towers

To the right in the return is Shiva, again seated, surrounded by ascetics and women, the first of whom must be his wife, Parvati. The bull Nandin can be seen close by.

In front, in mountain scenery where the ascetics are in prayer, a woman arranging her hair with a gracious gesture stands in the doorway between a prince or a god and an ascetic. On the lintel, one can see a sort of lizard. This is, according to some, the legend, already represented at Angkor Wat, of Ravana taking the form of a chameleon in order to gain access to the lady’s chamber in the palace of Indra. Others see the descent to earth of the goddess Ganga (the river Ganges). Then is the scene, also evident at Angkor Wat, of the Kama, the god of love, shooting an arrow at Shiva who is meditating on a mountain with Uma at his side – the angry god strikes the Kama, whom one can see lying on the ground with his wife Rati at his feet. Nandin the bull can be seen again, climbing the hill. The panel ends in an indefinite scene where a prince sits in his palace at the top of a hill.

To the left in the return is Shiva mounted on Nandin, of mediocre execution.

North Gallery, East Part

1. between two towers

To the right in the return is Shiva on Nandin with his wife Uma sitting on his lap, passing in front of a palace where one can see the king of the nagas with multiple serpent heads. Below are dancing apsaras.

In front seems to be the preparation for the incineration of the figure being carried by hand on the lower register. Above are the funerary urn and the cremation pavilion, surmounted by the head of Kala.

Then comes an episode from the Mahabharata – the “duel between Arjuna and Shiva disguised as Kirata over a wild boar which both claim to have killed, and which is none other than the rakshasa Muka. Shiva wins and reveals himself, giving Arjuna the Pasuputa, the weapon which is to serve him in his future exploits” (G. Cœdes).

To the left of the door, a figure sits in a palace on top of a mountain, surrounded by women. Then is the “legend of Ravana, half crushed by Shiva under the mountain that he tried to shake – well known from the Angkor Wat bas-relief. The sculptors took care not to forget the Pushpaka chariot”, pulled by Hamsas (G. Cœdes).

On the returning panel, palace scenes in two registers.

2. vestibule

A procession of no particular interest.

3. lower gallery

Servants carrying offerings (?) – and then – above a panel of praying ascetics followed by a pool lined with steps – a rich palace with three towers surmounted by tridents, set against a backdrop of palm trees. The central throne is empty, and the sanctuaries to the side shelter statues of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Further on is Shiva blessing his worshippers under a flight of apsaras. A king, followed by his army, seems to come to beg a favor from the god. There is the usual procession of infantrymen with short hair, with musicians, elephants, and horses. Princesses follow, carried in palanquins, as well as an enormous case and a cart with a canopy pulled by oxen. Passing in front of some deserted residences, one then sees the king climbing into his six-wheeled chariot to leave his palace where some dancers enliven the leaving party.

North East Corner

Fragments of a procession without much interest.

Eastern Gallery, Northern Part

1. lower gallery

A large army parade where one can see two different hair-styles – short-cropped and inverted-flower. Below pass musicians, infantrymen framed by cavaliers, a prince’s horse-drawn chariot and others with canopies pulled by hand. Above is a large litter with six wheels mounted on Hamsas, carried or pulled on shoulders and occupied by a prince between two of his wives, – princesses in palanquins surrounded by children, – the ark of the sacred flame (?), – an empty throne and the king armed with a bow sitting on an elephant and followed by two other chiefs.

Passing the door, a small panel shows a prince – perhaps the king asking the god’s favor before leaving for war (?). He stretches on the ground at Shiva’s feet, near his empty throne.

2. vestibule

Two boats float on a pool lined with steps surrounded by fish, amongst which one can distinguish two with human heads. Divers seem to look for something precious – perhaps the shapeless object that one can see above, carried by the shoulder on a sort of throne. A flight of apsaras and birds crowns the composition.

To the left, in the return, some see the representation of an act of vandalism – the iconoclasts seeming to want to topple and break the statue of a woman surrounded by ropes that are pulled simultaneously by men and elephants.

Dr. Bosch however gives a preferable interpretation. “Far from any attempt to topple or break anything, some people are occupied in trying to deliver a prisoner from her cell. Above her head, some prise opens the rock with picks – and the elephants pull it apart. Below they apply the ancient method for splitting hard rock – by heating it with fire and then dousing it with water – or preferably with vinegar. It seems that the scene describes a popular legend – of a king or prince who passes by a mountain and hears the voice of a woman who is singing or crying. He opens the rock and releases the woman, (princess/nagi/nymph) whom he then marries”.

Thus explained, the scene could have some relation to the preceding scene, which could, therefore, represent the liberated nymph becoming an object of adoration as a source of healing. In the same way, some would see a link with the legend of the Leper King that appears as an element of the neighboring gallery – and Shiva in the last panel of the lower gallery would so become a simple Rishi healer, in front of whom the king, who has been saved by him, lies prostrate… – just a simple hypothesis…

3. between the towers

Here is the legend of the Leper King identified by Mr. Goloubew, which one should read from left to right.

A king is throned in his palace near his wife and surrounded by his courtiers and dancers. He fights with a serpent, while below, the crowd looks on. Having been spattered with the monster’s venom, he contracts leprosy. Sitting in his palace he gives orders to his servants who, descending a stair, seem to rush in order to consult with the ascetic healers in the forest. Women surround the sick king, examining the progress of the disease on his hands. One can see him finally at rest with an ascetic standing at his side.

Interesting to note, under the wrestling scene with the serpent, is a removable stone that serves as a plug for the opening of an internal channel for the evacuation of water.

Around The Bayon

Around the quadrilateral of roads surrounding the Bayon, one can see – apart from the enormous gilded statues of the Buddha of a much later period which is to be found to the north and south – two modern commemorative monuments. The one in the south-west corner is the grave of Commaille, the first Angkor Conservator, who was assassinated in 1916 by armed robbers. The other, in the north-west corner and not far from the sculpture depot of the École Française d’Extrême-Orient and the old house of Commaille, is the stele erected in honor of Ch. Carpeaux, who died in service in 1904.

If one takes the other section of the route Carpeaux, one will find, halfway between the Bayon and the west gate of Angkor Thom – at 200 meters south of the road – a small monument that is unnamed but classified as the number “486”.

SOURCE: theangkorguide.com