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Sunday, 6 January 2008

A Biography of King Jayavarman VII, The Greatest Khmer King

Statue of Jayavarman VII

Khmer Empire: 1181-1215 (?)
Dharanindravarman II

Jayavarman VII (1125? - 1215?) was a king of the Khmer Empire (1181-1215????) in present day Cambodia. He was the son of Dharanindravarman II (r. 1150-1160) and his wife Sri Jayarajacudamani. He married Jayarajadevi and that after her death, he then married her sister Indradevi. The two women are commonly thought to have been a great inspiration to him, particularly in his unusual devotion to Buddhism. Only one previous Khmer king had been a Buddhist.

Jayavarman's Early Years
Jayavarman probably spent his early years away from the Khmer capital. He may have spent time among the Cham of modern-day Vietnam. The Cham shared with the Khmer the Hindu and Buddhist religions, as well as the use of Sanskrit as a formal language.

Jayavarman's Defeat of the Cham and Coronation

In 1177 and again in 1178, the Cham invaded Cambodia.[1] In 1178, they launched a surprise attack on the Khmer capital by sailing a fleet up the Mekong River, across Lake Tonle Sap, and then up the Siem Reap River. The invaders pillaged the Khmer capital of Yasodharapura and put the king to death. Also in 1178, Jayavarman came into historical prominence by leading a Khmer army that ousted the invaders. At the time, he may already have been in his 60's. Returning to the capital, he found it in disorder. He put an end to the disputes between warring factions and in 1181 was crowned king himself. Early in his reign, he probably repelled another Cham attack, quelled a rebellion, and rebuilt the capital of Angkor. In 1191, he sacked the capital of Champa.

Jayavarman's Construction of Public Works and Monuments

Over the 30 some years of his reign, Jayavarman embarked on a grand program of construction that included both public works and monuments. As a Mahayana Buddhist, his declared aim was to alleviate the suffering of his people. One inscription tells us, "He suffered from the illnesses of his subjects more than from his own; the pain that affected men's bodies was for him a spiritual pain, and thus more piercing." This declaration must be read in light of the undeniable fact that the numerous monuments erected by Jayavarman must have required the labor of thousands of workers, and that Jayavarman's reign was marked by the centralization of the state and the herding of people into ever greater population centers.
Historians have identified three stages in Jayavarman's building program. In the first stage, he focussed on useful constructions, such as hospitals, rest houses along the roads, and reservoirs. Thereafter, he built a pair of temples in honor of his parents: Ta Prohm in honor of his mother and Preah Khan in honor of his father. Finally, he constructed his own "temple-mountain" at Bayon and developed the city of Angkor Thom around it. He also built Neak Pean ("Coiled Serpent"), one of the smallest but most beautiful temples in the Angkor complex, a fountain with four surrounding ponds set on an island in that artificial lake.

Ta Prohm Temple
In 1186, Jayavarman dedicated Ta Prohm ("Ancestor Brahma") to his mother. An inscription indicates that this massive temple at one time had 80,000 people assigned to its upkeep, including 18 high priests and 615 female dancers. The first Lara Croft film was shot in Ta Prohm as well as a few scenes from the movie Troy.

Preah Khan Temple
Jayavarman also built the temple and administrative complex of Preah Khan ("Sacred Sword"), dedicating it to his father in 1191.

Angkor Thom and Bayon Temples
Angkor Thom ("Big Angkor") was a new city centre, called in its day Indrapattha. At the centre of the new city stands one of his most massive achievements -- the temple now called the Bayon, a multi-faceted, multi-towered temple that mixes Buddhist and Hindu iconography. Its outer walls have startling bas reliefs not only of warfare but the everyday life of the Khmer army and its followers. These reliefs show camp followers on the move with animals and oxcarts, hunters, women cooking, female traders selling to Chinese merchants, and celebrations of common footsoldiers. The reliefs also depict a naval battle on the great lake, the Tonle Sap.

Fixing the Dates
The historical record is a mixture of the incredibly precise (we know the exact date that a temple was consecrated) and more ambiguous texts and archaeological evidence. Thus, many of the dates marking the life and reign of Jayavarman VII are a matter of conjecture and inference. What is known is that King Suryavarman (Sun Shield) II, builder of the great Angkor Wat, died some time in the early 1150s. He was succeeded by Yashovarman II who was himself overthrown by Tribhuvanadityavarman (Protegee of the Three Suns) assumed to be an usurper. There is a minority view that the current biography of Jayavarman is imaginary and that the evidence could just as easily support the view that he was the usurper. One date that has been generally accepted is 1177 when the Chams, who had themselves been subjected to numerous Khmer invasions, took the city of Yashodharapura. Nonetheless, this date, not to mention the event itself, has been questioned by Michael Vickery, who doubts the reliability of the Chinese sources for this period.[2] A Cham king took the title of Jaya-Indravarman. In 1181 Jayavarman VII became King after leading the Khmer forces against the Chams.
Jayavarman died in about 1215, at an advanced age ranging from 85 to 90. He was succeeded by Indravarman about whom almost nothing was written. There is only one inscription about him, one that establishes he had died by 1243. This lack of praise and pomp led David Chandler, in an influential article, to speculate that Indravarman may have been the Leper King of Cambodian legend and later record. Indravarman was succeeded by Jayavarman VIII who it is thought supported a Hindu revolt. Certainly there is evidence of enormous and organised defacing of Jayavarman VII's works. The niches all along the top of the wall around the city contained images of the Buddha. Most of these were removed. A statue of Jayavarman VII was found by excavators having been thrown down a well. Buddha images in Preah Khan were re-worked to resemble Brahmins. When Cambodia finally did become a Buddhist country, it followed Theravada Buddhism, not the Mahayana Buddhism practised by Jayavarman VII.

Care must be taken not read European patterns of kingship, inheritance or nationhood onto the history of the Khmer empire. Sons did not necessarily inherit their father's thrones; Jayavarman VII himself had many sons, such as Suryakumara and Virakumara, who were crown princes (the suffix kumara usually is translated as crown prince). They did not inherit.
Jayavarman VII remains a potent symbol of national pride for present day Cambodians. As a Buddhist King in a now Buddhist country he is regarded with great respect. He built and repaired many 'firehouses' across the Empire, which are thought of as places for travellers to rest and many buildings which are now called hospitals in translation. This has contributed to a legend of the Buddharaja, the King-Buddha, who privileged compassion in ruling. This view of Jayavarman and his reign is supported by some beautiful portrait sculpture of him in meditation.

A fictionalised account of the life of Jayavarman VII forms the basis of one thread of Geoff Ryman's 2006 novel The King's Last Song.

^ David P. Chandler, A History of Cambodia (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.)
^ Michael Vickery, WPS 37 Champa Revised. Singapore: Asia Research Institute, 2005, p. 57. http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/publication_details.asp?pubtypeid=WP&pubid=304

External links
History of Jayavarman VII
Images of stone carvings at Bayon in Cambodia that probably depict Jayavarman's victory over the Cham.
Images of the stone faces at Bayon that are thought to represent Jayavarman as Avalokiteshvara
Preceded by:Dharanindravarman II
King of the Khmers1160 (as heir) –1219
Succeeded by:Indravarman II
Preceded by:Yasovarman II
King of the Khmers1181–1219
Succeeded by:Indravarman II
Khmerization's attributes: This biography of King Jayavarman VII was retrieved from the Wikipedia. All credits must go to Wikipedia and those who wrote this biography. Thanks.

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