Baphuon
Date middle of 11th century
King Udayadityavarman II
Cult Brahmanic (Shiva)
Clearing by Commaille from 1908 to 1914
Protective works by H. Marchal, 1916 -1918

The Baphuon adjoins the southern enclosure of the Royal Palace.(15) Its outer eastern gopura lies on the same longitudinal axis as the Elephant Terrace, which also aligns with the central tower of the Bayon, located just to the south. The two temples differ in age and are not, however, related, but rather juxtaposed in an apparently aimless manner that suggests no ancient connection. On its three other sides the temple is surrounded by a moulded enclosure wall, constructed unusually in sandstone which, to the north, becomes a retaining wall since the embankment has been filled. The dimensions of this rectangle are 425 metres by 125.

Measuring 120 metres east-west by 100 metres north-south at its base, the temple-mountain of the Baphuon stands between the royal palace enclosure and the earth embankment which, bordering to the south, probably constituted the north bank of the moat surrounding the capital of Yasovarman, centred on Phnom Bakheng during the ninth century. Its considerable size would make it without doubt one of the more imposing of the Angkor monuments - were it located on a less restricted site. This is "the Copper Tower higher even than the Golden Tower (the Bayon) - a truly astonishing spectacle" described by Tcheou Ta-Kouan at the end of the 13th century.

The Inscriptions of Lovek and Prah Ngok, found at the very foot of the Baphuon, enabled Mr Cœdes to identify this as the "golden mountain" (svarnadri) "an ornament of the three worlds" erected by Udayadityavarman II at the centre of his capital, and where, in a temple of gold, there stood a Shiva linga.

Before its clearing, the Baphuon was but a vegetation covered mound that had suffered destruction by both natural and human forces. It appears today as a collection of crumbling structures, carried on powerful foundations, from which the gopuras emerge at mid height with their remarkably preserved sculpted walls and bas-reliefs. It is the first realisation in Angkor of a building with concentric stone galleries enclosing a central tower - formed of an artificial earth mound retained by rough laterite walls clad in sandstone. Subsidence caused by water action has been unavoidable, despite some precautionary drainage.

The monumental three-part entrance, bordering the royal square, is composed of cruciform gopuras joined by galleries, all set on a decorated base platform, and is a precursor of the western entrance to Angkor Wat. Three lingas were found at the fourth enclosure on leaving the centre of the monument, where only some wall bases and dangerously leaning porticoes remain - one in each passage.

There is then a sandstone causeway - about 200 metres long - formed as a sort of bridge with long paving stones laid on three lines of short columns, followed - perhaps as a result of some miscalculation - by a 5.5 metre wide dike, formed as an embankment between two lateral walls.

At about two thirds of the way along this causeway, a badly ruined cruciform pavilion, which must have been decorated with bas-reliefs, intersects the pathway. Two terraces extend to the north and south, the latter of which leads to a 37 by 28 metre pool surrounded by sandstone steps.

The temple itself is formed as a high, five tiered pyramid in sandstone which, in contrast to those of the 9th and 10th centuries, is rectangular in plan rather than square - with the superimposed upper tiers not decreasing but practically constant in height, almost certainly so that the view of the top was not obscured by the galleries. These galleries surround the first, third and the fifth tiers. The top terrace is about twenty metres above ground level. The base walls, though powerfully moulded, are not sculpted.

The outer gallery of the third enclosure has almost entirely disappeared, its materials having been used relatively recently to construct the outline of an enormous and almost shapeless reclining Buddha, on the western face of the upper levels, from a pile of blocks. Fortunately the gopura with bas-reliefs situated at mid height has simply been incorporated into this masonry without being demolished. The corner towers have been rased, as have almost all of the north and west gopuras.

Entering the monument by the eastern gopura, where three passageways are served by steep stairs, one can see, over the connecting door between the central section and the north wing, evidence of a practice peculiar to this period of Khmer art and which often caused structural failure; - that of cutting a channel in the sandstone lintel in order to set in a secondary wooden beam, whose time-worn remainsare still visible.

This gopura is larger than the three others of this entrance, having a central tower and doubled wings with barrel-formed vaults. The fašades are richly ornate with foliated scrolls, with devatas, with small animals treated with much vitality and simplicity, and with a pattern of lotus flowers set in squares - a decorative motif "in tapestry" found already at Banteay Srei.

In the large surrounding courtyard one can see, in the north-east corner, the result of a recent collapse. Continuing past the remains of two cruciform "library" type buildings with four vestibules - once linked to one another by a narrow walkway raised on columns similar to those at the second level of Angkor Wat, and which one can find again, though less developed, on the western side - one reaches the south gopura. This is in a better state of preservation, and has a decoration, as before, of foliated scrolls, flowers and animals and of charming "hipped" devatas. There is also, in an unusually small panel, an ascetic who seems deliberately to depart from the austerity of his normal life.

Concrete steps alleviate the southern stairs where the treads, richly ornate and much worn - as on the other sides - are of a difficult height to negotiate and climb, there being no intermediate landing between the tiers.

The second level has its enclosure of narrow galleries almost intact, with windows on the two sides walled in and decorated with balusters to the exterior. The vaulted roof, in contrast to that of Phimeanakas, has a central joint, and the piers are treated decoratively as pilasters.

The corner towers have disappeared except for some remnants of wall supported by props in the south-east corner. The gopuras have a central tower with two upper tiers and three wings - the walls of which are sculpted in remarkable bas-reliefs that are worth a close look (see the following description). The lotus bud crown of the south gopura is almost preserved in its entirety, and its purity of line makes it one of the best examples of this type of motif to be found throughout the various periods of Khmer art.

The proximity of the following tier makes the internal courtyard of the second level more of a narrow corridor that is further reduced by the presence, on each side, of the three access stairs to the third level, which again climb the height of two tiers. To avoid the steep steps one can take, just to the west of the southern gopura, an easier stairway, amongst the rubble of the south-west corner of the pyramid's upper tier.

The top platform, of 42 by 36 metres, has suffered a number of slides, and there now only remains a small part of the gopuras with their central tower and two wings - their walls beautifully sculpted with a decoration animated with figurines. Here, a remaining part of a tower in the north-east corner and some bases of wall and gallery pillars give the only indication of the layout. These galleries have the peculiarity of being divided in two along their longitudinal axis by a partition pierced by balustered windows - a unique arrangement that must have given the illusion of a gallery on pillars, which was a formula still unknown at that time.

The view - to the eastern access causeway, - to Phnom Bakheng to the south, to the Phimeanakas on the same axis to the north and out over the forest of Angkor - is particularly pleasant. Nonetheless, one should not forget to admire the architectural qualities of the base platform of the central sanctuary, whose superstructure must have been constructed in light-weight materials and golden in colour in accordance with descriptions of the time.

This base platform is doubled - one square in plan enclosing another that is cruciform - with each having an ornamentation of a quality that puts them with the very best of the classical art. The existence of this hidden base platform was perhaps caused by an alteration in the setting-out that was designed to increase the volume of the central tower - or else - as we have seen at the Bayon - in order perhaps to emphasise in symbolic form the character of the temple-mountain as mount Meru, which continues under the ground in equal proportion to its elevation above.


THE BAS-RELIEFS
(16)

"At the Baphuon", Mr Cœdes tells us, "the small scenes that decorate the four entrances to the internal gallery are drawn from the same sources as are those at Angkor Wat. If we are looking for scenes from the Ramayana, for example, then we can find them here on the four doors to the east with scenes from the Mahabharata, and to the south with scenes from the legend of Krishna. The order in which the tableaux are placed apparently corresponds neither to the pradakshina nor to the prasavya, but rather to a purely decorative intention."

The bas-reliefs here follow the first attempt at a narrative scene sculpted at Bakong towards the end of the 9th century, followed thereafter by isolated scenes on lintels and frontons. They are arranged in superposed panels, reading generally from bottom to top like the registers and are, as such, small pictures, skilfully treated with a na´ve realism, full of charm and relating to various episodes of everyday life. The composition is always spacious and the separate figures minutely detailed.

SOUTH GOPURA, SOUTH SIDE

On the western part can be seen - besides various scenes of daily life including a tiger chasing a hermit who is seeking refuge up a tree, a hunter shooting a bird with a blow-pipe, fighting bulls, ascetics in prayer and a woman playing with a child, - scenes from the childhood of Krishna; - the exchange with another child that was to save the life of the young god, the children's slaughter, then Krishna tearing naga in two and wrestling with human-faced bulls.

To the east are scenes from the life of the ascetics, one of whom carries a human head shot by an arrow that apparently belongs to the person in prayer directly below - with scenes of wrestling between animals and scenes of single-armed combat.

SOUTH GOPURA, NORTH SIDE

To the east, on the lower part, are scenes from the life of the ascetics, - one is stirring the contents of a jar, another suffers from indigestion while a further seems to be ill or dying. Above are scenes from the Ramayana showing combat between monkeys and giants, and a meeting between Hanuman and Sita who sit under an asoka tree. Another higher panel describes the life of Vishnou - twice shown with his usual attributes.

To the west - where the wall is truncated - are forest scenes with ascetics, men and animals and scenes of single-armed combat.

EAST GOPURA, EAST SIDE

To the south are scenes from the Ramayana - the ordeal of Sita, suffering to prove her purity. One can see the young princess sitting on Rama's knee - then Sita on her pyre, her hands clasped above her head and Agni the god of fire at her side - then Mahesvara on his bull. Above are Rama and Sita on their respective thrones. Next is an episode from the Mahabharata - the duel between Arjuna and Shiva over a wild boar - a form taken by the rakshasa, Muka.

To the north is another scene from the Mahabharata - which one can find again represented on the southern section of the western gallery at Angkor Wat - but outlined here in the single action of some of the main actors; - above a group of musicians is the chief of the Pandavas going to battle with the Kauravas - then his duel against their chief, Bhisma, and the death of the latter - whom one can see first falling from his chariot and then lying dead, lanced with arrows. Note how the figures are out of scale, larger than their horses - with the body of the vanquished too large for the palace that shelters him.

Beside are other parts of the battle, with some small scenes including one in which a man undresses a woman by unfurling her "sarong".

EAST GOPURA, WEST SIDE

To the north is the capture of a wild elephant with the help of some tame elephants - then a parade of chariots and servants and scenes from the life of ascetics with, to the left, an archer shooting an arrow at a woman. Further is wrestling between men, monkeys and an elephant. To the south, above a person hunting a tiger, is a duel over a woman, or a scene of decapitation. To the right, men struggle with animals. There are ascetics in the forest, women and archers and a king enthroned amongst his wives.

NORTH GOPURA, NORTH SIDE

To the east are scenes from the Ramayana (the battle of Lanka); - Rama on his horse-drawn chariot, Ravana with multi heads and arms drawn by monsters with human heads - Ravana's fight against the monkeys Hanuman and Nila - Sugriva against a chief Rakshasa - and Ravana against Rama carried by Hanuman. Sita, captive in the palace of Ravana, meets Hanuman the monkey in the grove of asoka trees, returning the ring to him that is to prove the success of his mission, while along the first window of the gallery are some charming animal motifs.

To the west, beside similar motifs of animals and figurines, is once again the battle of Lanka; - one of the sons of Ravana, Indrajit, shooting Rama and his brother Lakshmana with magic arrows which turn into snakes and encoil them both while the monkeys, their allies, lament. Garuda swoops from the sky to free them, healing their wounds by touching them, - Rama, mounted on the chariot Pushpaka, harnessed with "Hamsas" (sacred geese), returns to Ayodhya after having taken leave of the monkeys, - still further, under two elephants in confrontation and an ascetic, churning, is the alliance of Rama and Lakshmana with the monkey Sugriva who, exiled by his brother Valin to mount Mayala, is lamenting. Next is the wrestling between the two brothers and the defeat of Valin, thanks to the intervention of Rama, who unashamedly shoots him in the back with an arrow.

NORTH GOPURA, SOUTH SIDE

To the east are bulls and horses in confrontation, and then again the alliance of Rama and Lakshmana with Sugriva. To the west are scenes of wrestling between men and animals - in one corner is Sita in the asoka grove.

WEST GOPURA, WEST SIDE

To the north, single-armed combat and animals, then, above musicians, a warrior on an elephant preceded by an archer - and another on his chariot crossing a flight of arrows. To the south, again above musicians, is a person whirling an elephant which he holds by a leg, and, above, an airborne palace carried by "Hamsas", where a god with three heads and four arms sits throned. Then, more scenes of single combat - in a chariot and in front of a palace - and Arjuna receiving weapons from the hands of Shiva.

WEST GOPURA, EAST SIDE

To the north are scenes of wrestling and single-armed combat interspersed with animals. To the south one can see a mixture of men and monkeys with, in the centre of the panel, a very large dying person carried by a very small elephant. Beyond; - a wild boar fight, - an archer shooting an arrow at a monster with a human head - and two remarkable horses in confrontation.