"The citadel of chambers"
Leaving Ta Prohm by the east gopura, one can get straight to Banteay Kdei by the route Demasur, which crosses the Small Circuit and leads, in 600 metres, directly to the temple's western entrance.
Here is another example of the spirit of confusion, although less so than at Ta Prohm and Prah Khan, that is characteristic of the monuments built, transformed or completed by Jayavarman VII - and of the crowding of the sacred enclosure, which here is 63 metres by 50, set within a vast overall enclosure (700 metres by 500).
At least two different styles are evident, relating to the periods of Angkor Wat and the Bayon, and the additions are clear, in many places masking the already existing sculptures. The various sanctuary towers were also apparently joined only after their construction by a system of galleries and vestibules which exploit the use of the cloister to its extreme. The scheme is reduced to an ensemble on a single level, in the usual manner of the Buddhist monastery, and consists, within two successive enclosure walls, of two concentric galleries from which emerge a veritable profusion of towers, preceded to the east by a crossing cloister.
The ruin is quite advanced, as much due to the numerous defects inherent in the buildings of this period as to the low-grade, friable sandstone that has a tendency to fail. After the delight of Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei might seem less enchanting - perhaps because of its presentation. Although the vegetation has been entirely cleared, the monument has been left until now in its partially ruined state with no attempt at restoration.
We have no information concerning the dedication of this temple, and so are ignorant of its consecration. An inscription found in the western gopura of the second enclosure has been recognised as having been sculpted on re-used stones. Dating from the reign of Rajendravarman in the 10th century, it would seem to have come from the neighbouring temple of Kutisvara, and contains an invocation to Shiva. It also mentions the placing of two statues - Brahma and Vishnou.
The frontons and lintels of this Mahayanist monastery are interesting and of reasonable craftsmanship. Some have escaped destruction during the religious altercations of the 13th century. Until clearing work began there was still a pagoda on the site.
The external laterite enclosure wall (fourth enclosure) has four gopuras which are exactly the same as those at Ta Prohm - an upper tower with the four faces of Lokesvara and corner motifs with garudas. They are evidently of the Bayon period , like the narrow cruciform terrace which, on the west side - at 200 metres from the entrance - crosses the moat and is decorated with lions and naga-balustrades with straddling garudas.
The gopura of the third enclosure is cruciform in plan, has internal pillars and is covered with a crossing of vaults. It appears to be older and has three passageways - those at either extremity are independent and adjoin the 320 metre by 300 metre laterite wall. Their walls are sculpted quite crudely with foliated scrolls enlivened with small figures and with large devatas standing in niches. In the internal courtyard is a frieze of Buddhas which have been defaced by the iconoclasts.
Another pavement bordered with nagas leads to the gopura of the second enclosure, formed as a gallery with a wall to the exterior and an internal double row of sandstone pillars opening onto the courtyard. Some parts of this have been walled in, leaving only the lower side for covered circulation. The gopura, which is flanked by two secondary doors cut in the wall at the back of the gallery, forms a tiered tower. The ornamentation is in the style of the Bayon, with balustered false windows with lowered blinds and devatas with head dresses in the form of small flaming discs set in a triangle. The vault of the galleries, since constructed in both laterite and sandstone, has lost all homogeneity and so in places has collapsed.
The four gopuras of the first enclosure, like the corner towers, form prominent tiered towers linked by galleries. This ensemble would seem to be earlier than the style of the Bayon. The central sanctuary, which still carries some traces of sculpture, must have been hacked in order to receive a plaster covering. It has four avant-corps and a 2m.75 square sanctuary chamber where there still remain, resting on the cornice, traces of a wooden ceiling.
The galleries and halls linking it in a cross to the four gopuras seem to be additions. One should notice the fine fronton with banded scenes on the eastern side of the first western gopura - and also the one on the south side of the first northern gopura, where one can see a sitting Buddha above a figure standing between two elephants.
The two small western courtyards, formed by the crossing of the galleries, each contain one of the isolated standing pillars with a top tenon which, like those in Ta Prohm and Prah Khan, must have supported some altar or lantern in light-weight materials. In the two other courtyards, two buildings opening to the west - the so called "libraries" - are in the style of the Bayon and were found to shelter in their main section - which forms a tower - two admirable female statues with neither heads nor arms, probably of the 10th century and originating from some other monument. With rounded breasts, a markedly "hipped" stance and flat buttocks, they have their torso naked and wear a long skirt with fine vertical pleats.
The north-east and south-east corner towers of the first enclosure have been joined to the second gallery where one can see, forming a silhouette, a statue of a sitting Buddha, framed impressively against the sky beyond. Further on is, as at Ta Prohm and Prah Khan, the vast rectangle of a crossing cloister forming four smaller courtyards which served perhaps as a hall for ritual dance or as a "palace". The pillars, like those at the entrances to the Bayon, are animated with charming apsaras - dancing individually or in pairs - sculpted in slight relief on the surface of the stone. Dvarapalas treated in bas-relief precede the entrance, surrounded by devatas. The upper sections have disappeared.
To the north of the pavement which follows, one can find the same hall of large, closely set columns which are also to be found in the two temples mentioned above. Although their function is unknown, they must have carried some light-weight upper storey. In the gopura of the third enclosure is the statue of Buddha sitting in meditation - previously described - which is reasonable in craftsmanship. One crosses the moats again on a large terrace that has its cruciform central area is slightly raised. The naga-balustrades here are again in the style of the Bayon, while the lions, which are quite squat, have their hind legs treated in an unusually decorative manner.
Symmetrically placed to the north and the south of the principal axis stand the remains of two buildings in laterite and sandstone, formed of a central square room between two vestibules and opening to the east and the west. The southern one is the more imposing - its central crossing section and the joining of its two lateral wings being more developed. These must have been small sanctuaries, and one can see, reconstructed on the ground at the foot of the northern one, a fronton depicting the "Grand Departure" with the divinities supporting the horse's hooves with their hands.
One leaves the temple by the east gopura of its fourth enclosure, whose tower with faces is better preserved than are the wings - its corner garudas remaining almost intact.