A large medallion with an apsara holding a ribbon of pearls and more apsaras below her. Note the hand and crooked finger above her head
Banteay Chhmar, located in the northwest corner of Cambodia, is an enormous temple complex constructed during the reign of Jayarvarman VII in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and has a wealth of iconographic imagery to admire. Aside from its face towers with the elusive smiling face of its builder peering through the forest, its outer walls are covered in decorative reliefs, none more stunning than a series of multi-armed Avalokiteshvara - the Lord of Compassion who protects humans from fire, flood, bandits, wild animals and witchcraft, heals illnesses and towards the end of the 12th century became one of the main elements of Mahayana Buddhism. Originally there were eight, about two metres high, carved in a sequence along the western gallery outer wall. Two are still in situ, two were stolen between 1970 and 1992, four more were stolen in 1998, of which two have been recovered and are on display at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
The two Avalokiteshvara still on view at Banteay Chhmar are the 32-armed example with eleven visible heads, standing on a lotus in the middle of an assembly of kneeling worshippers in a state of anjali, and one with 22 arms and seven eroded heads. Apsaras or devata in ten large medallions surround the main figure. These images are a key attraction at Banteay Chhmar and the temple authorities must take care that they are treated with respect by visitors - on a previous visit, I observed graffiti carved on one of the figures. Banteay Chhmar is a remote site though funding and recognition is slowly being channelled towards the temple and the early fruits of minor restoration work can be seen at the temple's entrance. It's certainly one of my favourite temples in Cambodia.