Khmer

Some old photos of the Bayon base-reliefs

The Bayon is an extraordinary structure, and as such justly famous, but the its real claim to glory ought to be its undeservedly unfamous base-reliefs, executed to commemorate Jayavarman VII’s wars — as well as the lives of his ordinary subjects.

Square headed Khmers duke it out with funny-hatted Chams in a great naval battle on Lake Tonle Sap; while fish, turtles and crocodiles frolic among the lotus; J VII rides in triumph on a great elephant; Brahmins perform gruesome rites; the people eat, drink, dance, and stage cock-fights; and rats pick at oil palm fruit. Old J VII — also known as Ye Ole Square Head — any visitor to Siem Reap is struck by the general ubiquity of this anatomic feature, Old J having been a bit of a lady’s man, too — well, Old J VII really was a bit of a bore — had he lived in the the 20th century, the Anglo-Saxons might have referred to him tenderly as Uncle Jay — so workmen put down the tools the moment they heard of his death: much of the base-relief remains unfinished.

For all that, they’re  a delight.

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