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Cambodia: HISTORY OF ANGKOR (1of6) [EN]

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Uploaded on May 23, 2007

Traditionally, the history of Angkor as we know it from inscriptions and the existing temples begins in the ninth century, when the young king Jayavarman II declared himself the supreme sovereign and established his capital first near present-day Roluos, and a little later in the Kulen Mountains. Up to that point, Khmer history had been that of small independent states occasionally consolidating into larger empires, but never for long. It took a conqueror to establish the beginnings of one of Southeast Asia's most powerful empires.

The Angkor region, bordering the Great Lake with its valuable supply of water, fish, and fertile soil, has been settled since neolithic times, as is known from stone tools and ceramics found there, and from the identification of circular habitation sites from aerial photographs. For the whole Khmer country, there is more descriptive evidence from the accounts of the Chinese, who began to trade and explore the commercial opportunities of mainland Southeast Asia in the early centuries of the Christian era. The picture is one of small town-states, moated, fortified and frequently in conflict with each other. The Chinese called the principal country with which they traded Funan; it had a strategic importance in controlling the sea routes around the Mekong delta and the Gulf of Thailand. In particular it controlled the narrow Isthmus of Kra - the neck of the Malay Peninsula -which connected eastern Asia with India. Indeed, it was trade with India that gave the Khmers their primary cultural contacts, and introduced them to Hinduism and Buddhism. Khmer religious beliefs, iconography, art and architecture all stemmed directly from India, and this had a profound influence on the development of its civilization.

The 6th century sees the first historical evidence from local inscriptions. At around this time, the Chinese accounts begin to write of a kingdom called 'Chenla' in the interior, but this is a Chinese rather than a Khmer name. In the second half of the century there is a record of a city called Bhavapura, with its king, Bhavavarman I extending his rule from near the present-day site of Kampong Thorn to at least as far as Battambang in the west. He was succeeded by his brother, who ruled as Mahendravarman, who in turn was succeeded by his son, Isanavarman I. These three kings progressively conquered the Khmer part of Funan, while the western part was taken by other peoples, in particular the Mons of the kingdom of Dvaravati to the W of Bangkok, Isnavarman I was responsible for the temple at Sambor Prei Kuk, establishing the first of the pre-Angkorean styles of architecture. Under Isanavarman's son, Bhavavarman II, who took the throne in 628, the empire disintegrated back into small states, and it took until 654 for Jayavarman I, a grandson of Isanavarman I, from one of these princedoms, to reconquer much of the territory. There is evidence that he ruled from Aninditapura, close to Angkor. On his death, the empire again collapsed, and his successors, including his daughter Jayadevi, the only ancient Khmer queen, controlled only the small kingdom of Aninditapura. The country remained this way until the end of the 8th century, when Jayavarman II became king in 790.

Jayavarman II's conquests, first of Vyadhapura (SE of Cambodia), then Sambhupura (present-day Sambor), then N as far as Wat Phu, ind finally of Aninditapura, established his power. He settled first at t iariharalaya, an ancient capital in the region of what is now Roluos, Sut then, trying to go further NW, experienced an unknown setback -hich resulted in him relocating to the Kulen Plateau, some 30 km NE of Angkor. Here he pronounced himself 'world emperor' in 802, but it was many years before he was strong enough to move his capital back to Hariharalaya on the shores of the Great Lake, where he died in 835.

His son Jayavarman III succeeded him on his death. He seems to nave built the laterite pyramid of Bakong, which his successor, Indravarman I, had clad in sandstone. The date of his death is unknown, but most probably his successor took the throne with Molence. This king remodeled his capital, building in his palace the Preah Ko temple, dedicated in 880 and improving Bakong. He also began the baray of Indratataka, which his son Yasovarman I completed after he came to power in 889. This accession was a bloody one, involving a struggle with the crown prince, his brother, and destruction of the palace. Therefore he decided to move his capital to Angkor.

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