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The Silk Route - World Travel: Banteay Srei, Silk Farm, Cambodia
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Cambodia: Banteay Srei & Silk Farm
November 2015

Banteay Srei Silk Farm
Cambodia, Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei is a beautiful small temple with the most exquisite carvings. The central sacred buildings are set within a wide moat, very peaceful in the early morning.

The silk farm gave us a good insight into the production of rare and beautiful golden silk.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei
Only a sweeper and a guard to greet us at Banteay Srei.
This is the entrance to the fourth (outermost) enclosure.
Banteay Srei
Intricately carved fronton, fourth enclosure, east gopura.

This exquisite small temple lies some twenty km north east of Siem Reap. It is covered with fine carving, very well preserved in the hard pink sandstone. I thought the carving here was even better than that at Banteay Samre.

Banteay Srei
East gopura (gate) of the fourth enclosure.
The square notches in the pediment are where wooden beams would have been located to support a roof.1
Banteay Srei
Indra (a powerful deity in several religions) on a three-headed elephant.1
Fronton, fourth enclosure, east gopura.

 

 

Banteay Srei

 

The temple was built around 967 AD during the reigns of two kings: Rajendravarman II and Jayavarman V.2

As usual the temple is approached from the east and the visitor first reaches a fine gopura, once part of the fourth enclosure, probably a wooden palisade.2

Inside the fourth enclosure a fine processional way leads to the third enclosure.

Banteay Srei
Processional way between fourth and third enclosures.
Banteay Srei
More fine carving on a fallen fronton.
The abduction of Sita - the wife of Rama - by the Yeak Viradha.2
Banteay Srei
Ancient script.
Banteay Srei

 

 

The beautiful processional way between the fourth and third enclosures was once a completely enclosed room with pillared galleries on either side.

Within the third enclosure a wide moat encircles the temple

Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei
East gopura of the second enclosure.

 

 

Within the ornately carved gopura of the second enclosure even the floor is carved and there is a warning not to step on the decoration!

Banteay Srei
Ornately carved fronton just inside the east gopura of the second enclosure.
Banteay Srei

The interior of the first gopura has undergone extensive reconstruction. The carving is fabulous and it abounds with statues of temple guardians.1

Banteay Srei
Looking into the first enclosure - entry is not allowed.

 





Banteay Srei
East gopura of the first enclosure.
Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei
The north "library".

Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei





Inside the east gopura of the first enclosure are two "libraries", one to the north of the central axis, one to the south, both facing east. Each has what looks like a door in the east face but these are false and do not open.

Banteay Srei
The south "library".
Banteay Srei
Fronton, south "library".
The Hindu god Shiva is said to reside on Mount Kailasa, here represented as a tiered pyramid with Shiva and his wife Parvati at the top. The multi-armed, multi-headed giant Ravana tries to shake the mountain, animals flee on all sides.2

Banteay Srei

The carving on the frontons of the "libraries" are some of the best in the temple.

Banteay Srei
Fronton, north "library".
The scene is thought to depict the "rain of Indra", or beneficial rain, represented by two tiers of parallel lines. The  rain falls on a forest inhabited by a wide variety of animals. Indra, at the apex of the carving, rides a three-headed elephant.2

Banteay Srei

 

Banteay Srei
North library, east fronton detail: Naga, the symbol of water, in the centre of the stylised rain falling on the forest where the child Krishna and his brother Balarama are surrounded by animals.2

Banteay Srei
Guardians at the entrance to the north tower shrine.

Directly ahead, through the east gopura of the first enclosure, is a mandapa, an enclosed ante-room leading to a central tower shrine, flanked on north and south sides by slightly smaller tower shrines.

Banteay Srei
The mandapa leading to the central tower shrine.
Banteay Srei
From the south: the mandapa and the three tower shrines on the left. The entrances into the mandapa and shrines are very low, forcing visitors to bow when entering the sacred spaces.

Banteay Srei
From the south west: the three tower shrines on the left, east gopura at centre, and south "library" on the right. The enclosure wall and west gopura of the first enclosure lie mostly in ruins.

 

 

 

Banteay Srei is also known as the "Citadel of the Women" but why I don't know, perhaps because of the quantity of delicate carving it was felt to have a female character.

Banteay Srei
From the north: the mandapa and three tower shrines with paired statues of guardians in front of each entrance.

Banteay Srei
Beautifully carved fronton on the west gopura of the second enclosure showing the fight between the two monkeys Valin and Sugriva.2
Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei

 

Banteay Srei
This was by no means the only monk we saw with a mobile!

 

 

 

I really loved this temple. It is small but so beautiful, the carvings are exquisite and a bonus is that not many people seem to visit.

When we were there we were the only visitors until we were leaving and some kind of official group arrived, with orange-robed monks wielding mobile phones!

Banteay Srei

 

Silk Farm

Silk Farm
Beautifully packed picnic breakfast from Shinta Mani.

After we visited Banteay Srei we went on to a silk farm. It had been a very early start and, rather than return to the hotel for breakfast, we opted to have one packed for us. The Shinta Mani provided the most beautiful basket full of good things - much more than we actually needed. We ate in the shade of a shelter near a small market close to Banteay Srei where the guides can rest.

Silk Farm
Workers stripping mulberry leaves from branches.

Golden Silk Pheach Preservation Center3 is a working silk farm, specialising in the very fine golden silk produced by a rare species of yellow silkworm. The yield of silk from this particular species is fifteen times less than that from the common silkworm, making it much more expensive to produce. The whole process is completed by hand, requiring very skilled operations from the workers, mostly female.

Silk Farm
Golden silkworms  and a large supply of mulberry leaves.

 

The manager set up the farm in 1992 and employs many war orphans and local rural people who have very limited resources.

Silk Farm
Silkworm cocoons.

 

Silk Farm
Heating the cocoons in boiling water.

Twelve hectares of organically farmed mulberry fields supply the silkworms with their food. The silk itself comes from the cocoons of the silkworms, which unfortunately have to be killed first - if they are allowed to pupate they would break through the cocoon and destroy the precious silk.

Silk Farm
Meticulously removing dirt and debris from the silk.

Soaking in boiling water will kill the silkworms and soften the binding agent so that the silk filament can be unwound - about 200m in length from each cocoon.

The individual filaments are much too fine to be usable, they must be twisted together to form a more substantial thread and also cleaned.

Silk Farm
These workers are preparing the thread for dying.

Preparing the thread for dying is another extremely skilled and time-consuming process. The thread is wound on a framework, similar to a weaving frame, and raffia is tied onto the threads to mimic the desired pattern. The coloured raffia masks these parts from the dying process. The masked thread is then dyed (with natural dyes) and wound onto bobbins ready for the weaving process.

Silk Farm
Weaving the fabric on a traditional loom.

Naturally a traditional hand loom is used to create the final, finished, luxurious fabric.

These spinning and weaving techniques are ages old, used by communities all over the world.

There is a shop selling the most amazing garments, not something I would wear, and in any case, the prices reflected the rarity of the silk and the immense care, time and effort put into production.

 

References

  1. Asian Historical Architecture: Banteay Srei
  2. A Guide to the Angkor Monuments Maurice Glaize
  3. Golden Silk Pheach Preservation Center