Jayavarman II, when as a prince, was being held as a Chenla hostage to the Java court. Getting a chance to return to his motherland, he vigorously pursued for powers and became the king in 790 A.D. For the next 12 years, he carried out many battles around the regions and tried to seek a perfect home for his own kingdom.
When Jayavarman II became stronger, he decided to establish his capital Hariharala in the region of Roluos on the plain northwest of Tonle Sap.
In 802, Jayavarman II crowned himself for the second time, which marked as a starting point of the Khmer Civilization and the birth of the Angkor Empire. He made a breakthrough by proclaiming himself to be a universal monarch of Khmer in a ritual ceremony borrowed from Hinduism as a “god-king” or deva-raja. In the ritual, he worshipped god Shiva, a supreme Hindu deity, who was known by the Khmer for a long time as a god of protector. Being revered as a god-king, King Jayavarman II had psychologically asserted his divine kingship over the Khmer of his absolute authority and sovereignty. Moreover, it implied the declaration of Independence from Java Empire.
Adopting the Indian concept of divine kingship was proven to be a very clever strategy and served as a strong root for the steady growth of the Angkor Civilization. A rational reason as of why Jayavarman II adopted this concept could have lie in the fact that the Indian civilization had already been set as a successful example in Indian subcontinent. Every monarch or deva-raja from Jayavarman II onwards was highly revered with divine loyalty. The nation was strongly unified and later evolved into an empire.
Moreover, Jayavarman II did not select the location of his capital at random. He considered its strategic location in term of military. At that time, his potential enemies were in the south and in the east. Situated inland with thick rugged forests, his kingdom could be accessed only through river tributary of Tonle Sap lake. Being at the north of the lake, it meant that his force was at the river upstream which was an added advantage. This also had proved to be a right strategy for the existence of the Angkor Empire for over 600 years as it lost only one major naval battle against Champa in 1177.
After the establishment of Angkor kingdom, Jayavarman II actively waged wars throughout Cambodia and expanded his territory. He built a temple devoted to god Shiva at Phnom Kulen about 40 km northwest of Tonle Sap. King Jayavarman II reigned until 834 A.D.; “Jaya” literally means “victorious” and “varman” – “the protector”.
- Yasovarman I (889 – 910 )
After succeeding the throne in 889 A.D, Yasovarman I built a new Angkor capital called Yasodharapura, located not far away from Roluos on the vast plain of Siemreap and about eight kilometers north of the the Great Lake Tonle Sap. At the center of this capital was the Phnom Bakeng Hill on top of which a temple was built with its galleries branching out in four directions to represent the heavenly residence of Hindu gods with the central Mount Meru and the other four sacred peaks.
Yasovarman I built one of the largest reservoirs in the Angkor Kingdom known as East Baray or “Yasohodharataka”, with a length of 7.5 kilometers, a width of 1.83 kilometer and approximate depth of 4-5 meters. The water capacity of East Baray was estimated at 55 million cubic meters, and this water was used to irrigate over 8,000 hectares of farmland. Sanskrit inscriptions were found on the stele at each corner of the East Baray to praise the Hindu goddess Ganga, being revered in India as the river-mother goddess of the great Ganges River.
About half a kilometer south of East Baray, Yasovarman I built four ashramas which were the retreating residence of the serious religious believers. Apart from carrying out religious practice, each abbot of the ashramas was found to be somewhat like the manager of the king to help in controlling the water of the East Baray.
Today the East Baray is completely dry, and the four ashramas disappear. The Pre Rup temple was built on top of one of these ashramas
- Suryavarman II (1113 – 1150)
Suryavarman II, son of Ksitindradity and Narendralakshmi, Khmer king renowned as a religious reformer and temple builder. Under his rule the temple of Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure, was constructed.
Suryavarman II defeated rival claimants, Harshavarman III and Dharanindravarman I, to the throne and established sole rule over Cambodia, reuniting the country after more than 50 years of unrest. He was formally crowned in 1113, with his guru, the powerful priest Divakarapandita, presiding. The King was a religious reformer who blended the mystical cults of Vishnu and Siva, supreme Hindu deities, and promulgated Vaisnavism as the official religion, rather than Buddhism, which had briefly flourished under his predecessors.
Angkor Wat, dedicated to Vishnu, was begun in the early year of Suryavarman’s reign and was not finished until after his death. Surrounded by a wall and a moat, the building is decorated with sculptures portraying Suryavarman as Vishnu; he is shown reviewing his troops, holding audiences, and performed other functions of a sovereign. Suryavarman also sponsored the construction of several other temples in the style of Angkor Wat. He completed or at least decorated and furnished the massive temple of Wat Phu (in present day Laos), which was started by Suryavarman I.
In 1116 Suryavarman resumed diplomatic relation with China, which had been broken early in the reign of Jayavarman II, by sending tribute to Chinese Imperial Court.
From 1123 until 1136 Suryavarman II waged a series of unsuccessful campaigns against Dai Viet, the Vietnamese kingdom that had asserted its independence from China in 939. In 1128 he is said to have led some 20,000 soldiers against Dai Viet at Nghe An, but he was defeated and driven out. A few months later, Suryavarman’s fleet of 700 vessels began a long harassment along the coast in the Gulf of Tonkin. Suryavarman coerced the kingdom of Champa to assist him in these efforts. In 1132 the combined forces of Cambodia and Champa again invaded Nghe An, but were driven out. In 1136 the Cham king, Jaya Indravarman III made peace with the Dai Viet, refused to join Suryavarman in a new campaign, which ended disastrously for him
In 1144 Suryavarman II invaded and deposed the Cham king, who he considered a treachery. He annexed Champa in the following year, and put his brother-in-law, Harideva, on the Cham throne at Vijaya. However in 1147, the Chams rallied around their new king, Jaya Harivarman I. When Suryavarman heard of the new Cham king, he sent Cambodia and Chams from Vijaya forces to conquer him. Jaya Haravarman I met them at chaklyang and annihilated the attacking forces. The next year, a larger army was sent against the Cham king; it was defeat at Kayev. With a series of military successes, Jaya Harivarman I marched northward seized Vijaya and totally destroyed the Cambodian and Cham forces at Mahisa. Harideva and his troops were all killed.
Suryavarman II died in 1150 in the midst of a new campaign against Champa. He received the posthumous name of Paramavishnuloka. As builder and religiou reformer, Suryavarman II rates among the greatest of Khmer kings. His foreign wars were not so successful.
Upon rising to power, Suryavarman II was a highly ambitious Khmer king. He was the great builder of the most impressive temple of Khmer, the Angkor Wat which is one of the World’s Wonders with its magnificent architecture. Angkor Wat is a mountain temple dedicated to god Vishnu with five towers linked by galleries to signify the heavenly residence of Hindu gods. It is 65 meters high and the outer rectangular enclosure mesuring 1.5 km by 1.3 km which is surrounded by moat of 200 meters wide. In addition to its remarkable size, Angkor Wat also houses thousands of sculptures and stone carvings which amplify the delicacy of Khmer artworks. It took 37 years to complete the construction of this temple with over 50,000 workforce.
Apart from being a great royal builder, Suryavarman II was also a great warrior. He sacked several Champa states to the east and even waged an unsuccessful war with the strong Ly Dynasty of Vietnam. To the west, he conquered the Haripunjaya Kingdom, one of the Mon tribal states in central Thailand, and extended his power to as far north to the southern border of modern Laos and as far south to the border of Grahi Kingdom in Malay Peninsula which was around the present-day Nakorn Sithammarat, a southern province of modern Thailand. His territory expanded up to the border of the Pagan kingdom (ancient Burma) in the West.
Other monuments, in addition to Angkor wat, built during the reign of Suryavarman II are Beng Melea, Banteay Samre, Chey Say Tevoda, Thommanon.
- Jayavarman VII (1181 – 1219)
When his father died, his brother or cousin – Yasovarman – appears to have claimed the throne, in which Jayavarman seems to renounce and to have gone on a voluntary exile to Champa. He left his wife and went to Champa alone.
In 1166 Tribhuvanadityavarman, a court official, usurped the throne of King Yasovarman. When Prince Jayavarman received word of a palace rebellion, he hastened to return to Cambodia – perhaps to support King Yasovarman II or to assert his own rights to the throne. But his was too late. When he arrived, Yasovarman was already dead and the usurper firmly seated on the throne. Jayavarman seemed unwilling to attempt to overthrow Tribhuvanadityavarman by force; instead he decided to remain in his homeland and to await an opportunity to assert his own claim to the throne.
Some 12 years later, when Jayavarman was in his late 50s, that opportunity came as a result of a Cham invasion in 1177, which brought about the demise of Tribhuvanadityavarman, the sacking of Angkor, and its subjection to foreign rule. In this situation Jayavarman organized a struggle for independence and in less than five years he succeeded in driving out the invaders and establishing his hegemony over all his Cambodian rivals.
Finally in 1181, at the age of 61, he was crowned a sole king of Khmer Empire and began a brilliant reign of more than 30 years, during which he brought the empire to its zenith, both in terms of territorial expansion and of royal architecture and construction.
Jayavarman VII was a warrior. The greatest military achievement of his reign – perhaps the greatest of the entire history of Cambodia – was the capture and sack of the capital of its rich and powerful neighbor, Champa, in 1190. His military activities also bringing southern Laos, portions of the Malay Peninsula and Burma under his control.
But increasingly he devoted his energies and organizational capacities to the kind of religious and religio-political construction projects that had been carried on by his royal predecessors. He built a large number of awesome new temples, including the Bayon, a distinctively Mahayana Buddhist central pyramid temple designed to serve as the primary locus of the royal cult and also as his own personal mausoleum; personal funerary temples of the Mahayana type, which were dedicated to his mother and father; and a series of provincial temples, which housed reduced replicas of the Royal Buddha. He rebuilt the city of Angkor Thom and rebuilt and extended the system of highways, which radiated outward from the Bayon and the royal palace and reached far into the provinces. In addition, he constructed 121 rest houses along these roads.
During his reign, the King built 102 hospitals, which he dispersed throughout his kingdom. Those hospitals were built in an attempt to improve conditions of the King’s subject.
Jayavarman succeeded during his lifetime in creating a legacy that few monarchs in Khmer history have been able to equal. He was more than 90 years old when he died in around 1215.
“In 1190, King Sri Jaya Indravarman ong Vatuv made was against the King of Kambujadesa. The latter sent the Prince (Vidyanandana) at the head of the troops of the Kambuja to take Vijaya and defeat the king. He captured the king and had him conducted to Kambujadesa by the Kambuja troops. He proclaimed Suryajavarmadeva Prince In, brother-in-law of the king of Kambujadesa, as king of the city of Vijaya.” Inscription referring to the capture of Cham city by King Jayavarman VII
Being a Khmer prince, Jayavarman VII was formerly a chieftain since the time of Yasovarman II and ruled over a Champa province or vishaya which was under the Angkor’s authority. When the Chams seized the Angkor in 1177, Jayavarman VII determined to fight against the intruders and was able to re-capture the Angkor’s capital Yasodharapura, where he ascended the throne in 1181. The war with the Champa kingdom did not terminate immediately but continued for another twenty years. In 1203, Jayavarman VII had a final victory and conquered the Champa kingdom.
Jayavarman VII was the last greatest king of the Angkor. Not only liberalizing and unifying the country, he was also a profound builder with the marvelous achievement in building the new capital of Angkor Thom, lying on the plain of Siemreap north of Angkor Wat. At the center of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple, famous for its distinct 50 towers, each bearing the large faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshavara (a lord Buddha) on the four sides. These faces are thought to be copied from the actual face of Jayavarman VII, and whose smiles are so gentle that it is often referred to as “the Khmer smile”. This great king was a devout Buddhist of the Mahayana sect.
In addition to Angkor Thom and Bayon, Jayavarman VII also built other impressive temples and monuments such as Ta Phrom, Banteay Kdei, Neak Pean, and Sras Srang.
Moreover, Jayavarman VII constructed an extensive road network throughout his empire and thus linked all the major towns to Angkor. This efficient road system facilitated the transportation of agricultural products and goods. Along these roads, this great and benevolent king had also built 121 resting houses to accommodate the travelers and the officials, and 102 hospitals to accommodate the sick.
The reign of Jayavarman VII was marked as the peak period of the Angkor Empire as well as of the Khmer Civilization, which began to decline gradually after the death of this great king in 1219 .(.sruol)