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
, 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."
Foundation and dedication
Consecrated in 967
A.D. , 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
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.
Yajnyavaraha's temple was primarily dedicated to the Hindu
. 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
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
found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the
buildings themselves. Some have speculated that it relates to the
into the walls of the buildings.
Expansion and rededication
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.
The temple was rediscovered only in 1914, and was the subject of a
celebrated case of art theft
when André Malraux
stole four devata
(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
Until the discovery of the foundation stela
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
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
Materials and style
Banteay Srei is built largely of a hard red sandstone that can be
carved like wood. Brick
were used only for the enclosure walls and
some structural elements. The temple is known for the beauty of its
is the roughly triangular space
above a rectangular doorway or openings. At Banteay Srei, pediments
are relatively large in comparison to the openings below, and take
a sweeping gabled shape. For the first time in the history of
architecture, whole scenes of
mythological subject-matter are depicted on the pediments.
is a horizontal beam spanning the
gap between two posts. Some lintels serve a structural purpose,
serving to support the weight of the superstructure, while others
are purely decorative in purpose. The lintels at Banteay Srei are
beautifully carved, rivalling those of the 9th century Preah Ko style in
Noteworthy decorative motifs include the kala
(a toothy monster symbolic of time), the guardian dvarapala
protector of the temple) and devata
(demi-goddess), the false door
and the colonette
decorative carvings seem to cover almost every available surface.
According to pioneering Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize
, "Given the very particular
charm of Banteay Srei — its remarkable state of preservation and
the excellence of a near perfect ornamental technique — one should
not hesitate, of all the monuments of the Angkor group, to give it
the highest priority." At Banteay Srei, wrote Glaize, "the work
relates more closely to the art of the goldsmith
or to carving in
than to sculpture
Plan of Banteay Srei
most Khmer temples, Banteay Srei is oriented towards the east. It
consists of three concentric rectangular enclosures
an east-west axis. A causeway stituated on the axis leads from an
gate, to the third or outermost of the three enclosures. The inner
enclosure contains the sanctuary
, consisting of
an entrance chamber and three towers, as well as two buildings
conventionally referred to as libraries
The outer Gopura
that remains of the outer wall surrounding the town of Isvapura.
The wall is believed to have measured approximately 500 m square,
and may have been constructed of wood. The gopura's eastern
who was associated with that direction, mounted on his three-headed
. The 67 m causeway with
the remains of corridors on either side connects the gopura with
the third enclosure. North and south of this causeway are galleries
The Third (Outer) Enclosure
The third enclosure is 95 by 110 m; it is surrounded by a laterite
wall breached by gopuras
at the eastern and
western ends. Neither pediment
eastern gopura is in situ
. The west-facing pediment is now located in the Musée
Guimet in Paris.
It depicts a scene from the
in which the Asura
fight over the Apsaras Tilottama
east-facing pediment is lying on the ground. It depicts a scene
from the Ramayana
in which a demon seizes
's wife Sita
. Most of
the area within the third enclosure is occupied by a moat
divided into two parts by causeways to the east
The Second Enclosure
Shiva Nataraja is depicted on the
eastern gopura of the inner enclosure wall.
The combat between Vali and Sugreeva
is depicted on the western gopura.
A pediment shows Narasimha clawing Hiranyakasipu.
The second enclosure sits between an outer laterite wall measuring
38 by 42 m, with gopuras at the eastern and western ends, and a
brick inner enclosure wall, measuring 24 by 24 m. The western
gopura features an interesting bas relief
depicting the duel of the monkey princes Vali
, as well as Rama
's intervention on Sugreeva's behalf. The inner
enclosure wall has collapsed, leaving a gopura at the eastern end
and a brick shrine at the western. The eastern pediment of the
gopura shows Shiva Nataraja
west-facing pediment has an image of Durga
Likewise, the laterite galleries which once filled the second
enclosure (one each to north and south, two each to east and west)
have partially collapsed. A pediment on one of the galleries shows
the lion-man Narasimha
clawing the demon
The First (Inner) Enclosure
Between the gopuras on the collapsed inner wall are the buildings
of the inner enclosure: a library
in the south-east
corner and another in the north-east corner, and in the centre the
set on a T-shaped platform 0.9 m
high. Besides being the most extravagantly decorated parts of the
temple, these have also been the most successfully restored (helped
by the durability of their sandstone and their small scale). As of
2005, the entire first enclosure was off-limits to visitors, as was
the southern half of the second enclosure.
The two libraries are of brick, laterite and sandstone. Each
library has two pediments
, one on the
eastern side and one on the western. According to Maurice Glaize,
the four library pediments, "representing the first appearance of
with scenes, are
works of the highest order. Superior in composition to any which
followed, they show true craftsmanship in their modelling in a
skilful blend of stylisation and realism."
A pediment shows Ravana shaking Mount
east-facing pediment on the southern library shows Shiva seated on the summit of Mount Kailasa, his mythological abode. His consort
Uma sits on his lap and clings anxiously to his
torso. Other beings are also present on the slopes of the mountain,
arranged in a strict hierarchy of three tiers from top to bottom.
In the top tier sit bearded wise men and ascetics, in the middle
tier mythological figures with the heads of animals and the bodies
of humans, and in the bottom tier large animals, including a number
of lions. In the middle of the scene stands the ten-headed demon
king Ravana. He is shaking the mountain in
its very foundations as the animals flee from his presence and as
the wise men and mythological beings discuss the situation or pray.
According to the legend, Shiva stopped Ravana from shaking the
mountain by using his toe to press down on the mountain and to trap
Ravana underneath for 1000 years.
west-facing pediment on southern library
shows Shiva again seated on the summit of
Kailasa. He is looking to his left at the god of
love Kama, who is aiming an arrow at him.
Uma sits to Shiva's right; he is handing her a
chain of beads. The slopes of the mountain are crowded with other
beings, again arranged in a strict hierarchy from top to bottom.
Just under Shiva sit a group of bearded wise men and ascetics,
under whom the second tier is occupied by the mythological beings
with the heads of animals and the bodies of humans; the lowest tier
belongs the common people, who mingle sociably with tame deer and a
large gentle bull. According to the legend, Kama fired an arrow at
Shiva in order to cause Shiva to take an interest in Uma. Shiva,
however, was greatly angered by this provocation, and punished Kama
by gazing upon him with his third eye, frying Kama to cinders.
Another pediment shows the burning of
- The east-facing pediment on the northern library shows the god
of the sky Indra creating rain to put out a
forest fire started by the god of fire Agni for
purposes of killing the nāga king Takshaka who lived in Khandava Forest. The Mahabharatan heroes Krishna and Arjuna are shown
helping Agni by firing a dense hail of arrows to block Indra's
rain. Takshaka's son Aswasena is depicted attempting to escape from
the conflagration, while other animals stampede about in
- The west-facing pediment on the southern library depicts
Krishna slaying his wicked uncle Kamsa.
The sanctuary is entered from the east by a doorway only 1.08 m in
height: inside is an entrance chamber (or mandapa
) with a corbelled
then a short corridor leading to three towers to the west: the
central tower is the tallest, at 9.8 m. Glaize notes the impression
of delicacy given the towers by the antefixes
on each of their tiers. The six stairways
leading up to the platform were each guarded by two kneeling
statues of human figures with animal heads; most of those now in
place are replicas, the originals having been stolen or removed to
- Freeman, Michael and Jacques, Claude (1999). Ancient
Angkor. River Books. ISBN 0-8348-0426-3.
- Glaize, Maurice (2003 edition of an English translation of the
1993 French fourth edition). The Monuments of the Angkor Group. Retrieved
14 July 2005.
- Higham, Charles
(2001). The Civilization of Angkor. Phoenix. ISBN
- Jessup, Helen Ibbetson (2004). Art & Architecture of
Cambodia. Thames & Hudson. pp. 99-104.
- Rovedo, Vittorio (1997). Khmer Mythology: Secrets of
Angkor. New York: Weatherhill. (This work should be used with
caution. While it is thorough in its treatment of Angkorian
representational art, and contains many useful photographs, it is
sometimes inaccurate in its characterization of the underlying
Indian myths, and does not reflect a thorough investigation of
sources for those myths.)
- Higham, The Civilization of Angkor, p.79.
- Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group p. 183.
- Higham, The Civilization of Angkor, p.80.
- Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor p. 206.
- Jessup, Art & Architecture of Cambodia,
- Higham, The Civilization of Angkor, p. 114.
- APSARA Authority, Banteay Srei .
- Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.207.
- Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.
- APSARA Authority, News 12 August 2005.
- APSARA Authority, Banteay Srei Conservation Project
- Jessup, Art & Architecture of Cambodia,
- Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.183.
- Mannikka, Banteay Srei
- Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p. 207.
- Glaize, Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.184.
- Freeman and Jacques, Ancient Angkor, p.209.
- Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group, p.
- Rovedo, Khmer Mythology, p.34.
- Rovedo, Khmer Mythology, p.44.