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Notes on the Geography of Cambodia (Angkor): Monuments in Angkor Thom: Photo 3

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Until the 1920s, the Bayon was assumed to be a Hindu temple and the faces those of Shiva. An inscription found in 1925 revealed that it was instead a Buddhist temple, built in the late 12th century by Angkor's most ambitious builder, Jayavarman VII. Here, the king portrays himself as Avalokiteshvara, the Compassionate Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas are beings who have attained enlightenment but chosen not to enter Nirvana. Instead, they remain here to help less-enlightened humanity. In this case, the name Avalokiteshvara, "the Lord who looks down," is taken literally, not only to suggest a spiritual guide but a very temporal master.

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