History of Banteay Srei
Completed in 967, Banteay Srei was the only major temple at Angkor not built for the king; instead it was constructed by one of king Rajendravarman's counsellors, Yajnyavahara. The temple was primarily dedicated to Shiva (the southern buildings and the central tower were devoted to him, but the northern ones to Vishnu). It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei 25 km (15 miles) northeast of the main group of temples, where the capital of the time (Yashodharapura) was located.
The temple was subject to further expansion and rebuilding work in the 11th century. At some point it came under the control of the king and had its original dedication changed; an inscription of the early 12th century records the temple being given to the priest Divarakapandita and being rededicated to Shiva. It remained in use at least until the 14th century.
The temple's original name was Tribhuvanamahesvara — "great lord of the threefold world" — named as usual after the central image (in this case a Shaivite linga). The town of Isvarapura was centred on the temple. The modern name, Banteay Srei — "citadel of the women" or "citadel of beauty" — is generally taken to refer to the intricacy of the carving and the tiny dimensions of the architecture.
The temple was rediscovered only in 1914, and was the subject of a celebrated case of art theft when André Malraux stole four devatas in 1923 (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 at Angkor. Until the discovery of the foundation stela in 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 2003. Measures were also taken to prevent damage to the temples walls being caused by nearby trees.
What to See at Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei's style is a mix of the archaic and the innovative. It is built largely of red sandstone, with brick and laterite used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. Although Banteay Srei's coloration is unique, sandstone of other shades was later to become the norm.
Pediments are large in comparison to entrances, in a sweeping gabled shape. For the first time whole scenes appear on the pediments, while the lintels with central figures and kalas on looped garlands look backwards. The guardian dvarapalas and the colonettes are also old-fashioned. Decoration covering almost every available surface is deeply sculpted and figures rounded. The style is also seen in parts of Preah Vihear.
Like most Khmer temples, Banteay Srei is orientated towards the east. The fourth eastern gopura is all that remains of Isvarapura's outer wall, approximately 500 m square, which may have been made of wood.
The gopura's eastern pediment shows Indra, who was associated with that direction. A 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 orientated north-south (one to the north and three to the south halfway along, with a further one on each side in front of the third gopura).
The third enclosure is 95 by 110 m, with gopuras in the laterite wall to the east and west. Neither pediment of the eastern gopura is in situ: one is on the ground nearby, while the other is in Paris's Guimet Museum. Most of the area within the third enclosure is occupied by a moat (now dry) divided into two parts by causeways to the east and west. The succeeding second enclosure has a laterite wall of 38 by 42 m.
The brick inner enclosure wall, a 24 m square, has collapsed, leaving the first gopura isolated, while the laterite galleries which filled the second enclosure (one each to north and south, two each to east and west) have largely collapsed. The eastern pediment of the east gopura shows Shiva Nataraja. The central part of the west gopura was enclosed to form a sanctuary, with access being to either side.
Between the gopuras are the buildings of the inner enclosure: a library in each of the southeast and northeast corners, and in the centre the sanctuary 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 libraries are of brick, laterite and sandstone. The south library's pediments both feature Shiva: to the east Ravana shakes Mount Kailash, with Shiva on the summit; the west pediment has the god of love, Kama, shooting an arrow at him.
On the north library's east pediment, Indra creates rain to put out a forest fire started by Agni to kill a naga living in the woods; Krishna and his brother aid Agni by firing arrows to stop the rain. On the west pediment is Krishna killing his uncle Kamsa.
Glaize wrote that the four library pediments, "representing the first appearance of tympanums 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."
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 brick roof, 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 museums.