Decoding 216 Smiling Stone Faces of Bayon Temple

It is true that most people visit Cambodia because of Angkor Wat. However, those who have been to this largest religious building in the world also visit Angkor Thom, the ancient capital city of the Khmer Empire. Within Angkor Thom, there are plenty of temple ruins scattered around, many of which are very unique. But there is one temple that really stands out and that is Bayon Temple.

Bayon Temple is located right at the very center of Angkor Thom and features myriad mysterious smiling faces carved on four sides of stone towers. These faces have long been one of the most interesting and intriguing thing in the whole Cambodia.
After the construction completed in the late 12th century, there used to be 54 stone towers here. However, after more than 8 centuries, this number has reduced to 37. Luckily, the smiling faces have not been severely damaged. Each of these faces looks very much the same, smiling with eyes closed mysteriously. It is believed that in the past, the total number of faces here are 216, each tower has four.

The meaning of these faces now still remains a debate. One theory suggests that they demonstrate the portrait of the great King Jayavarman VII, who built the Bayon temple. According to this theory, the temples as well as the faces are built to dedicate to Buddha whom he worshipped. The number of stone towers, 54 also represents the number of days of lunar calendar as well as the total number of provinces that King Jayavarman VII used to rule.


However, there’s another belief, supposing that the smiling faces of Bayon temple portrayed Avalokiteśvara, also known as bodhisattva (Buddhist enlightened being) of compassion. The third and final explanation suggests that both are true as the king identified himself as both Buddha and bodhisattva.

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