Banteay Kdei, also spelt Banteay Kdey, is pronouned "Bantuy Gduy". "Banteay" means castle, "Kdei" means "cell", but also court decision or verdict.
Banteay Kdei is easy to find as its eastern main gate is very close to the junction where the Small Circuit and the Grand Circuit meet. On the opposite side of the road is the huge Srah Srang reservoir, which supposedly was integrated in the plan of Banteay Kdei, maybe in connection with worshipping the Buddha of the East. This region east of the core of Angkor was the village of Kuti, and the Buddhist temple seems to have had a much smaller 10th century predecessor at the very same place.
Banteay Kdei is the first huge temple built by Jayavarman VII (1181-1218?), the Buddhist ruler of whom there are left nearly as many monuments as built by all his Hindu predecessors together. Most of Jayavarman's constructions are at ground level. They have no pyramids as bases and no upper levels. Contemporary flat temples are, besides Banteay Kdei, nearby "jungletemple" Ta Prohm, the huge Preah Khan, futhermore, Neak Pean, Krol Ko, Ta Som, Banteay Thom and countless smaller edifices, e.g. the Chapel of the Hospital. Jayavarman VII’s state temple Bayon in his new capital Angkor Wat is his only structure with tiers.
Many (not all) of Jayavarman's buildings have face towers, a second landmark of Angkor besides the five towers of Angkor Wat. Banteay Kei is one of those face-tower-temples. The huge face carvings are additions from the early 13th century. You can see four colossal Buddha faces looking into the four directions at each of the four entrance Gopurams of Banteay Kdei’s exterior enclosure, they are located at the four cardinal points, as usual. But the Buddha faces are not quite as large as the famous ones of the Angkor Thom city gates and the numerous of the Bayon temple.
Banteay Kdei is a kind of first example in a negative sense, too. The construction work was hastily done, not as precise as at the Angkor Wat any more. And the sandstone was of poorer quality. Inaccuracy and crumbling led to much of the deterioration visible today.
Only a few months after he had liberated Angkor from foreign Cham rule and after his coronation, Jayavarman VII dedicated the Mahayana Buddhist temple Banteay Kdei to his teacher. One meaning of today's name "Banteay Kdei" (citadel of the cells) could be a reminder of the school function, meaning the novices' cells in an education centre. But more probably, the name alludes to the many rooms in the inner stone temple. Only the vicinity of this temple proper served as the campus. Residence buildings for Buddhist monks and novices were made of wood and do not exist any more. Banteay Kdei remained to be an abode for monks over the centuries. This is why it is not as overtaken by the jungle as the neighbouring Ta Prom. Only at the back of the temple proper (its western side) you can see an impressive pituresque tree breaking up the temple surface and growing on top of it.
The outer temple wall is built of laterite and measures 700 metres from east to west and 500 metres from north to south. The four entrance gates with face towers mentioned above are made of sandstone.
A cruciform terrace in front of the first temple halls is decorated with Naga balustrades, they are in a sound condition. A rectangular building between entrance (called Gopuram III East) and temple proper was the hall of the dancers, as in the case of Preah Khan. It is only slightly smaller than that at Preah Khan, but has many more pillars. They are decorated with bas reliefs showing dancing single or paired Apsaras. The group of stone buildings, including the hall of dancers and the temple proper, is surrounded by an inner temple moat measuring 329 metres by 300 metres.
The style of Banteay Kdei marks the transition of the Angkor Wat style to the Bayon style of the dawning era of Jayavarman VII. The temple seems not to be built in accordance with one initial ground plan. More and more corridor galleries were added later on, connecting the 13 towers. This resulted in the confusing labyrinthic arrangement of halls. But it is still less complex than the floor plans of Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Bayon later on. Anyway, the arrangement of the 13 towers, each of them crowned with a typical lotus bud, is strictly symmetrical. The central tower is surrounded by four towers in the cardinal points and four more in the corners of the inner (first) enclosure, forming a square with three rows of three towers in regular distances, a simple layout. Four additional towers belong to Gopuram in the cardinal points of the second enclosure.
Inside a corridor slightly to the north of the central tower there is a relief scene above a doorway, depicting the assaults of Mara which were overcome by the Buddha. It is an allegory for the triumph of virtue over evil and may have served as a symbol of the victory of Jayavarman VII over the Cham invaders. His shift to Buddhism is sometimes explained as means to replace the former religion of the defeated and now restored Khmer empire by a new powerful religion not connected to that defeat.
After the Buddhist rule of Jayavarman VII there was a revival of Shivaism at the royal court in Angkor. And King Jayavaman VIII at the end of the 13th century even ordered the destruction of Buddhist sculptures. This is one reason why so many faces of Buddha sculptures are damaged or missing in Banteay Kdey, but, as in the case of Preah Khan and many smaller temples, art theft during the years of civil war contributed to the destructions, too.
In the 1960s the vicinity of Banteay Kdei was established as a zoo by Norodom Sihanouk, in order to protect wild animals like deer, monkeys and boar, and present them as a touristic attraction. Those animals were killed and eaten up by the Khmer Rouge guerilla fighters and their Vietcong allies during the early 1970s.
In 2001, a Japanese research team uncovered 274 fragments of Buddhist sculptures, most of them made of sandstone, some of metal.
Different times of the day will highlight different structures. The afternoon is the best time to take a photo of the temple towers mirrored in a pool of the inner moat.
Your Angkor ticket will be checked at the face-tower entrance gates of Banteay Kdei.