the finesse and the robust
Yes, this is an addendum to what Monette just posted couple of days back. Banteay Srei trully deserves an encore.
Unlike other temples in Angkor, Banteay Srei is not within the cluster of structures surrounding Angkor Wat. It is 25 km (15 miles) north-east of the main group of temples, around 30 minutes drive away from center.
On the way to this so called “citadel of women”, you will pass by the outskirts of Siem Reap, and seeing Khmer locals in their everyday life is absolutely a treat to backpackers like us. I couldn’t help but start snapping photos, the tuktuk was running really fast and I was panning to catch the subject to a point that I almost got a whiplash.
Known for its red pink colored sandstone blocks and its intricate design, Banteay Srei made visitors and French explorers be allured by its refined craftsmanship. It was built in the year 967, during the lean period of Great Angkor construction era. Among all excavated shrines and structures, it is speculated that its designers spent a tremendous amount of time working on its exterior, that’s why there’s no single inch left unadorned. It is also said that the reliefs on this temple are so delicate that they could only have been carved by the hand of a woman.
It is considered a miniature structure as compared to the temple standards. When we entered the outer gopura through an entrance port about a meter and a half high (less than half of the usual Angkorian Style), I got a feeling that I was entering a baroque doll house, I even got a hunch that it was particularly constructed for children. Could this be a some sort of a playground or mock temple for Khmer youngsters? Whatever it may be, it’s absolutely MAGICAL!
The tiny details of wall carving are unique among the Angkor region’s ancient temples, it made every visitors lean over the cordon ropes to better see the intricate details of the stones. Named as the “Jewel of the Khmer Art” it’s a must-see for temple buffs and wandering junkies who are into historical relics specially if they are fond of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
One of the adorned pediment shows Narasimha clawing Hiranyakasipu.
But as for me and Monette, a quiet time with her book and my camera in a small nook in this thousand year-old art piece is enough reason for us to stop for a moment from our insatiable drive to explore.
Now, let’s go to the other pole of the continuum. Back to the main complex right outside the walls of Angkor Thom, a massive temple mountain is sturdily standing amidst the lush forest of Siem Reap–Ta Keo.
Unlike all other temples, Ta Keo doesn’t have carvings on it’s walls. The prasat are just plain piles of blocks as carving had just begun when the construction stopped. Scholars suggest that a high priest who became minister of Suryavarman I says that a lightning strike hit the unfinished building, it was considered as an evil omen, so they halted the construction immediately. Another theory is that construction stopped simply because of the death of Jayavarman V, as there was a struggle for succession.
From the outside it looks stern and apathetic, but clear interpretations of strength and invincibility are unanimous among its visitors. The ziggurat has five sanctuary towers arranged in a quincunx, built on the uppermost level of five-tier pyramid consisting of overlapping terraces, the four stairways that lead on the summit are continuous and very steep.
We were actually holding our breath when we climbed the pyramid, this one is an acrophobic worst nightmare. It took us several minutes to decide if we will take the risk of climbing the steep stairs wall. Not to mention the warning posted at the entrance isn’t really cooperative and encouraging.
Yet still, we did. I ignored the smoldering sandstone as we crawled up with a cat grip. I also told myself not to look down. Few notches before the summit, I did. Vertigo was not welcome in that particular situation, looking down made me pray and grab anything I could to hold on to dear life.
I described Banteay Srei as Petrified Lace, while Ta Keo as an Ancient Lego. A contrasting representation of the rich and strong culture of the lost civilization. A perfect symbolism of the Angkor’s glorious past: elaborate, flaunting, massive and impregnable, a balance between the finesse and the robust.