Skip to content

Khmer empire

The Angkor era reflects the most glorious period of Cambodian history, during which the Khmer empire was consolidated and reached its peak in terms of cultural and artistic achievements. The Angkor Wat complex covering and area of about 200 square kilometers was constructed during this period. This temple was dedicated to Vishnu and built by King Suryavarman II between AD 1113 and 1150 AD. The first dynasty of Angkor was founded by Suryavarman II (AD802-850) and the inscriptions give names of twenty-eight kings who succeeded him during the Angkor period. It was believed that the king had a divine role, and an appropriate temple had to be constructed by each king to consecrate the symbolic relationship between ruler and divinity. When the king died, his successor would initiate construction of a new state temple, which would be bigger and grander than the one built by his predecessor, dedicating it to the religion of his choice.

One of the greatest rulers of this empire was Suryavarman II (AD 1181-1219) who was a devout Buddhist of the Mahayana sect. He was a great builder and he built the new capital of Angkor Thom. At the center of Angkor Thom is the Bayon , the state temple. He also undertook restoration of the Old Royal Palace and its surroundings. He erected the famous Elephant Terrace on the east and the Terrace of the Leper King. He also constructed a Baray, Jayataka reservoir to the northeast of Angkor Thom at the center of which he placed the Neak Pean , an island temple. He also built other structures such as Banteay Kdei, and Sras Srang which is a Royal bath and extensive road network. Along these roads, this king had also built 121 resting houses to accommodate the travelers and the officials and, 102 hospitals to accommodate the sick.
As a Buddhist Monarch he was a major patron of the Sangha, the community of monks. He built mini cities like Ta Prohm (temple-monastery), Preah Khan, and Banteay Chhmar. The reign of Jayavarman VII was marked as the peak of the Angkor Empire as well as of the Khmer Civilization, which began to decline gradually after the death of this king in AD1219. The architectural endeavors of Jayavarman VII are seen all over his vast empire which now covered a major part of Southeast Asia. Jayavarman VII was succeeded by Jayavarman VIII (AD 1243-1295) who was a strong believer in Hinduism.

Suryavarman III and his regime were overthrown by his own son-in-law Srindravarman who was a Buddhist. He was a devout Buddhist of the Theravada sect. The first inscription engraved in Pali indicated that the royal family had adopted Theravada Buddhism as their main religion, and thus the king was no longer regarded as deva-raja or “god-king”.

Theravada Buddhism was introduced from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and gradually infiltrated into every level. During this period there was a fall in the productivity, improper maintenance of the irrigation system, and frequent floods which led to the weakening of the empire.

The Ayuthaya kingdom became a major threat to Angkor Empire. In AD 1431, the Thai army attacked Angkor. For the traditional scholars, this marked the end of Angkor Empire. Nonetheless, the activities continued and important constructions were built after the 15 th century, for instance the huge reclining Buddha in Baphuon temple, covering its entire western face.

Scroll top