Tucked away to the east of Angkor Thom and to the southeast of Ta Prohm lies what has long been considered one of the most breathtaking monastic complexes from the ancient citadel of Angkor. Built as far back as the 12th century AD this sprawling edifice locally dubbed Banteay Kdei was the brainchild of monarch Jayavarman VII and is believed to be the first religious structure commissioned by the sovereign. Ideally situated opposite the Sra Serang Reservoir this once thriving “Citadel of Monks’ Cells” now consists of two concentric halls that form into vaulted towers enclosed inside succeeding walls. Having been occupied by meditating monks as recently as the 1960’s this sandstone structure is a marvel for the ages and a shining example of the beauty of Bayon architecture.
Believed to be contemporaneous of Angkor Wat archeologists have discovered many a similarity between the two famed structures and their stylistic approaches. Having yielded ancient artworks in metal and remains of more than 274 sandstone Buddhist sculptures during excavations the significance of this temple complex within the Angkor Archaeological Park cannot be underestimated.
The three enclosures within Banteay Kdei are surrounded by an outer enclosure which features a moat guarded by a Buddha sculpture. Images of naga-balustrades atop Garudas and lion statues are scattered across the moat while the four corners of the enclosure display Gopuras with the image of Lokesvara riding a Garuda. Highlights contained within the third enclosure on the other hand include a massive Buddha image which is found in an interior courtyard as well as large scale apsara devata figurines in dance postures. The Hall of Dancers with its open courtyards and pillars decorated with carvings of dancing apsaras is also worth exploring in addition to the innermost enclosure sanctum’s seated Buddha statue surrounded by dvarapalas images encircled by apsaras. A library edifice is also found to the south and north of the innermost enclosure’s sanctum.
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Uditha Dharmawardhane is a travel writer who writes under the pen name Roland Lefevre. He specializes in creating features on leisure as well as business travel destinations across the globe.