Dimensions: H:137. 5 cm
Date: late XIIth - early XIIIth century
Provenance: Krol Romeas, Angkor Thom
Collection: National Museum of Cambodia,
B.347 B.19.1 Ka.1703
This statue is dated to the Bayon style. Portraiture art of this
period is marked by smiling and mystical expression. The quality
of the modelling of this work reveals an exceptional mastery of
His facial expression is accentuated by semi-closed eyes, a light
smile, nose with three lobes, large forehead, lips that are neither
thin nor thick, and long ear lobes. All these traits represent
the Khmer physiognomy. The king’s power as expressed by
his facial expression evokes supreme knowledge, compassion and
Biographical Summary of Jayavarman VII
The temples of the Angkor region, as the many other temples
spread throughout Cambodia, are an important part of the patrimony
of the Khmer nation, the presence of these marvellous temples
is a reminder for the present-day Khmer to identify with their
glorious past. For nearly 700 years, this civilization has been
ravaged by internal wars and foreign invasions.
Today, Cambodians, with support from the international community,
are working to resurrect the memory of the Angkor period.
The National Museum recently conserved a statue, which was found
in the Angkor region that is presumed to be a likeness of Jayavarman
VII. There exist two other statues with identical faces to this
work: one is stored in Bangkok, while the other is in the Musée
The history of this king, which reveals one of the most energetic
reigns in Cambodian history, is known through inscriptions, Chinese
court annals, and works of art discovered in the region. These
lines of evidence portray a clear picture of Jayavarman VII.
King Jayavarman VII was the son of King Dharanindravarman II.
Following the early death of his first wife, Jayararajadevi, he
married Rajendradevi, the older sister of his first wife. His
second wife was responsible for the providing a Buddhist education
for young girls of the palace. She was a renowned poet whose knowledge
of science and philosophy was said to be without equal. One of
Jayavarman VII’s sons, Suryakumara, was the author of the
Ta Prohm stele. According to the Preah Khan inscription, he had
to more sons, Srivirakumara and Sriindrakumara by Queen Rajendradevi.
The name of Jayavarman VII was little known before 1903, at
which time the Bulletin EFEO (École Française d’Extrême-Orient)
published a study by Louis Finot concerning a Sanskrit inscription
discovered by Georges Maspéro in the Say Fong region of
Laos (near Vientiane). This inscription proclaims an edict issued
by Jayavarman VII concerning the establishment of a hospital in
1186. Finot noted that this text was very similar to another found
on a stele in Nha-Trang province (Vietnam). Finot mentions that
Jayavarman VII was often cited in Cham inscriptions as having
been a great conqueror. He also noted a number of steles distributed
throughout Laos, Vietnam and lower Cochinchina that attest to
conquests and victories of this king. Other inscriptions mention
many generous acts and victories of Jayavarman VII. These inscriptions
shed light on a great king from Cambodia’s distant past.
Subsequent research has helped to further illuminate the character
of this king, considered to be the most dynamic in Cambodian history.
Georges Cœdès studied numerous inscriptions including
those of Ta Prohm, Banteay Chhmar, the hospital edicts, Vimeanakas
(Phimeanakas), Indradevi’s inscription and an inscription
from Mi-Son (Champa). Cœdès made a comparative study
of these inscriptions and scenes depicted in the bas-reliefs of
the Bayon and at Banteay Chhmar temple that relate to events in
Jayavarman VII’s reign.
In 1181, Jayavarman VII became king and established
a new capital, Angkor Thom.
During his reign, the Cambodian kingdom spanned a huge area;
extending beyond the Menam Basin to the west (the Bayon inscription
mentions the existence of two statues of divinities guarding the
cities of Ratchaburi and Phetburi in Thailand), as far as the
seacoast of Champa to the east, as far as the city of Sukhothai
(which was supervised by Khmer functionaries) in the north, all
the way down to the southern sea. At the time the Khmers were
trading with China, India and other countries of Asia Minor.
King Jayavarman VII was greatly concerned with the well being
of his kingdom and wanted to turn it into an earthly paradise.
The Ta Prohm inscription comments on this subject:
“He found satisfaction in the nectar of his religion, the
Sakyamuni Buddhism of the Greater Vehicle, within which he identified
a cult of deceased relatives with the characteristics of the compassionate
Bodhisattva and Prajnaparamita.”
With regard to the arts, the king was responsible for the construction
of numerous temples in the Angkor region and in other provinces.
The Ta Prohm temple, constructed at Angkor in 1186 and referred
to as the ‘Royal Vihara’, was dedicated as a Buddhist
temple which housed a statue of Jayavarman VII's mother (Srirajacudamuni)
represented as Prajnaparamita. Five years later, the king founded
Preah Khan temple in order to house as statue of his father, Dharanindravarman
II, in the likeness of Lokesvara (also called ‘Jayavarman
VII’). In the centre of the Jayatataka Baray, the king erected
Neak Pean temple, in which he placed a statue of Buddha the Healer
and protector against illness (Bhaisajya-guru). Also in this temple
he placed a statue of his father, as Jayavaramesvara, and a statue
of the Buddha. At the end of his reign, Jayavarman constructed
the Bayon temple, which he dedicated to the Buddhist cult of the
Buddha Raja instead of the traditional Linga Raja. He was also
responsible for the construction of the temples of Banteay Kdei,
Banteay Chhmar (dedicated to his son, Srindrakumara), Banon near
Battambang, Wat Nokor in Kompong Cham, Ta Prohm at Tonle Bati
(Takeo Province), Ta Som, Krol Ko, and the walls and gateways
of Angkor Thom.
Besides these constructions, the king established a network
of roads linking Angkor Thom with Champa (Vijaya-Binh Dinh, Vietnam),
and with Phimai (Thailand). Along these roads he erected 121 rest
houses - one very 15 kilometres. These included:
From Angkor Thom to Champa………………………57
From Angkor Thom to Phimai.………………………..17
Along other routes………….……………...…………...46
At Phnom Chiso……. ….……………………………....1
Jayavarman VII established 102 hospitals throughout the kingdom.
The inscription of Say Fong notes:
“He suffered the illnesses of his subjects more than his
own; because it is the pain of the public that is the pain of
kings rather than their own pain.”
The 14th stanza of this same inscription says:
“Through warriors (doctors) versed in the science of arms
(disease) he destroys the enemies who infest his kingdom (the
sick) by using his weaponry: medicine.”
The inscriptions of the rest houses (twelve have been identified)
all speak of construction, provide long lists of patrons, and
give praise to the supreme power of Jayavarman VII.
Following the example of his predecessors, the king combined
religious construction and other public works with the development
of the agricultural domain. For example, Angkor Thom, like other
provincial temples, possessed moats, ponds and barays (the huge
reservoirs of water so vital to the irrigation systems). The king
joined forces with his subjects in order to tame the natural environment.
Following the tradition of his father, Jayavarman VII was a Mahayana
Buddhist. Nevertheless, through his reign, Brahmanism was tolerated
because his first wife had worshipped Buddha, Siva and Visnu.
The king changed the royal religion from Brahmanism, which had
long been the traditional religion, to Mahayana Buddhism, of which
the principal divinities are Lokesvara and Prajnaparamita. As
noted already, he erected statues of Bodhisattva in honour of
The Bayon temple contains many towers, each with four faces of
the compassionate Bodhisattva (Lokesvara). Jayavarman VII identified
himself with this Bodhisattva who spread peace throughout the
word. The smiling faces of the Bayon reveal not only the king’s
devotion and patriotism, but also his great compassion spread
in the four cardinal directions, just as Lokesvara guides the
living towards Nirvana.
Finally, the 10th Stanza of the Say Fong inscription praises
the perfection of the king:
“Seeing that his kingdom, which his wisdom had transformed
into heaven on earth, was oppressed by death, he produced a divine
elixir that brought immortality to all.”