One of the smaller Angkor temples, the Banteay Samre takes its name from the Samre people that inhabited the area.
The temples pediments and lintels are decorated with very intricate and well preserved carvings of Hindu mythological stories and Buddhist depictions.
As an inscribed stele giving information about the founding of the temple has not been found, it is not known what year the temple was build. Judging from its style and ornamentation, it is likely that the Banteay Samre was build around halfway through the 12th century during the reign of King Suryavarman II.
At the start of the 20th century the Banteay Samre was overgrown with jungle. It was restored during the 1930’s using the anastylosis method, that aims to restore the monument as close as possible to the original.
The legend of the cucumber King
The Banteay Samre temple is associated with the legend of the cucumber King. It tells of a local farmer who grew tasty cucumbers on his field. After his first harvest, he presented some of them to the King. The King liked the cucumbers so much that he ordered the farmer to kill anyone who tried to steal them or enter his farmland.
One day, the King, longing for the taste of the cucumbers went to the field to get some of them. As it was after dark, the farmer did not recognize the King and accidentally killed him. As the King did not have sons, it was decided that a Royal elephant would chose the next King. The elephant was let go free and walked towards the farmers field. When the animal kneeled in front of the farmer, he was made King. The Royal servants however were dissatisfied with the new King and disrespected him, upon which the King moved out of the Palace to the Banteay Samre temple.
Hindu & Buddhist depictions
The Banteay Samre which is located about 500 meters East of the East baray was dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. The monument contains both Hindu and Buddhist depictions. The images of the Buddha were destroyed, probably around mid 13th century, when Jayavarman VIII came to power, who worshipped Shiva. From the Eastern entrance, a 200 meter long paved laterite walkway with a balustrade with mythological Nagas leads to the temple. On either side of the walkway is a pool. Before the Eastern gate is a terrace with lion statues, guarding the temple.
The second enclosure
The second enclosure measuring 83 by 77 meters is surrounded by galleries, except on the East end where they probably were demolished at some point in time. At the end of each side are gopura entrance gates. The lintels and pediments on the gopuras of the second enclosure contain some very well preserved carvings:
- A scene from the Ramayana epic: a fight between the hero Rama and the ten headed Ravana
- Indra the God of War, riding his three headed elephant Airavata
- Another scene from the Ramayana: Lakshmana, brother of the hero Rama is badly wounded during a battle with Ravana and is dying. It is decided that Hanuman must go to the Himalayas to fetch a herb that can cure Lakshmana. As Hanuman does not know which herb is the correct one, he picks up the whole mountain and flies it back to Lanka. The herb is given to Lakshmana, who is immediately cured.
- Other mythological scenes with Vishnu, Garuda, Krishna, Rama fighting Ravana, Indra on Airavata, an army of monkeys fighting a battle
The inner sanctuary
The inner sanctuary is set on a high platform topping the temple. It is surrounded by low galleries with a gopura gate at the center of each side. In the center of the platform is a single sanctuary tower opening to a mandapa to the East end. The central tower and the gopuras contain devatas, more scenes from the Ramayana epic as well as several depictions of the Buddha, that have been destroyed. Inside the mandapa is a stone tomb with a lid on it and a small drain at the bottom, which may have been used as a sarcophagus.
On either side of the sanctuary is a library building opening to a vestibule to the West. Both libraries contain depictions from the Ramayana epic. The library to the left when entering through the East gopura contained an image of the Buddha that has been destroyed.