Bayon is a mysterious Buddhist temple constructed at the exact center of Angkor Thom. Whereas Angkor Wat gives an impression of a grandeur edifice with harmonious design and open spaces, Bayon appears like a jumble of disproportionate structures crammed in a small place, and yet it is one of the most visited sites in Siem Reap. Unlike Angkor Wat, the Bayon has neither the moat nor temple prakara (a protective wall surrounding the temple). Numerous towers with carved giant smiling faces pop up everywhere inside the temple.
The Bayon Temple is located exactly at the center of Angkor Thom.
The temple was commissioned by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century to be built as his state temple inside the capital city of Angkor Thom which he founded. As mentioned earlier, it was initially built as a Buddhist temple. However, it was converted to a Hindu temple by Jayavarman VIII and it appears many Buddha statues were destroyed and replaced with statues Shiva and Vishnu.
The original name of the Bayon was Vijayagiri (victory hill in Sanskrit). It was likely named after Khmer’s victory over the Champs, who ransacked Angkor Wat after the death of Suryavarman VII, the builder of Angkor Wat. The name Bayon is recent; It is a vernacular version of Banyan, the name given by the French because of the Banyan tree in the complex.
The temple complex is small compared to the Angkor Wat and it does not have a moat or a prakara, but it does have three concentric enclosures with inner enclosures rising to a higher level. The enclosure has galleries with bas-reliefs on the walls. The bas-reliefs here are not as organized or theme-oriented as in Angkor Wat.
The lower level has three concentric square galleries close to each other.
The image below shows a view of the temple with the south-side gallery on the right.
The bas-relief depicts the actual events rather than the scenes from the epics as in Angkor Wat.
The image below shows the bas-relief depicting the naval battle in the Tonle Sap Lake between the Khmer and the Champs. This battle was fought in the 13th century ending in Khmer’s victory.