In 9th century the rise of Angkor art took place almost entirely in the vast zone of Angkor except Koh Ker, a locality 85 km away. Moreover, in 802 the history of the capital – niagara– began with the great consecration ritual of Jayavarman II (790-850) on Mt. Kulen to celebrate the independence of Kambuja from Javanese dominion . By the way niagara is a Sanskrit word which is derived from the Khmer word angkor. That year was the inauguration of the cult of Devaraja, the ‘God King’ and also the name of the mountain Phnom Kulen style (802-875). The supporting arch was destroyed for good, but the statues became more massive. The statues were only of males. In some works the eyebrows merge, lending intentness to the facial expression. Diadems appear for the first time. The buildings were made of bricks, while sandstone was used for the doors and windows. Together with the traditional colonnettes, square and octagonal ones began to appear, the former becoming a distinguishing feature of this style. Pendants are now an important element in the lintel garlands.
The foundation of Hariharalaya near present-day Roulous was the first settlement in what would later become the empire of Angkor. When Jayavarman II died, his successor Jayavarman III (850-877) built the Prey Monti at Hariharalaya. However, Indravarman I (877-889) was really the first in a series of great rulers who built major monuments. In 877 he excavation of the ‘island’ at the Lolei temple of the Indratataka baray was the beginning of hydraulic architecture based on the bray, the artificial reservoir that served both practical and symbolical purposes and that would mark the rise of Angkor. The same ruler also built the Preah Ko and Bakong sanctuaries.
The Preah Ko style, which prevailed during the reign of Indravarman I (877-889), is characterized by greater movement and animation, although the heaviness in the limbs remain. Collar-like beards and mustaches are characteristic features, and the faces are broad and inexpensive. The chignon os now a cylinder divided into stylized sections. The knotted diadem on the nape of the neck is common. A particularly distinguishing feature is the bas-relief, the first examples of which are at Bakong.
The temples are surrounded by concentrated enclosures, and the entrances have gopuras (monumental pavilions); the presets are aligned on common platforms, while in the brick walls there are sandstone niches with male and female figures of dvarapala (temple guardians). This period also witnessed the construction of enigmatic structures known as ‘libraries,’ and the first temple mountain makes its appearance. This is also the period in which the most beautiful lintels in Khmer art were carved: two festoons of garlands held in the middle by the demon Kala, with two makaras facing backward at the ends and tiny figures riding horses or the three headed naga. Another recurrent central motif is Vishnu on Garuda, the part bird, part man lesser deity that served as the god’s steed.
At the time of King Indravarman’s death, Khmer dominion had spread as far north as Ubon, Thailand and south as far as Phnom Bayang, at the southern trip of Kambuja. His successor Yashovarman (889-910) kept his father’s possessions, built the East Baray to supply water for the new capital Yashodharapura and built tis main temple on Phnom Bakheng as well as two others on Phnom From and Phnom Bok. The Baking style (889-925) accentuated and stiffened the faces of the statues, highlighting the eyes and mouth with a double stroke, while the continuous carved line of the eyebrow arch is in relief. The moustache and beard are pointed, and the overall impression is that of a formal and abstract solemnity. The architecture is marked by the development of the temple mountain and the increasing use of sandstone; on the octagonal colonnettes with their seven visible faces, more use is made of rings and foliage decoration, while small figures no longer appear on the lintels.
King Harshavarman I (910-923), the successor of Yashovarman, ordered the construction of the Baksei Chamkrong and Prasat Kravan, while Ishanavarman II (923-928) was dethroned and from 921 to 944, following the usurpation of Jayavarman IV, the capital was moved to Koh Ker, about 56 miles (90 km) northeast of Angkor. Jayavarman IV (921-941) is to be credited for the rise of the Koh Ker style (921-944). Here the artists show much more confidence in their means and experiment with large forms; of special interest are their abandonment of frontally and the introduction of the innovative representation of movement. The faces are made softer and more gentle thanks to a faint smile, and carved jewels replace the mobile parries, which suggests less wealth. Moreover, narrative scenes appear on the lintels.
After the brief reign of Harshavarman II (941-944), Rajendravarman II (944-968) returned to Angkor in 944 and , after closing with the Cham kingdom, extended his authority to the east as far as the Annamite range, reaching Burma to the west and the Gulf of Siam to south. This ruler and his famous architect Kavindrarinmathana were responsible for the construction of the Pre Rup, the East Mebon, the Bat Chum and the Srah Srang reservoir. During the reign of Rajendravarman the Pre Rup style revived small figures and the static hieratic quality in sculpture. Belts become a common motif and the hairstyles are more elaborate.
The structures now imitate the former plastered brick constructions, while the long halls that surround the temples in this period prefigure the later continuous perimetrical galleries. The first of these temples was the Ta Ker, attributed to Jayavarman V (968-1001), who founded the new capital of Jayendranagari.
In the meantime the Brahman Yajnavaraha had built the splendid Banteay Srei temple, after which a new period was named.
The Banteay Srei style (960-1000) effected a sort of revolution and was one of the most significant artistic styles in Cambodia. Tinged with archaism – a typical characheteristic of Khmer art, which returned to the models of past several times – Banteay Srei production featured soft, delicate images, with fleshy lips and wide-open eyes; the men’s faces have beards and mustached, while the women’s are pervaded with pensive, gentle calm. Elaborate jewels adorn the divinities, revealing the mastery and refinement of Khmer jewelry. The pediments are now superposed and their deeply carved relief sculpture becomes narrative, consisting of highly plastic statuary groups.
Lintels with garlands articulated in complex volutes at the ends and with a god in the middle alternate with others that hark back to the old division into quarters bearing elephant heads, Kalas and mythical figures. Cylindrical columns appear for the last time.
Vishnu at Phnom Kulen (9th century)