Material: Sandstone
Dimensions: H:137. 5 cm
Date: late XIIth - early XIIIth century
Provenance: Krol Romeas, Angkor Thom
(Siem Reap)
Collection: National Museum of Cambodia,
Phnom Penh
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 the art.

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 peacefulness.

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 Guimet, Paris.

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 rest houses

  • From Angkor Thom to Phimai.………………………..17 rest houses

  • Along other routes………….……………...…………...46 rest houses

  • At Phnom Chiso……. ….……………………………....1 rest house

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 his ancestors.

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.”

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