The Shocking Decline During the Angkor Period

In 1811 Jayavarman VII was crowned, and he united Kambuja by winning the Chams. He forced the Chams to leave from Kambuja. He was over 50 years old at that time. Jayavarman VII was the fervent Buddhist ruler who replaced the cult of Shiva-Devaraja with that of Buddharaja, lord of the universe. Furthermore, the king attained many greatest areas including the Khorat Plateau, the Menan Valley and some part of Malaya. At that time Champa and northern Laos were annexed by him. Moreover the Burmese kingdom of Haripunjaya, Annam, and perhaps Java became tributaries.


During his reign, he was responsible for building many incredible temples and pond.

  1. Ta Phrom
  2. Preah Khan at Angkor
  3. Neak Pean
  4.  Banteay Kdei
  5. Ta Som
  6. Ta Nei
  7. Srah Srang
  8. Angkor Thom
  9. Bayon
  10. the Terraces of the Elephant and of the Leper King
  11. the ponds of the Royal Palace and outside Angkor
  12. the Preah Khan at Kampong Svay
  13. the Banteay Chhmar.


Among those great temple styles, the Bayon style (1181-1219/20) is well known as the spread of huger religious buildings that were built mostly of laterite (an iron-rich clay easy to cut and becomes hard when exposed to the air), and those buildings were built hastily. In the lintels the motifs are either Buddist or the decoration consists of a garland divided into four parts or by spirals of foliage and fringes of vegetation.


The new style abandoned the hieratic frontally and aimed at greater movement and plastic qualities in space. The fact that Buddhism became the state religion led to an aesthetic ideal that was more human and intimate. The faces are now characterized by inner smiles and mystical expression. Furthermore, the tendency to deify ancestors and relatives and the identification of King Jayavarman VII with the bodhisattva Lokeshvara, led to the production of more realistic images that reflect the psychology of the figures portrayed. Jayavarman VII’s delusions of grandeur are also manifested in the sculpture, some examples of which are simply colossal. The rows of giants that guard the entrances and the enormous faces of the king-bodhisattva looking out from the towers of Baton are the most impressive examples of this tendency.


In 1219 or 1220 which was 2 years after the supposed death of Jayavarman VII, the Khmers evacuated Champa. At that time there were many frequently acts of secession in the outlying areas of the empire, and the Thai menace was looming along the frontiers. On the other hand, the Brahmans incited a Shivaite reaction against the spread of Buddhism, but the Theravada eventually prevailed. The Theravada is known as Hinayana or ‘Little Vehicle (of Salvation)’  which is essential and more ancient form of Buddhism.


Indravarman II (1218-1243) built the Prasat Sour Prat and Jayavarman VIII (1243-1295) was responsible for the Mangalartha. Under Shrindravarman (1295-1307), the Chinese emperor Timur Khan sent an emissary to Kambuja in 1296. His name was Zhou Daguan. The last kings were Shrindrajayavarman (1307-1327) and Jayavarman Prameshvara (1327-?). In the meantime the first large Thai state, Sukhothai, had occupied much of the western and northern territories of the Khmer empire. In 1430 a Thai king, Paramaraja II of Ayuthya, swept into the Angkor plain and began a siege of the capital, conquering it in seven months. From that moment on abandon and decadence set in.


When the Khmer empire came to an end, the sculptors resumed working in wood and the growing power of the Thai kingdoms influenced the artistic production of the following centuries. This period produced the ‘decorated Budhha,’ that is, covered with jewels. This image was conceived sometime between the 9th and 10th century in the Indian monastery of Nalanda and then spread more in Indochina than in India. This curious use of jewels (Buddha had made a vow of poverty) is to be explained by the desire to emphasize the pre-eminence of the Enlightened One who, having attained spiritual supremacy, was associated with the cakravartin, the universal sovereign, one of whose prerogatives is to wear jewels.


Top Head of Jayavarman VII

Top Head of Jayavarman VII

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