This post will be part of a series of posts on the temples in the Angkor Archeological Park in Cambodia.
It would probably make more sense to most to start my series on the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park with Angkor Wat, arguably the most famous and popular of all the temples in the park. Angkor Wat really is beautiful, that's for sure (especially at sunrise), and the size of it leaves you in awe at how they were able to build something that massive in the 12th century. But I'm going to start with my personal favourite, Banteay Srei, which is also referred to as the Lady Temple.
A Snippet of its History
Completed in the year 967, Banteay Srei is one of a few temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park that was not commissioned by a King which is likely the reason why this temple is smaller in size. It was built with red sandstone, giving it its distinct pink colour, and was initially a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The temple fell into disuse sometime in the 14th century, and wasn't rediscovered again until 1914.
Carvings to Watch For
While a lot smaller in size than Angkor Wat, Banteay Srei wowed me the most thanks to the intricate carvings that survived the forces of nature and time. I highly recommend hiring a guide when visiting the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park so that they can point out interesting carvings and the stories behind them, but if you're heading out there on your own, here are some of the carvings that you can watch out for and the stories behind them.
Indra riding Airavata
One of the first carvings you'll enter the temple complex is the carving of Indra riding Airavata. Indra is the Hindu god of lightning and thunderstorms and rain, and Airavata is his mount (or vahana), a white elephant with multiple faces.
Indra's Rain and the Burning of the Khandava Forest
This carving found atop one of the library structures in the centre of the complex depicts a scene from the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Indra is seen at the very top in the sky, riding his Airavata. Seeing that the Khandava forest is on fire, he summons rain to fall. Down below, in the forest, on either side of the carving you'll see Arjuna and Krishna who wanted to clear the forest with this fire. They fired arrows up into the sky creating a roof-life structure that you can see in the carving. The arrows cover the area of the forest, and not a drop of Indra's rain got through.
Death of Vali
Look up when standing in front of the western gopura (tower over a gateway) in the second enclosure and you'll see the Death of Vali. This carving depicts a scene from the Ramayana where brothers Vali and Sugriva fight for the position of Monkey King. Rama (who is shown on the right with a bow and arrow) ends up killing Vali with an arrow, and Sugriva becomes Monkey King.
Devatas and Dvarapalas
You'll spot devatas and dvarapalas adorning the towers within the inner sanctuary. Devatas are deities and dvrapalas are armed guards who protect the temple.
Lakshmi with Elephants
Overhead on the east gate of the second enclosure, you'll find a carving of Lakshmi (wife of Hindu God Vishnu) flanked by elephants on either side, sprinkling her with water. Garuda, who is the vehicle mount (vahana) of Vishnu, is seen below Lakshmi.
Ravana Shaking Mount Kailash
Depicting another scene from the Ramayana, this carving shows Ravana lifting and shaking Mount Kailash. When Shiva realized it was Ravana who was behind the shaking, he trapped Ravana underneath the mountain for a thousand years. In this carving, you can see Shiva and his wife Parvati at the top of the mountain, with animals at the bottom running away in fear.
Mythical Characters Standing Guard
In the inner sanctuary of the temple, you'll find statues of mythical characters guarding the temple. Although these aren't the originals (the originals were moved to the Angkor National Museum in Phnom Penh for preservation), I like to think of it as a 'shift change' and think that these newer statues are still doing their part in guarding the temple!
Want to get here?
Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Getting here: Banteay Srei is a bit further out from the main cluster of temples of the Angkor Archaeological Complex at about 32km away from the town of Siem Reap. It takes over an hour to get here by tuk tuk from Siem Reap but it's a beautiful ride along the way. You'll get to take in the scenery of more rural Cambodia. I almost enjoyed the ride as much as the temple itself!
Admission: Admission to Banteay Srei is included as part of your Angkor Pass.
Estimated amount of time to spend here: Approximately 1 hour if you take your time admiring the details carved into the stone.
Other information: Banteay Srei is one of the more developed amongst the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park in terms of amenities. There is a bathroom there as well as a small stall selling beverages and coffee. Be sure to stop by the Cambodia Landmine Museum as well before or after your visit to Banteay Srei. It's only 7km away from the temple, and great place to learn about the effects landmines have had on this country.
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