Bayon at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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May 17th 2008
Published: June 21st 2017
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Bayon -
Doesn't look like much from a distance, but once you get an inside you're treated to an endless variety of angles and compositions of the 216 heads carved into the stone of 54 towers . It was one of the last temples built in Angkor, and one of the few Buddhist temples here; most are dedicated to Hindu deities.

The temple has three levels. The lower two are lined with bas-reliefs. The third has a central sanctuary where Buddhists were actively praying both times I visited. The layout may sound simple, but it's really a maze of walkways and galleries that you can easily get lost in.

Unlike the bas-reliefs at Angkor which were of the king and his great battles, the bas-reliefs at Bayon are mostly scenes from everyday life -- fishing, festivals, the marketplace, the Chinese coming to Thailand on their cramped boats and even cockfights...

Jayavarman (one of the ancient kings) tolerated the worship of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu, he made Mahayana Buddhism the primary religion of Angkor for the first time. And the Bayon Temple became his state temple. He also built the temples of Prah Kahn (dedicated to his father) and
Ta Prohm (dedicated to his mother).

When the explorers visited Angkor in 1297 the towers at Bayon covered in gold. The gold was stripped by later conquerers. And while Angkor Wat was kept from the ravages of the jungle by Buddhist monks, Bayon was left to the devices of nature. Four and a half centuries took their toll, it's so beautiful and stoic now, I can only imagine what it must have looked like 700 years ago.

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