A trip to Beng Mealea, which in itself demands an entiie day, can be combined with a hunting party, since the region is rich in both small and large game and wild animals: tigers, panthers and elephants, herds of oxen and wild buffalo inhabit the forest as far as Prah Khan of Kampong Svay in the east…’Maurice Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group,
Location: some 70 kilometres (43.49 miles) northeast of the Bayon. A recently constructed road makes access to Beng Mealea a reasonable one to one and a half hour ride.
Access: enter and exit at the south
Tip: before you depart for Beng Mealea, ask your local guide to estimate the travel time based on the condition of the roads, which varies throughout the year. The local villagers charge visitors a nominal fee; a wooden ramp enables access to parts of the interior; it is recommended that you begin your visit by walking around the enclosure wall and then entering from the south to see the interior and leaving at the north.
Date: c. late 11th-early 12th century
King: probably Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150)
Religion: Hindu, possibly dedicated to Vishnu
Beng Mealea is another enormous complex with an area of 108 hectares (266.86 acres). Although the precise date of the temple is not known as no inscription round so far has mentioned it, the art and architecture are stylistically similar to that of Angkor Wat and the workmanship and composition are of the same fine quality. Beng Mealea is in poor condition because of natural elements, the lack of maintenance and vandalism, so visiting this site is an experience. But nearly everyone who makes the effort to ply his or her way through the maze of Bcng Mealea emerges with a sense of wonder at the accomplishments of the Khmers in constructing this earthly microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm.
The layout combines the temple-mountain theme of the early and middle periods of Khmer art with the ground level plan adopted in the 13th century by connecting the two architectural concepts with covered galleries, corbelled vaulting, cruciform passages, raised walkways and shrines. Whichever way you perceive the developing plan, as you wander amongst the ruins, keep in mind that you are progressing from the world of man to that of the gods and moving to an increasingly more spiritual plane.
The dimensions of the outer enclosure wall of the Beng Mealea complex are 181 x 152 metres (594 x 599 feet). A pair of majestic lions stands on each side of the entrance of the causeway (once paved with sandstone) and as you walk to the south you see remains of multi-headed nagas and parts of a balustrade that once lined both sides of the causeway (the decoration on the crest of the multi-headed nagas is finely carved and so detailed that it looks like embroidery). A moat surrounds the temple.
Next you approach a cruciform terrace supported by round, undecorated columns and the first of three enclosure galleries, each with a gopura in the middle of all sides and a tower in the four corners.
The east, or main, entrance, is preceded by a vast ‘depression’ that may have been a baray. A terrace with a laterite base and sandstone paving marks the entrance and sandstone-lined ponds flank the east causeway. Parts of a nagas-balustrade and short pillars that supported it litter the ground on both sides of the causeway.
Enter the central complex to the east (right) side of the south gopura walk along the wooden ramp to get an amazing bird’s eye view of the inner area, recognisable forms are: (south) between the 1st and 2nd enclosures, there are two sandstone structures with small, rectangular windows and balusters: a ‘library on the north and south side of the east entrance, which are connected by a ‘cloister'; (east) four courtyards at the east are surrounded by narrow, vaulted galleries; the central sanctuary (now collapsed) was linked to the enclosure wall at the east by a narrow, covered gallery.
Look for the following narrative scenes in the central complex: lintels: lndra on his mount, the three-headed elephant; Lakshmi. Vishnu’s consort, seated between two elephants with raised trunks holding a lotus; Vishnu reclining on a serpent with a lotus in full bloom springing from his navel and Brahma (four heads: only three are visible) heads emerging from the blooming lotus: the Churning of the Ocean with gods on one side and demons on the other holding the body of a serpent with a tortoise as the support for the churning pole in the centre; pediments: Shiva and Parvati, his consort, sitting on his mount, Nandi, the bull; Krishna with his left arm stretched upward supporting Mount Govardhana to protect the shepherds from a torrential storm brought about by lndra; Krishna wrestling with the demon Bana: Shiva dancing the cosmic dance with Ganesha on one side and Parvati, his consort, on the other.