Banteay Srei – ‘Citadel of Beauty’ – Exquisite Carvings – Siem Reap


Banteay Srei is a fascinating red/pink sandstone temple complex with exquisite carvings of beautiful apsaras; gable shaped pediments with carvings depicting complete scenes about Hindu mythology. A tenth century Cambodian temple well-preserved in most aspects. Banteay Srei is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The French discovered this temple in 1914. Banteay Srei came to international attention under the De Gaulle administration when, in 1923 Andre Malraux, the then Minister of Culture removed four apsaras from the temple. The theft  discovered almost immediately, Andre Malraux  arrested and the pieces recovered.

Entrance-Gopura-E.Pediment-Benteay Srei

Visitors entrance east gopura -Benteay Srei

Not a Royal Temple

Located about 20km north of Angkor, Benteay Srei lies almost at the foot of Kulen Mountains. At Banteay Srei the difference in size is very obvious on entering the temple grounds. All the gopura’s and buildings at Banteay Srei  are smaller than other temples at Angkor. Perhaps because Benteay Srei is not a royal temple it had to be constructed on a smaller scale?  The carvings on the entry Gopura facing east shows Indra, guardian of the east on his three-headed elephant mount, airavata. It is the largest Gopura of the complex, other entrance gates become smaller as you move towards the central sanctuary.

Detail of carvings east entrance Gopura-Benteay Srei

Detail of carvings east entrance Gopura

Stunning carvings

Despite the passing of many centuries the detailed carvings on the east gopura alone are stunning, so beautifully crafted, enhanced by the colour of the weathered red sandstone. After seeing so much intricate wood carving in churches throughout Germany one can really appreciate the craftmanship of this work in stone; in many instances creating an almost 3D effect. Information about  consecration of the temple came from a stela found inside this Gopura.

Causeway-lined-with-boundary posts Benteay Srei-carvings

Causeway lined with boundary posts

Second Gopura – Benteay Srei

After entering  through the east gopura it is then about 70 metres to the second gopura. The causeway lined on either side  with  distinct stone boundary posts. Heavy rain the night before our visit left a few puddles and pooled water along the causeway, not in any way a deterrent to exploring this alluring temple ruin.

2nd Gopura- carvings and decoration-Benteay Srei Siem Reap

Second Gopura-Benteay Srei

Benteay Srei carvings,decoration.Siem Reap

Detail of carvings and decoration second Gopura

Benteay Srei is not a royal temple like so many others in Angkor, construction began during the reign of King Rajendravarman II. Under King Rajendravarman’s rule the capital of Yasodharapura at Angkor was restored and a period of  peace and prosperity followed, lasting for nearly a century. According to the stela the temple construction was commissioned by Yajiavaraha, a councillor of the King and his younger brother Yajnavaraha (grandsons of the previous King, Harshavarman I).  King Rajendravarman granted the brothers land on the banks of the upper siem reap river to build the temple.


“Citadel of Beauty”

The name Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’ or ‘Citadel of Beauty’, which probably refers to the beautiful apsaras, intricate carvings and decorations. It was built by one of the most powerful families of the royal court of the time, obviously no expense spared. I can’t help wondering who had access to this beautiful temple.  The entire temple complex is a breathtaking tribute to beauty.

The beauty of the small-scale buildings allow the carvings and decorations to be viewed at eye level, and the workmanship can be fully appreciated. The three sanctuary towers stand in a row on a 90cm high T-shaped platform. The central tower is taller than the other two. Each sanctuary tower has an east facing entrance with blind doors on the other three sides. Each temple guarded by kneeling guardians sculpted in human form but with various faces – monkey, lion, Garuda and yakesha.


Brief history of Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei  consecrated in 967, not completed until after the death of King Rajendravarman (944-968). King Rajendravarman succeeded by his 10-year-old son Jayavarman V (968-c.1000). In Jayavarman’s early years he studied under Yajnavaraha, a highly distinguished scholar, grandson of King Harshavarman I, and one of the brothers who commissioned the temple; Benteay Srei completed during the reign of the young King.  A small city, known as Isvarapura surrounded the temple.

Benteay Srei-exquisite carvings-temple guardians-Siem Reap

Central Sanctuary – temple guardians

Jayavarman – a tolerant royal king

King Jayavarman was very tolerant of all religions. During his reign he encouraged buddhism and the buddhist teachings of tolerance towards all beings.  It was during this period that women in the royal circle came into power. Yajnavaraha sister, Jahavi helped raise money for the building of Benteay Srei. Women in the royal circle educated in astrology and government held high positions in the court.  Chinese dignitaries visiting Angkor during Jayavarman’s reign  for trading and cross cultural exchange, noted the important positions held by women in the royal circle at that time.

exquisite carvings Benteay Srei- Siem Reip

Sanctuary Towers – East facing entrance-blind doors on three sides

Detail Benteay Srei -Devatas

Detail – (click to enlarge) graceful Apsaras, exquisite carvings and decorations

Graceful Apsaras and exquisite carvings

The depth and detail of the carvings on every surface of the rich red sandstone takes one’s breath away. The carvings on walls and pediments are quite spectacular and the architecture of Benteay Srei temples exquisite. “Citadel of Beauty” aptly describes this stunningly beautiful complex. Do not miss visiting Banteay Srei on your visit to Angkor.

Side-view- carvings-Benteay Srei

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