- G.K Chesterton
Bayon is undoubtedly most famous for its sculptured heads which dominate the skyline. Steeped in religious and regal symbolism simultaneously, most historians concur that the faces are those of the main Buddhist god, boddhisattva Lokesvara, who was the idolised ruler of the kingdom of Angkor Wat. By respectively pointing at the four cardinal points, the idea that the gods should have an eye over the whole kingdom is reinforced. However, in accordance with Khmer monarchal tradition, it is theorized that King Jayavarman the VII believed himself to be the god, or 'devaraja', and therefore considered the faces to be of himself also, thus being symbolic of himself projecting his power over the kingdom. Archaeological remains portraying the head of King Jayavarman VII show a distinct similarity to the existing temples.
The galleried enclosures of Bayon contain some impressive depictions of Cambodian history, especially when observing the bas-reliefs, which are some of the most impressive in all of Angkor. Historians have agreed that many of the depictions are of historical events, but which ones cannot always be determined as the various art does not always follow a chronological pattern, nor do the depictions contain epigraphic text which could shed light on the exact meaning.
Probably the most dominant theme in the outer gallery is that of war, and victorious Khmer battle. Many of these are against the Cham, and Khmer soldiers are intertwined with elephants, cavalry, musicians, and a number of other symbolic gestures which imply a grandiose status. They are also seen side by side with the ordinary peasants carrying out tasks for daily life, be it cooking or preparing food. Other significant and interesting inscriptions are of regal celebrations in which the kings are shown being entertained by jugglers, jesters or acrobats, again their cause for celebration signifying their prowess in the field of battle.
The scenes in the inner gallery are not so dramatic and indulgent, but depict Hindu mythological history. Once more, they lack historic and narrative cohesion, but there are some isolated scenes which depict certain events, such as 'The Churning of the Milk' (near the western gopura). This is a famous event in Hindu mythology and a symbol which represents the Hindu belief that one can obtain self-realisation through concentration of the mind, and is still celebrated to this day every 12 years. Other examples of art here in the inner gallery include Hindu Kings in battle with giant serpents, statues and effigies of the Hindu god Vishnu, ladies of the court during recreation and members of the court in prayer.
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