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the Bakong temple in Angkor Archeological Park

Name
Bakong
Date
881
King
Indravarman I
Location
Village of Roluos, just South of National Highway 6
Nearby
Preah Ko, Prasat Prei Monti

The Bakong is the first of the large mountain temples in Angkor. It belongs to the Roluos group, build at the end of the 9th century.

The Bakong and the other temples of the Roluos group, like the Preah Koand the Lolei were build in Hariharalaya, an early capital of the Khmer empire. This area is now called Roluos, located North of Tonle Sap lake, about 15 kilometers East of Siem Reap.

State temple of King Indravarman I

The Bakong was build by King Indravarman I, who also build the Preah Ko temple and the huge Indratataka baray, a reservoir where water was stored to be used for irrigation during the dry season.

It was the state temple of King Indravarman I, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. A stele found at the site states that the Bakong’s main linga named Sri Indresvara was consecrated in the temple in the year 881. The main linga, which is a representation of Shiva, is usually enshrined in the central tower of the Khmer temple.

One of the main attractions of the Bakong temple is its lintels, that contain very intricate, detailed and well preserved carvings of mythical creatures like Nagas and Makaras.

Moats and the first Naga bridges

The Bakong is a sandstone monument enclosed by two moats. The outer enclosure is delimited on each side by a laterite wall with a gopura, an entrance gate with a tower on top of it. Between the inner and outer moat are the remains of 22 brick temple buildings, most of which have collapsed. They contained statues of Vishnu, Shiva and a number of lingas.

The moat outside the inner enclosure is crossed by paved causeways, with huge seven headed Naga snakes on its sides. They are the first examples of Naga bridges, found in many of the later Angkor temples.

One of the brick sanctuary buildings at the Bakong temple

Overgrown brick sanctuary

Inner enclosure

The inner enclosure contains a five stepped pyramid surrounded by eight brick towers. On top of the pyramid is a single sanctuary tower. In front of the temple on the Eastern entrance are two long halls positioned between two of the surrounding towers. At each of the four corners of the inner enclosure are brick buildings called libraries, although they probably did not contain any scriptures.

Around the pyramid are eight square brick towers, some of which have collapsed. Originally they were plastered on the outside and contained figures of dvarapalas and devatas, a few of which have survived. All towers have a real door the the East, the other three are false doors. The door knobs on the false doors are shaped like lion heads. The lintels in the towers contain some of the finest decorations to be seen in Angkor, with very intricate depictions like Vishnu on top of Garuda, warrior figures, animals and mythological creatures like makaras and Naga snakes.

Five stepped pyramid

The five receding terraces in the inner enclosure in the shape of a stepped pyramid were built to resemble Mount Meru, the sacred mountain in Hindu mythology. The tiers of the pyramid measure 67 by 65 meters at its base and 20 by 18 meters at the fifth tier. At the center of each side is a stairway flanked on either side by guardian lions. The stairway, divided into five parts becomes narrower at each higher level to make the temple look larger than it actually is using perspective.

In front of the stairway is a large entrance gate. Opposite each of the stairs is a statue of Nandi, the sacred bull and mount of Shiva. The corners of the first three tiers contain statues of elephants. All the way around the perimeter of the fifth terrace is a frieze with bas relief sculptings, that have mostly eroded.

the Bakong temple in Angkor Archeological Park

Approach to the Bakong

Central sanctuary

On top of the pyramid is a single central sanctuary. The tower that completely collapsed was rebuild during the late 1930’s into the early 1940’s by Maurice Glaize, a conservator of Angkor. The restoration was done to resemble the original using the method of anastylosis, which involves reconstructing the monument as near as possible to the original, using the original materials if available.

Judging from the style of the decorations, the original tower was probably build some 200 years later than the rest of the temple. Inside it is a sanctuary chamber, that probably contained the main linga. Niches in the tower contain devata figures, most of which are in a bad state of repair. The pediments of the sanctuary contain several depictions of the Hindu Gods Shiva and Vishnu.

Preah Ko

“The sacred bull”, one of the oldest temples in Angkor

Nandi the bull at Preah Ko temple Angkor

Nandi the sacred bull
Name
Preah Ko, Prasat Preah Ko
Date
879
King
Indravarman I
Location
Near the village of Roluos, just South of National Highway 6, about 12 kilometers East of Siem Reap
Nearby
Bakong, Prasat Prei Monti, Prasat Lolei

Preah Ko, “the sacred bull”, is one of the oldest monuments in Angkor. The Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva is named after the bull Nandi, the mount of Shiva.

Built in 879, the Preah Ko is the oldest temple of the Roluos group of temples to which the BakongPrasat Lolei and Prasat Prei Monti also belong.

King Indravarman I built the temple in honor of his ancestors in the town of Hariharalaya, the old capital of the Khmer predating Angkor Thom by several centuries. The temple was cleared from the jungle in the 1930’s.

The moat and outer enclosures

The Preah Ko is surrounded by a moat measuring over 500 meters on each side and three enclosures. Nothing remains of the third enclosure except for the East cruciform gopura, in which was the main entrance to the temple.

The laterite wall of the second enclosure is intersected by gopuras at the East and West side. In the South East corner of the 2nd enclosure stands a large, well preserved library building with perforated stone windows. Ascetics are sculpted into the bricks of the square structure. Virtually nothing remains of several gallery buildings and long rooms near the second enclosure wall.

Sanctuary towers at Preah Ko temple

Sanctuary towers at Preah Ko

First enclosure

The first enclosure is surrounded by a brick wall. At the center of the East and West wall is a gopura entrance building with colonettes in the windows. Lintels over the entrance gate are adorned with sculptings of Hindu Gods like Vishnu. The Preah Ko’s foundation stele was discovered in the East gopura building. The stele pays homage to Shiva, names the ancestors of King Indravarman I and mentions the date on which the statues of the main idols were installed in the sanctuaries.

Six sanctuary towers

Six sanctuary towers in two rows of three stand on a square platform. In front of the platform facing the towers are three statues of the bull Nandi, the mount of Shiva. Three stairways, each guarded by a pair of lions give access to the platform and the sanctuaries. The towers were covered in stucco in which very detailed sculpting were made, some of which are still intact today. The sanctuaries open to the East, while there are false doors on the other cardinal directions.

The front row sanctuaries (the East towers) are larger than those of the the second row. Indravarman I dedicated them to three of his ancestors, Kings who ruled Angkor before him. Flanking the doors are armed dvarapalaguardians in niches. Enshrined on pedestals in the sanctuary rooms were images of the Hindu God Shiva. The lintels over the East entrance contain carved depictions of a Kala (a monster depicted with large teeth and only an upper jaw) with a deity sitting on top of its head, as well as Naga snakes and small warrior figures. The lintels over the false doors contain depictions of GarudaNagas and warriors.

The second row of sanctuary towers which are smaller than the front row was dedicated to Indravarman’s female ancestors. Instead of dvarapalas, the sanctuaries are guarded by sculptings of female devatas standing in niches. Lintels and pediments are adorned with sculptings of Nagas and Garudas.

Lolei

9th Century island temple in the old Khmer capital Hariharalaya

Kala on lintel of the Lolei temple

Lintel with sculpting of a Kala
Name
Lolei, Prasat Lolei
Date
893
King
Yasovarman I
Location
Near the village of Roluos, just North of National Highway 6, about 12 kilometers East of Siem Reap
Nearby
Preah Ko, Bakong

Prasat Lolei is an island temple built in 893 by King Yasovarman I, to honor his ancestors.

The temple was constructed on an artificial island in the Indratataka baray, a vast water reservoir measuring nearly 4 kilometers long and 750 meters wide. The baray, now dry, was dug out for irrigation purposes and as a source of drinking water for the capital.

Temple of the Roluos group, in the old capital Hariharalaya

Lolei is one of the temples of the Roluos group, the other ones being the BakongPreah Ko and Prasat Prei Monti. A Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, Prasat Lolei was the last temple built in Hariharalaya, the old Khmer capital pre dating Angkor Thom by several centuries. King Yasovarman I moved the capital of his empire from Hariharalaya further North West to Yasodharapura near current day Siem Reap, where he first built the Phnom Bakheng. A road from the North side of the Lolei temple led to the Phnom Bakheng temple in the new capital.

Prasat Lolei comprises of four sanctuary towers; no traces of other structures have been discovered. The sanctuary is similar in style to the nearby Preah Ko, which was built 14 years earlier.

Four sanctuary towers

The temple grounds were surrounded by a 90 meter long wall with gopuraentrance buildings, of which nothing remains today. Four brick sanctuary towers, of which two are in fairly good state of preservation stand on a rectangular platform, preceded by a guardian lion. The towers topped with four upper receding tiers were originally covered in stucco, of which nothing is left. The entrance door faces East, while there are false doors on the other three cardinal directions. Colonettes support the lintels over the entrances. Inscriptions on the door jambs give information about the date the temple’s main idols were dedicated.

King Yasovarman I dedicated the East two sanctuaries to his male ancestors. Flanking the doors are niches with sandstone carvings of armed dvarapalaguardians. The West sanctuaries are dedicated to the female ancestors. The niches flanking the doors contain sandstone carvings of guardian ladies.

Lintels and pediments contain Hindu motifs, including Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata, Nagas and makaras, a Kala (a monster usually depicted with large teeth and without upper jaw) with a divinity on its head, Vishnu on his mount Garuda, praying rishis and Ganesha riding his own trunk. In each tower is a sanctuary chamber where statues of the main idol were enshrined.

Prasat of the Lolei temple

Prasat sanctuary tower

Active Buddhist temple next to the ancient Khmer sanctuaries

Next to the four sanctuary towers stands an active modern Buddhist temple. A viharn with very colorful murals covering the walls and ceiling enshrines a large seated image of the Buddha. Other temple structures include several pagodas and the kuti, the monks living quarters.

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