Doubts on the age of carving of some pediments at Banteay Srei
Once I wrote an article published on Aseanie June (2004: 1-46, 34 figures) I expressing some doubts on the date of the making of the western pediment of the northern library of the famous Banteay Srei temple. The age of the pediment of the western side of the northern library may have been younger than 697, official age pf the construction of the temple. In here I must review the entire situation
I did not believe it could have been carved in 967 CE. age of the building of the temple. The reliefs illustrates the story of Krishna and Balarama proceeding on chariots to the arena where a tournament was to be held to elect the most powerful man in the kingdom, on invitation of the evil King Kamsa. The terminal event is shown with great detail inside the royal palace. Around the figure of Krishna killing Kamsa, there are four palace scenes showing terrified members of the king’s harem and of courtiers.
The sculptors had confidence in visually conceiving and depicting complex emotional scenes with a refined handling of the chisel not seen until the reliefs of the corner pavilions of Angkor Wat (second half 11th century).
I have used the title ‘Archeology of images’ from the allegory of digging into past images to obtain new information, ideas, assumptions and theories, just like true archeologists do into earth to find objects and artifacts allowing progress in knowledge of the site and write its history. I use this term since 2004. In transferring my work to Facebook I have been assisted by Yem Sothon (Admin.), who I thank greatly, as well as Facebook organization.
There were 3 temples built towards the end of the first millennium in east part of the Northern Baray, all probably planned by the royal architect Kavindari-mathana during the reign of Rajendravarman. They were: Pra` Rup (consecrated in 961 CE.), East Mebon, (953CE.) and Banteay Srei in (967CE.). The latter was built by Rajendravarman’s counselors the Yahinavaraha brothers. I believe that the size and quality requested to the architect for the decoration of the temple/s required organized workshops. The combination of powerful non-royal intelligent promotors and a genial architect brought to the creation of Banteay Srei. The date given by inscriptions refer to the dedication of the temple to a god (Shiva and Vishnu) with a special ceremony of the opening the eyes of the presiding statue. It doesn’t necessarily refer to the completion of the temple that happened under the following King Yajayavarman V.
With regard to the ability to narrate story visually, my narrativity, the reliefs of Banteay Srei are the best early example.
There was, however a temple that had priority. On the unfinished lintel of the southern tower of Pra Rup, the image of Rama on the shoulders of Hanuman (Ramayana) was intended to be carved (my Fig.3) fighting Ravana with multiple heads, to the extreme right and another evil figure (Indrajit?) to the extreme left. Regretfully the lintel is left unfinished but still in place, meaning that the lintel was carved in situ, once fixed high over high on the door. There is no space here to talk about the development of Vishnu narrative in Thai temples (Phimai, Phnom Rung) (See Roveda 2004).
Temples before Banteay Srei
To understand the decoration of this temple I had to study the iconography the temples of Preah Koh (880CE.), Lolei, (893CED.) Kulen (8-9th century) and a few other temples.
The lintels of Preah Ko are typified by a carved makara with large mouth vomiting an arched ribbon/garland that often carry some strange features (riding soldiers, worshippers) The makara’s head is sometimes replaced by a large elephant’s body with a deity on top. The arching shape of the garland (variation on the shape of the letter M) is not diagnostic since several types may coexist in the same temple (Koh Ker’s central small shrine). The lintels of the towers in Preah Ko were deeply carved with original motifs and mythic figures. They usually have large falling pendulous elements terminate in naga’s heads, or simply in large curls of leaves. All small figures on these lintels are not involved in any narrative scheme, they are pure ornament.
In general I noticed that in the early temples Pra Koh, Lolei and Kulen, over the lintel there was a band carved with figures (deities or hermits (rishis) in small shrines (Fig.21). Often this band is lost. In the space above this lintel there is a recess reserved to the pediment (Fig.23) but initially occupied by a god’s statue. (Fig.22).The example of Kulen (my Fig27) is extraordinary because it is well preserved, with the original lintel and pediment with a small figure inside a shrine of a palace, presumably a god. I conclude that there narrative pediments are rare and unrecognizable in brick temples (Fig.21 and 22). The first real example occur on temples with pediments made of stone (sandstone).
Banteay Srei and contemporaneous temples
The temples of Pra Rup, East Mebon, and Banteay Srei were all built around the reign of king Rajendravarman. They are very revealing for the evolution of visual narrative.
According to Jacques the temple of Pre Rup was probably planned by Rajendravarman’s architect, Kavindrari-mathana, and under the council of Yahinavaraha. The temple formally dedicated in 961 and early 962 CE (Freeman and Jacques 1999: 158). The nearby temple of East Mebon was also built by Kavindrarimathana and dedicated in 953 under the rule of Rajendravarman.
Banteayi Srei was dedicated in 967 CE. just a year before the death of Rajendravarman, when Jyavarman V was the new ruler. Yahinavaraha become guru of the new king.
Banteay Srei was built around the time of the construction of Pre Rup and East Mebon.
In general, in the early temples of Preah Koh, Lolei and Kulen over the lintel there was a band carved with figures (deities or hermits (rishis) encased in small shrines. Above it there was a recess reserved to the carving the emplacement of a statue; regretfully this spaces are nowadays empty. In temples made of bricks, this presumed pediment was carved in the brick with the image of a god in a room or several rooms (Fig.21).
The pediment of Kulen is special insofar it has a flat pediment with sets of carved room with a god opining the central one. It is also extraordinarily well preserved, with the original white wash and a figure inside a shrine or room of a palace with a standing figure presumably a god (Fig27).
The date 967 CE. refers to the consecration of Banteay Srei as initially built in brick, laterite and some pink sandstone’s ornamentation. This latter was completed later in all the temple. The two libraries were possibly the last to be built and decorated.
The mystery of carved advanced Banteay Srei’s visual narrativity on the two libraries’ pediments continues with pediments of a totally different style (Fig.9,10) where the surface is occupied by few large figures carved in high relief, showing energy an emotive feelings. These two pediments contrast with the elegant style of the temple. They may have been carved to exemplify the temple’s dedication to Shiva and his consort. (Uma, Parvati, Durga).
Banteay Srei underwent reworking and elaboration by later kings and/or members the elite. In Cambodia it was common to complete temples left unfinished by previous rulers In my opinion the earliest clearly narrative are from Banteay Srei at the end of the first millennium (947CE).
Due to the high level of decoration of architectural elements commissioned by the sponsor I am of the opinion that (on the basis of the chiseling technique and depth of carving-hand) there must have been several workshops at Banteay Srei, Pra Rup and East Mebon,
Group A to D. Several workshops in charge of carving all sort of ornament on architectural elements
(door pillars, Lintels an some pediment’s frames and pediments in secondary sites).I define the carvings as standard lintels or pediments with hieratic elements imitating archaic models. Not narrative.
Group B. workshop doing shallow carved pediments by stone-masons with gentle hand often comparatively shallow carved illustrating narrative stories, from simple to complex narrative.
Group C. Workshop in charge of deeply carved pediments. At Banteay Srei the deity represented belongs to Shiva’s pantheon, justifying the dedication of the temple to Shiva, (Shiva, Mahisadasuramardhani, Tilottama). Hieratic figures without narrative structure.
Group D. Workshop producing large sculptural elements such as the delightful male and female guardians on Banteay Srei’s corners of the towers They are the precursors of the much later apsara from from Bapuon to Bayon, with an invasion at Angkor Wat. Also to this stone carvers of this workshop/s are the excellent statues place in front of the towers they have to protect, squatting at the side of the small staircase,
The age of these workshop and if they worked contemporaneously or at different times will remain forever source of debate amongst the prejudiced and free-minded scholars...!!!!!!!!
The rendering of the visual narrative (narrativity)
By narrativity I mean the action of narrating, visually in our case, a story or a meaningful part of it.
This can take place on any type of material (stone, plaster, wood, paper etc.).
In Cambodian temple-sculpture, narrativity developed by stages. The study of the reliefs carved on the Pre-Angkorean lintels of Sambor Prei Kuk should be taken separately because in very early temples, lintels have narrative reliefs when in sandstone, (Shiva musicians and dancers at Sambo; procession for the anointment of the king at Prasat Eng Khna and other less known examples..
To my knowledge there is a gap in narrativity from the 8th to the 10th century.
The Preah Koh lintel continue the trend of previous temples. A band or a vegetal branch expelled by the mouth of a makara, often with figurines over the band/branch (horse-riding soldiers, worshippers; see Bosselier 1966: 150 Fig.35,36,37 and 38).When there is a central figure of a god it is heraldic, immobile, frozen in time.
It is only on a lintel of Banteay Srei that the stone-masons attempted to narrate in detail one event a myth This is the lintel narrating the story of Shiva fighting Arjuna, both are shown standing on a pedestal with the shape of a boar. At the top of the curved band-garland are two figures, both shooting an arrow to the boar and then arguing who killed the beast first, as in the textual myth, the Arjunakiratha (Fig 13).
Very interesting is the study of the pediments of the two Banteai Srei’s libraries.
The four pediments of the two libraries are related to the deity venerated in the temple towers., Thus the north library, facing Vishnu’s’ tower has stories of Krishna (Fig.6 and 7) .The southern library, at a side of Shiva’s Tower has Shiva stories(Fig.4 and5).My doubts on a younger age based on the high level of narrativity suggesting a younger age than 967 may find a mild confirmation in the opinion of Finot and Parmentier (1926) that all the three towers and two libraries had been made around the year 1300! (opinion sharply denied by modern experts).
The pediment of the southern library facing east depicts Ravana shaking mount Kailash to call Shiva and stop him flirting with Parvati (my Fig.4).The figure of Shiva holding Parvati is carved with great kindness, intimidating the hermits at his side. The mountain of Shiva is inhabited by many hermits (rihis) and some deities with animal head. All the inhabitants are shallow carved.
The pediment of the western face of the same southern library is also dedicated to Shiva (my Fig.5) in the famous myth of love, with Kama shooting an arrow of candy to Shiva who immediately reduce him to ashes. Parvati begged Shiva to allow love (Kama) to return to Earth otherwise life would be meaningless. Also in this relief, the inhabitants of Shiva’s mountain are manly bearded rishis and some others being with human body but animal’s faces. They are shallow carved.
The pediment of the northern library facing west is the one that brought me to suspect a later date due to its complexity of the visual narrative (Figh.7). It depicts three events of the story of Krishna being invited to a tournament to be killed by a champion wrestler. Krishna manages to escape and, in turn, kill the evil king Kamsa (Roveda 2004, 22-23).
The pediments facing east depicts a story of the Burning of the Candava Forest (Roveda 2005: 349) involving Agni, Krishna and Arjuna (not the “Rain of Indra”).
I have to examine the famous Bnteay Srei’s large pediments now in museums. No information was given on the presumed location inside the temple. The beautiful pediment resting at Phnom Penh National Museum narrates the fight of Bhima and Duryodhama (my Fig.8) with the figure of the fighting brother gently suspended in thin air unaware of the lethal blow expecting him.
The other large pediment is that of the Musée Guimet of Paris. It illustrate the myth of the apsara Tilottama (Fig 8) quite symmetric and little narrative.
The most important pediments were those part of the dedication of the temple to Shiv and his consort. The pediment with Shiva dancing (Fig.1) and Uma killing the buffalo of ignorance (Fig.2)
By expanding my research on Bantey Srei, I can formulate some new theories:
1 In Cambodia existed large workshops, perhaps guilds. I believe that the two libraries were completed by B-group workshop later, but I cannot specify the date apart from an unspecific 100/1020 CE.
2 Brick’s temples with stone lintels developed in time a recess over the lintel destined to become a pediment. In some cases, a sort pf primitive pediment was defined with rooms of palaces occasionally with a figure or the face of deity at the center. Pediments ere of secondary importance.
3 In the history of iconography I have noticed that-over time- lintels were made larger to accommodate more complex myths. When the lintels became insufficient, pediments were given the role to support the main mythological theme or scene. This shifting of importance seems to have taken place at Banteay Srey, around the end of the first millennium,
Boisselier,Jean, Le Cambodge, Asie du Sud-Est, Manuel ‘archéologie d’Extrèeme Orient, Picard, Paris,1966
Finot, Parmentier and Goloubev, A guide to the temple of Banteay Srei at Angkor, 1926, translation
and reprint White Lotus, 2000, Bangkok
Freeman, Michael and Jacques Claude, Ancient Angkor, River Books Guides, Asia Book, 1999
Pilgkinghorne, Martin, Artists and ateliers: Khmer decorative lintels from the nine to tenths centuries, Udaya, Numero7 and 8, Phnom P:enh, 2007
Roveda,Vittorio, Th Archeology of Khmer Images, Aséanie, No.13, 2004, Bangkok.
Bangkok, December 2016
Fig.1 – Group A. Banteay Srei. Shiva Nataraj
Fig.2 - Group A. Banteay Srei. Durga Mahishasauramardani
Fig.3 -- Group A. Banteay Srei. Detail of Shiva
Fig.4 – Group B . Ravana shaking mount Kailasa to stop Shina frolicking with Parvati
Fig.5 - Group B. Banteay Srei. Shiva disturbed by Kama
Fig.6 –Group B. Banteay Srei. The burning of the Kandava Forest.
|Fig.7 –Group B. Banteay Srei. Krishna killing Kamsa|
Fig.8 – Group B Banteay Srei. . Two brothers fighting for the possession of the apsara Tilottama
Fig 9 – Group B. Banteay Srei. The Pandfava hero Bhishma jumps in the air with an heavy mace to kill
the Kaurava Duryodama.
Fig.10 – Group C. Banteay Srei. Rama killing Valin
Fig. 12 – Group C. Banteay Srei. Lintel displaying Ravana kidnapping Sita. Three are to traces of Rama and Lakshmana.
Fig.213 bis –Group A Banteay Srei, Door pillar with deep carved ornaments.
Fig.14 –Group E. Banteay Srei. Female guardian of the temple
Fig.15 –Group E. Banteay Srei. le guardian of the temple