The Bayon was the state temple of King Jayavarman VII, dedicated to the Buddha. The temple is located in the centre of Angkor Thom. Around the central tower were numerous shrines of Buddhist and Hindu gods, for all gods venerated in the kingdom.
The central tower is raised on a cruciform terrace, surrounded by many more towers and framed by two galleries.
The outer gallery, 156 m by 141 m, was originally accentuated by a full vault and a preceding half vault. There were eight big towers at the corners and at the axes. Only the inner wall and pillars have remained. The reliefs of the outer gallery show daily life and scenes of wars against the Chams.
The inner gallery shows daily life too, and mythological scenes (see photo on top).
The design and construction of the Bayon, even its dedication to Buddhism or Hinduism, was modified several times. Anyhow, the result of this complicated story is a great picture: a hillock overgrown with towers, which, like trees in a natural forest, getting taller towards the centre.
The central tower sheltered a huge statue, the Buddha meditating, enthroned on the Naga King Mucalinda. It was destroyed during the iconoclasm. The statue was recently restored and is now in Vihear Prampil Loveng.
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the Buddhist God of universal compassion. His face – in the likeness of King Jayavarman VII – is depicted on the four fronts of every Bayon tower.
How many towers and faces are there? The question is idle: In reality the faces are countless; the bodhisattva is ubiquitous.
Better you open your mind for their message: "Le sourir khmer" or "The smile of Angkor".
The best time to visit the Bodhisattva faces is around noon. Then the temple is quiet, the steep sunlight accentuating the faces. (Take water with you!)
Champa was a contemporary kingdom in what is now central Vietnam. Their civilization and religion was similar to that of the Khmers: Hinduism and Buddhism.
Prasat Damrei Krap at Mahendraparvata, Phnom Kulen (built c. 800), is a typical Cham temple.
At Bayon era reliefs, the Cham wear lotus hats.
Between the death of Suryavarman II (about 1150) and the coming into reign of Jayavarman VII (1181), there were factions fighting for power. Cham were involved, in 1177, and again in 1178, they invaded Angkor.
Weakened by the wars with the Khmer and by inner rivalry, Champa was successively taken over by the Da Viet (Vietnamese). Now, many Cham live in Cambodia, most of them are Moslems.
- Glaize, p. 85-99.
- Briggs, p. 1223-225
- Stierlin, p. 177-184.
- Chandler, p. 56-58
- Freeman/Jacques, p. 78-101.
- Roveda 2005, p. 422-433.
- Cunin, Olivier, Das Rätsel des Bayon – ein neuer Ansatz, in AC, p. 189-193.