Banteay Srei was built not by a king, but by two local dignitaries, Yajnavaraha, who was a trusted guru to the king, and his brother. It was Rajendravarman who granted them the land and permission for a temple to be built, but although the sanctuary was consecrated in 967 to Shiva, it was not actually completed until the reign of Jayavarman V.
The temple layout is relatively simple, with three enclosing walls, an inner moat and a row of three sanctuary towers at the very centre. If the eastern gopura by which you enter the temple seems oddly stranded, that’s because there was never an enclosing wall here – although the buildings just beyond the gopura are deemed to be in the “fourth” enclosure. The volume of tourists trooping past isn’t conducive to lingering here, but it’s worth taking a moment to scrutinize the very fine carving above the exterior of the east door, which depicts Indra – the sky god, ruling the easterly cardinal direction – squatting on the three-headed elephant Airavata.
From the gopura, a paved processional way leads 75m west to the main temple complex. Around the midway point, a pavilion to the north boasts a particularly detailed engraved pediment showing Vishnu in his incarnation as a man-lion. Just before you reach the gopura in the third enclosing wall, you’ll find a carved pediment you can admire without craning your neck, as it’s lying upright on the ground to the right of the doorway; it shows Sita swooning as she is abducted by Ravana. The gopura itself is one of the most dramatic at the site, with soaring finials and the carved scrolls of fine leaf decorations and floral motifs.
In the rainy season, you’ll be treated to marvellous reflections of the temple when the moat within the third enclosure fills. The narrow second enclosure is jammed with six long galleries, each subdivided into rooms which might have been meditation halls.