200 Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia
Even though I had seen several pictures of Bayon Temple it did not prepare me to face the smiling faces in Bayon Temple. All so close and so many of them at the same time! Pictures hardly do justice to Bayon Temple architecture and sculptures. At any place you stand within the complex you will be surrounded by more than 4 or 5 smiling faces of Buddha. These are not small idols but huge sized faces, 5 to 6 feet tall almost your height and some even bigger.
The main tower in the center was once surrounded by 50+ smaller towers, each with 4 faces in cardinal directions. Some towers have 3 faces and some have just 2. That adds up to 200+ faces! They are known as Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia! Today only 37 towers are remaining. I gave up my plans of photographing these faces individually. Best would be to try and capture several of them together in one frame.
History of Bayon Temple
The construction of this temple started in 12th century. It was built in 1190 AD by King Jayavarman VII and continued by Jayavarman VIII. This is the only shrine built as a Mahayana Buddhist Temple dedicated to Lord Buddha. Later over the years several kings kept adding to the main tower. No king dismantled the earlier structures; instead they kept building around it. This temple was central and that explains why the plan of Bayon Temple is so complex. It is like a maze inside and there is no single straight path that can lead you through all the towers.
There is confusion over whom does these 200 statues resemble. All statues have closed eyes and mysterious smiles on lips. While some argue these statues depict Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, others say there is resemblance to King Jayavarman.
Galleries around Bayon Temple
Before you enter the temple take a tour of interesting reliefs found on the walls of 2 galleries round the temple. On the outer wall of the outer gallery are more than 11,000 carved figures depicting scenes from Khmer history and everyday life. The walls measure over 1.2 km. It will only be ideal you come in the very early hours of the day to escape the heat. There is absolutely no shade around. Numerous bas-reliefs depict the Khmers at war with their neighbours, the Chams. These scenes perhaps highlight the loss of Khmer sovereignty to the Chams, and Jayavarman’s re-conquest of Khmer territory from the invaders.
Interestingly, the reliefs on the walls of the inner gallery depict Hindu deities like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Also there are scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the myth of the ‘Churning of the Sea of Milk’. These reliefs were made by one of Jayavarman’s successor, Jayavarman VIII.
Worship at Bayon Temple
You will find a small shrine in the central tower where people pray and perform religious rites. Earlier there was a large Buddha statue in the center of the temple. This is relocated to the side of the compound along the road.
Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple
Tour and Photography
After you cross the 2 galleries, you will climb to 3rd tier which is cross shaped. This 3rd platform has the central sanctuary. There are narrow chambers, steps and corridors.
I found it hard to follow a single route after this. Too many Buddha faces now! Moreover the fact that you are face to face with those huge smiling faces dazes you to a halt. By the time you compose yourself and take a picture you will find another face equally alluring smiling at you and then you take a picture of that and it goes on.
Walking through the maze of towers is a great experience because nowhere else in world you will see so many statues smiling at you at the same time. Most of all it is interesting to watch tourists photographing the smiling statues in Bayon Temple. The DOF factor is put into great use here while composing the shots. Some take simple pics by just standing in front of the statues, while some take face to face. Then there are some angles from which you can get 3 to 4 faces simultaneously. The possibilities are endless!
10 Photo Hunt Activities to do at Bayon Temple
- Khmer army procession in the bas relif
- Cham soldiers are thrown overboard and eaten by crocodiles.
- Chinese merchant seen in a business meeting with other Chinese people
- Markets with food stalls
- Ravana shaking mount Kailash
- Churning of the Oceans of milk
- Frame one of the ‘tower of faces’ through the door of another tower
- Find the angle from where you can get 4 faces in one frame
- Windows where you can sit, get photographed as if you are face to face with Buddha
- Find the tower with just one smiling face… I failed this
If you were there let me know how many of the above you could find.