Posted a bit late because the internet in Cambodia – sometimes it works great and other times not so much. Bayon is one of the best known temples of Angkor. It was the official state temple of King Jayavaraman VII, the only Khmer King who was a Mahayana Buddhist. Built in the middle of Angkor Thom, his grand capital city, it was the center of Khmer society & religion during his rule.
But it is famous for the 54 face towers and over 200 faces on its facades. And Oh, the faces! With smiles that are best described as coy, mysterious, or mischievious, but at the same time very serene. They are all the same likeness but so very different. People consider them to be Lokesvaras in the likeness of King Jayavaraman VII himself. Khmer kings considered themselves to be god-kings (dejavaras). So it is no surprise that he would have identified himself with the Buddha and made them in his likeness. A Lokesvara is a bodhisatva of compassion. And they most certainly look compassionate.
Jayavaraman VII was considered to be a great and compassionate man,. He managed to bring his country back together, defeat the Chams, and rebuild the Khmer empire and capital – but he also navigated and brought about a smooth transition from Hinduism to Buddhism under his reign.
We spent time at Bayon on three different days (including one afternoon where it poured buckets and we sheltered in hidden corners), exploring the upper levels and all the different faces but also a lot of time down in the lower levels, where most visitors never venture. Those lower levels hold all sorts of treasures…well preserved carvings and some of the best bas-relief murals in all of Angkor. Scenes of battle, of celebration, and of religious and everyday life – all can be seen in the detailed bas-reliefs here.
Oddly enough, following Jayavaraman VII’s death, the Khmer kings returned to Hinduism and, later on, another form of Buddhism, Theravada. Each time, Bayon was modified to represent the current state religion. Today, it is once again a Buddhist temple and people still come here to make offerings.