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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Banteay Srei Temple in Angkor



Like any good addiction such as traveling, our temple hopping never hovered near overdose level. Reason why we went further from the main Angkor complex to explore more temple ruins. Banteay Srei is one of my favorite temples in the former Khmer capital of Angkor. It is probably the most intricately designed sanctuary in Siem Reap, as evidenced by the impressive and elaborate carvings adorning  its still impressively looking walls. The temples doesn't share the capacious temples around Angkor, but it definitely showcases a unique characteristic. 

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Banteay Srei was constructed in the 10th century as a dedication to a prominent Hindu deity named Shiva. The temple was the only one that was not built upon the orders of a Khmer King. A courtier to King Rajendravarman named Yajnavaraha is believed to have built and oversaw its construction. The modern name "Banteay Srei" means "citadel of the women (beauty)"

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The day before while looking at the map of the whole Angkor complex and plotting which temples to visit, our tuktuk driver told us to visit this place. He says its one of the most impressive "not that big but marvelous design" he told us. The only problem was, Banteay Srei is located approximately 30 kilometers away from Angkor Wat and is one of the very few temples that was further out of the vicinity of major temples and going here takes around 45 minutes of Tuk-tuk ride.

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The next day, after witnessing the sunrise at Angkor Wat and visiting other temples around the vicinity, our tuktuk driver drove us here after lunch. The countryside along the way was splendid and offered a smooth ride, passing a long stretch of road, unto the "Landmine Museum", small towns and a seemingly endless view of the flat lands of Cambodia. 

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Like the main Angkor Wat temple, the existence of Banteay Srei has always been an open secret to the people of Cambodia. However, time and the growth spurt of the surrounding forests have slowly hidden these  temples from plain sight until, word of mouth scattered in the west after a member of a French archaeological team wrote a brief description of the lost city of Angkor.

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What soon followed are archaeological digs that started in areas around Angkor until Banteay Srei was finally rediscovered in 1914. The temple itself became a hotbed for adventurists slash art thieves, the most famous of whom was Andre Malraux, a French adventurer who was arrested and charged with stealing 'bas-reliefs' and 'devatas' from the temple upon returning to France. With its main "stela" being discovered in 1936, a then revolutionary method of restoration called "Anastylosis" was performed in the temple. This technique made it possible for Banteay Srei to be restored closest as possible to its original design, theme and architecture.

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The temple is highlighted by its reddish color, brought upon by the red sandstone used in its construction. Walking inside the ruins and looking at the intricate and detailed wall carvings, I was again reminded about the artistry and patience of the earlier inhabitants of Angkor. It must have been a ridiculously complex process of construction done for each section of the temple.

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The crowd was few when we went there, probably because of its distance from the main cluster of temples in Angkor. I would have settle in this part also if I were a Khmer King back then in the 10th century until the 14th century, to which scholars believed it was used until and before the natural formation of its surrounding forest cloaked it in seclusion.

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Its hard to describe the detailed formation of every corner, walls and enclosure of Banteay Srei. It was just amazing seeing the works of the people who constructed this. Marveling at its incredibility is such an understatement when comparing it with the modern buildings built with the help of current technologies. 

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It was around high noon when I felt the scorching sun slowly taking its toll on my body. It was almost a whole day spent on temple hopping around Angkor, the kind of "temple overload" people talk about when visiting Angkor Wat - is finally creeping in. However, temple overdose or not - it has been a great day for me and my brother. The trip was easily the highlight of my year and Banteay Srei was just the fitting finale for a day of learning and experiencing one of the best places Siem Reap can offer.

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With my jaw rolling on the ground in awe. I have carved a wonderful memory of the Banteay Srei in my mind as elaborate as its exceptional wall carvings, as intricate as its Bas-relics and pediments. It was fun walking around this temple hundreds of years after it was first built, I wonder what more if I walked through here during those times.



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