Sunday, January 13, 2008

The reliefs of Yeay Peau

The dancing Vishnu of Prasat Yeay Peau
The small sandstone tower of Prasat Yeay Peau is nestled right up against the vihara of Wat Tonle Bati. Besides the legend of its construction - a race between men and women to build the tower, which the women won by deception (don't they always!) - it has two notable reliefs, the one shown here above the false western doorway, and a less-appealing Buddha seated in meditation over its main eastern doorway. I will concentrate on the western relief. The tower dates from the late 12th century but there is a mix of Hindu and Buddhist iconography in the carvings which indicates some of the reliefs were introduced many years after the original. The main pediment over the western door is of Vishnu (or Shiva) dancing, holding a conch in his upper right arm and a discus in the upper left hand, with similar attendants immediately below. This is the Hindu influence, whilst the three registers of the lintel underneath the dancing figure, is unmistakingly Buddhist in nature. The highest register shows the common scene of the bodhisattva being tortured, with the little old man standing to the right leaning on a stick; the middle register has kneeling figures with simple hairstyle wearing a long robe, probably monks, with hands raised in veneration. The lower register has crowned worshippers with hands in prayer. What does it all mean? - your guess is as good as mine, but similar scenes can be found on lintels and pediments across the Khmer kingdom. One meticulous and lengthy tome that gives a wonderful insight into Khmer mythology and iconography is Vittorio Roveda's exhaustive study, Images of the Gods. Without his insights, i wouldn't know where to start!

The lintel of three registers on the western doorway at Yeay Peau

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