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The Bayon is a twelfth-century royal Khmer (Cambodian) temple. One of Southeast Asia's most famous monuments, the Bayon is a densely crowded sandstone temple constructed under King Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–ca. 1220) at Angkor Thom in northwest Cambodia. This pyramid temple, a MahĀyĀna site, marked the end of an ancient royal Khmer tradition dominated by Hindu gods.

Axial entrances on all four sides cross through a rectangular outer and inner gallery carved with bas-reliefs that glorify the king's history. On the upper elevation a series of connected structures leads to the massive, round central tower. Its dark interior once housed a large, naga-protected buddha. At its consecration, Jayavarman was symbolically joined to this buddha and imbued with a divine cast in the process. And at his death, the king's ashes would have been placed underneath this image, creating a certain conceptual kinship between the Bayon and a stŪpa with its internal relics.

The well-known guardian faces on the Bayon's fifty-two towers wear characteristic choker necklaces and originally stared straight ahead. But when many had their eyes recut to gaze downward, Avalokiteśvara became their most likely new identity. These recut eyes were one of several changes during construction that drastically altered the temple's configuration and meaning.

Although Buddhist, the Bayon followed tradition in its merging of regional or ancestral gods with Buddhist and Hindu deities. ViṢṆu is found almost exclusively on the western side of the temple, Śiva more often on the south, and Buddhist imagery on the north and east. The Bayon was the last major Khmer monument to embrace the tradition that gave it birth, destined to wither and die in less than one hundred years.

See also:Cambodia; Hinduism and Buddhism; Local Divinities and Buddhism; Southeast Asia, Buddhist Art in


Dufour, Henri. Le Bayon d'Angkor Thom, 2 vols. Paris: Commission archeologique de l'Indochine, 1910–1914.

Dumarçay, Jacques, and Groslier, Bernard-Philippe. Le Bayon. Paris: École Française d'Extrême-Orient, 1967 and 1973.

Eleanor Mannikka