Baphuon: Why does this Hindu Temple Have an Image of Buddha?

The statue of reclining Buddha at the temple of Baphuon. Photo: Chhorn Sophat / ThmeyThmey25

SIEM REAP - Behind a walled-city three by three kilometres in size, history and discovery run deep on each centimetre of soil.

Known as Angkor Thom city, with Bayon temple being the most popular in the spotlight, a surprising number of other temples and ancient ruins lie deeper into the woods. Among these buildings is Baphuon, a large Hindu structure which has seen plenty of restoration over the centuries.

The Baphuon temple from above. Photo: Sem Vanna / ThmeyThmey25

Architecturally distinctive from other temples nearby, Baphuon has long stone causeway leading to the main entrance as well as a large construction of a reclining Buddha at the back.

To understand more about the temple, Sem Vanna from ThmeyThmey25 News, met Suom Sophea, a young archaeologist from the APSARA National Authority.

Sem Vanna (L), a journalist from ThmeyThmey25 and Suom Sophea (R), an archaeologist from the APSARA National Authority. Photo: Chhorn Sophat / ThmeyThmey25

Sem Vanna: Even though the place where we are standing seems like a small hill, it was the wall of this temple. So, looking behind us, could you please explain the origin of this temple?

Suom Sophea: As a tribute to Brahminism, the Baphuon temple was constructed by King Udayadityavarman II in 1060 CE. According to the classification made by French experts who have studied this site for decades, Baphuon, as well as some other temples, fall under the 12th generation of design evolution. Since it predates the construction of Angkor Wat temple, this makes Angkor Wat the 13th and Bayon the 14th. As an overview, there are 14 generations of design so far, four being pre-Angkorian and 10 being Angkorian. Crossing the modern-day border, the temples of Phimai and Phnom Rung in Thailand are also classified in the design of Baphuon.

Tourists enter the Baphuon temple via the stone causeway. Photo: Ky Chamna / Cambodianess

Sem Vanna: Is this the only structure left by the king?

Suom Sophea: No. Looking west, a large ancient water reservoir, Western Baray, with a temple in the middle of it, Western Mebon, was also his legacy. It was in this reservoir where a surprisingly large reclining Vishnu statue made from bronze was unearthed.

Sculptures on the temple of Baphuon. Photo: Ky Chamna / Cambodianess

Sem Vanna: What kind of stones were used here?

Suom Sophea: On the outside, grey limestones were used to cover the laterite stones which were compacted with soil from the inside. As for the wall surrounding the temple, a mixture of laterite stones and limestones was put to use. Unorganised stones were laid all around as they had fallen down from the top after centuries. A number of restorations were made during the French colonial time as well as an extensive one during the 1960s. The process was stopped during the war of the 1970s and continued again around the 1990s before it was completed in 2011.

Tourists walk along a former hallway of the Baphuon temple. Photo: Ky Chamna / Cambodianess

Sem Vanna: What are some of the depictions one could see at this temple?

Suom Sophea: There are a lot. Some of them are the depiction of Ramayana stories, animal hunting and much more. Some bas-reliefs are hidden in tight corners.

Sculptures on the temple of Baphuon. Photo: Ky Chamna / Cambodianess

Sem Vanna: Walking to the back of the temple, upon closer inspection, one could see an image of a reclining Buddha. Why does a Hindu temple have an image of a Buddha?

Suom Sophea: The image of Buddha came later during the 16th century CE when Angkor Wat no longer was the main city of Cambodia. Measured at 61 metres long and over nine metres high, the image was commissioned by King Ang Chan I, reusing the old stones from the temple, when Cambodia and its neighbouring nations saw a proliferation of Buddhism. Statues of Buddha can be seen in many places in this city. This demonstrates that the city of Angkor has never been completely abandoned.


Read more on the pagoda terraces in Angkor Thom city that shed light on the post-Angkorian time here or watch more here.

Interviewed in Khmer for ThmeyThmey News, this article was translated for Cambodianess by Ky Chamna.

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