Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Bayon


The Bayon
Our full day of touring the ruins of Siem Reap included an afternoon visit to The Bayon.

Bayon is a ruined Buddhist temple.  Most of the ruins in the Siem Reap area started as Hindu temples however Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Preah Khan were constructed under auspices of the Mahayana Buddhist King, Jayavarman  VII.  Jayavarman VII was only the second Buddhist Khmer King up to the late 12th century, Jayavarman VII.

King Jayavarman VII was a Mahayana Buddhist.  The Mahayana Buddhist tradition involves the concept of Bodhisavatta - a person who has enlightenment as their goal.  Avalokitesvara is a highly revered Bodhisavatta in Mahayana Buddhism and is embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas.  Avalokitsvara (Lokesvara) had the goal of becoming enlightened (liberated) BUT had vowed to help all others to attain their enlightenment before achieving his enlightenment. Yesterday's blog, "Stone Face", gave some information regarding the linkage of King Jayavarman VII and Lokesvara.

There are six qualities attributable to Avalokitsvara (Lokesvara) are:

Great compassion
Great loving-kindness
Lion courage
Universal light
Leader of devas and people
The great omnipresent Brahman

Historical accounts, records and monuments demonstrate that King Jayavarman VII was very compassionate and went to great lengths, 107 hospital built, along with many public works projects to care for his people.

Jayavarman VII also lead the Khmer army to rid their lands of Cham occupiers as well as to extend the Khmer empire. Without a doubt this serves as manifestation of lion courage - after all, who forcibly removes invaders and conquers enemy territory by being branded a coward?

He was also perceived as a great king.  Today is considered the greatest of the Khmer kings.  No doubt he was aware of his greatness during his lifetime.

But to get back to Bayon ... Bayon was constructed during the reign of Jayavarman VII and his son, Indravarman II, also a devout Buddhist as the state temple.  Besides being the only Angkor state shrine built from the start to be a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to Buddha, Bayon was the last state temple built in Angkor.

Bayon Temple
The most imposing features of Bayon are the temple towers with great stone faces on their sides.  There are 216 stone faces at Bayon. Some people theorize that the faces are of  Avalokitsvara (Lokesvara) and others believe that the faces of Jayavarman VII. I believe the theory that both are correct.  Being a devout Mahayana Buddhist, what better way for King Jayavarman VII and his son, who continued construction of the temple, to honor the Bodhisvatta Lokesvara and the king himself  than to use the king's visage for the Bodhisvatta on the towers?  In Thailand there is a common saying of "Good for me, good for you"  Using the king's face honors the king, memorializes his greatness and links him to religious "immortality".

Face Tower of Bayon
The temple of Bayon has gone through several modification over the past 900 years.  Jayavarman VII's successor, his son, continued the construction of the Buddhist temple.  However the next king, Jayavaram VIII, was a Hindu and he had many of the Buddhist symbols removed or defaced.  Jayavaram VIII was succeeded by his son-in-law - a Buddhist.  Over time, modifications, and additions were made by various kings in accordance with their religious beliefs and architecture norms of their times.  With the end of the Khmer empire the temple was abandoned and left to the forces of time and Nature.

Multiple Face Towers of Bayon
In the early 1900's, the French start conserving and reconstruction of the ruins utilizing the anastylosis process.  Anastylosis is a process of reconstruction where the original elements of the structure are used to the maximum extent possible. Pieces of the building are put into their original location.  Where pieces are missing new pieces are created out of plaster, cement and resins can be used.  In the case of structures that are in danger of collapse, components of the structure are numbered, and the structure is dismantled.  After modifying and strengthening the foundation to provide stability, the structure is reassembled in a stable configuration.

Bayon in the 1930's was the first ruin to be reconstructed at the Angkor complex using the anastylosis process.

It sounds great.  What could go wrong?  Well a great deal can and does go wrong.  Reconstruction involves a great deal of interpretation in assembling or envisioning a final structure from a pile of rubble.  Reconstruction and restoration involves handling original components that are subjected to damage. There is no guaranty that all the architectural elements used are from the original structure.  Over the hundreds of years that the structures were abandoned, pieces were inevitably  moved from one site to another for all kinds of reasons.

In addition, prior to an accord in 1964, reconstructors did not have protocols for the utilization of new materials particularly ensuring that the new materials are readily recognizable.  There are also criteria now that substantial components can only be added to ensure the stability of the structure.

Much of the reconstruction work on Angkor Wat that we saw in August 2007 was to repair damage caused and eliminate the defects created by the use of modern materials and techniques in the gallery roofs during previous reconstruction efforts.  Modern construction unlike the original configuration of the roof allowed water to enter the galleries and flow over the murals.  In addition, the infiltrating water leached salts and chemicals of the modern bonding materials which also attacked the murals.  Once again - "no good deed goes unpunished"  Perhaps reconstructors should have an oath similar to doctors - "First, do no harm ..."

The result of all the good intentions and best interpretations of outsiders, the restored ruins of the Khmer temples have a great deal of confusion as well as discontinuity in them today.  Close scrutiny of the ruins or photographs of the ruins reveals many details that do not fit in with their surroundings - in some places the result is confusion and chaos.  Although not consistent and most likely not historically authentic, the ruins are still spectacular.  There are the ways that things are supposed to be and then there is the way that they are.  A visit to Angkor Wat affirms that often the ways that things are more than adequate to appreciate and enjoy their grandeur.

We spent a very quick one hour fifteen minute visit at Bayon, exploring the ground level structures.  We did not have the opportunity to explore the upper terraces or even the ground level galleries.  It was by our own choice not our guides.  Long days and many sites toured lead to exhaustion - physical as well as mental. However I view this as yet another reason to return soon.

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