Khmer Bayon Temple: Combination of Mythological Scenes And Large Serene Faces
Updated: Apr 5
The prosperity and wealth of the empire allowed Khmer kings to build numerous temples throughout their lands as a sign of their piety. Of these temples, the most famous is undoubtedly Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Nevertheless, there are other Khmer temples worth mentioning, one of them being the Bayon Temple. The Bayon is a richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.
The Bayon is best known for its large number of serene faces sculpted on its towers. Its 54 Gothic towers are decorated with 216 gargantuan smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara, and it is adorned with 1.2km of extraordinary bas-reliefs incorporating more than 11,000 figures. The temple has two sets of bas-reliefs, which present a combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. A bas-relief is a projecting image with a shallow overall depth, for example used on coins, on which all images are in low relief. The main conservatory body, the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as "the most striking expression of the baroque style" of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.
The Bayon was built as a Buddhist temple. A statue of the main idol, a seated Buddha image sheltered under the hoods of the snake Mucalinda, was discovered in a pit under the main shrine. A few decades after the death of King Jayavarman VII, the temple was turned into a Hindu temple when King Jayavarman VIII reverted the official Khmer religion back to Hinduism; images of the Buddha were destroyed or turned into Hindu images. Although the Bayon was a Buddhist temple, other Gods were also worshipped. Separate shrines were dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, while countless other deities were worshipped.