Siem Reap Vistior Guide 59th
monuments constructed under Jayavarman VIII were sys- tematically defaced. Look for the chipped out Buddha images on almost all of the Jayavarman VII’s monuments in the Angkor area. Literally thousands of Buddhist images have been removed in what must have been a huge invest- ment of destructive effort. Interestingly, some Buddha images were crudely altered into Shaivite lingas and Bodhisattvas. There are some good examples of altered images at Ta Prohm and Preah Khan . Jayavarman VIII also constructed what was probably the final Brahmanic monument at Angkor - the small tower East Prasat Top in Angkor Thom. After Jayavarman VIII’s death, Buddhism returned to Cambodia but in a different form. Instead of Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism took hold and remains the dominant religion in Cambodia to this day. As the monument builders fell silent, so too the empire
was assaulted, burned and occupied by the Cham. The south wall of Bayon displays bas-reliefs of a naval bat- tle, but it is unclear whether it is a depiction of the bat- tle of 1177 or some other battle. Jayavarman VII: Monument Builder The Cham controlled Angkor for four years until the legendary Khmer king Jayavarman VII mounted a series of counter attacks over a period of several years. He drove the Cham from Cambodia in 1181. After the Cham defeat, Jayavarman VII was declared king. He broke with almost 400 years of tradition and made Mahayana Buddhism the state religion, and immediately began Angkor’s most pro- lific period of monument building. Jayavarman VII’s building campaign was unprecedent- ed and took place at a frenetic pace. Hundreds of mon- uments were constructed in less than a 40-year period. Jayavarman VII’s works included Bayon with its famous giant faces, his capital city of Angkor Thom , the expan- sive temples of Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and Preah Khan , and hundreds of other smaller temples. The monuments of this period, though myriad and grand, are often architecturally confused and artistically inferi- or to earlier periods, seemingly due in part to the haste with which they were rendered. After a couple of days at the temples, you should begin to recognize the distinctive Bayon-style of Jayavarman VII’s monuments. Note the giant stone faces, the crud- er carving techniques, simpler lintel carvings with little or no flourish, the Buddhist themes to the carvings and the accompanying vandalism of the Buddha images that occurred in a later period. At the same time as his building campaign, Jayavarman VII also led an aggressive military struggle against Champa. In 1190 he captured the Cham king and brought him to Angkor. In 1203 he annexed all of Champa, thereby expanding the Khmer Empire to the eastern shores of what is now southern Vietnam. Through other military adventures he extended the bor- ders of the empire in all directions. Jayavarman VII’s prodigious building campaign also represents the finale of the Khmer empire as no further grand monuments were constructed after his death in 1220. Construction on some monuments, notably Bayon , stopped short of completion, probably coincid- ing with Jayavarman VII’s death. His successor, Indravarman II continued construction on some Jayavarman VII monuments with limited success. The End of an Era Though the monument building had come to a halt, the capital at Angkor remained active for years. Chinese emis- sary Zhou Daguan (Chou Ta-Kuan) visited Angkor in the late 13 th century and describes a vibrant city in his classic work, ‘ The Customs of Cambodia ’. Hinduism made a comeback under Jayavarman VIII in the late 13 th century, during which a great many of Buddhist South gate of Angkor Thom - A classic exam- ple of a Jayavarman VII monument.
moved into a period declin- ing influence and size through the late 13th and 14th centuries. Then, in the early 15th century, after more than 600 years in the Siem Reap area, the Khmer capital moved from Angkor and resettled at Phnom Penh. The reason for the 'de- cline' and move has long been a matter of academic
Defaced Buddhist image in Ta Prohm with a linga image carved in place of the original Buddha.
debate. On the traditional narrative, Siamese (Ayudhaya) incursions from the west (in what is today's Thailand) pres- sured the Khmer to move back from the frontier, deeper into the country. The historical record offers support of this view. Beginning in the 13th century, the empire lost much of its western territories to the Siamese and over the next century and a half Angkor itself suffered repeated Siamese attacks. Finally, after a seven-month siege on Angkor in 1431, King Ponhea Yat moved the royal court fromAngkor to Phnom Penh in 1432, presumably due to this pressure from the west. Challenging the traditional view, recent studies indicate both a period of climate change and ter- minal degradation of Angkor's irrigation system may have played a leading role in the move from Angkor. The choice of Phnom Penh as the new capital may have marked a corresponding shift from an agrarian economy to a trade-based economy, in which a river junction location like Phnom Penh was more advantageous than the inland area of Angkor. After the move to Phnom Penh, the capital soon moved again, first to nearby Lovek and then Oudong, before eventually settling permanently into Phnom Penh in 1866 at the beginning of the French colo- nial period. Even after the capital moved from Angkor the temples remained active, though their religious functions changed over the years. Angkor Wat was visited sever- al times by western explorers and missionaries between the 16 th and 19 th century, but it is Henri Mouhot who is popularly credited with the ‘discovery’ of Angkor Wat in 1860. His book, ‘ Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos and Annam ’ help spark Angkor’s first tourist boom in the late 19th century.
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