When Jayavarman II founded the Khmer empire, he knew it would have to have a magnificent capital, and so he founded Angkor. And he knew that the Devaraja, or Cult of the God-King (with him as the eponymous God-King), would need a top notch top cleric, and so he chose the Brahman scholar Sivakaivalya. And he knew he would need to secure the cleric’s loyalty and establish for him a base of religious power, to reinforce Jayavarman II’s secular power, and so he built for him a Buddhist monastery, which was over the years expanded into Banteay Kdei, the Citadel of Chambers.
Banteay Kdei is one of my favorite of the ruins at Angkor. It’s off the regular path a bit, so it’s less occupied by tourists, and you’re more likely to run into a monk or local musicians than another Westerner, if you go at the right times. As a monastery, it houses many small, intricate rooms, inside of an outer wall with the four gopuras in the four cardinal directions. As you enter through the east you pass through a Hall of Dancers, and then enter the main sanctuary, which is a cruceiform central altar surrounded by a terrace, surrounded by a terrace.
Being in the Bayon style, it has many of the rounded, almost egg shaped towers, and false windows line the faces of its walls. Most amusingly, many of the false windows feature false blinds, drawn down to various degrees, as though its spectral inhabitants were keeping out the sun. But the windows, and the blinds, are actually solid stone, rendering the entire process illusory!
The space in between the two terraces is filled entirely with carved sandstone, thoroughly defining it as interior space, not part of the external world. Heights differ surprisingly between chambers, and the effect of wandering through it is disorienting. In addition, while not as overrun as Ta Prohm or Preah Khan, the jungle has had its way with this temple more than Angkor Wat, that’s for sure.
The halls between the chambers are narrow, and many are collapsed, along with most of the roofs. The effect is labyrinthine: finding your way from one area to a nearby one might involve going on a thoroughly circuitous, roundabout route, until you finally find yourself in the chamber adjacent to the one you started in.
All in all, it’s a perfect place for quiet reflection and meditation and study, as the monks it was built for no doubt found it. And so it is the perfect place to do one of my and Allison’s favorite things to do: go to a beautiful location, find somewhere nice and private, and sit and read for a few hours. And so we did.