Jayavarman VII

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Jayavarman VII
King of the Khmer Empire
PredecessorTribhuvanadityavarman (prior to the Cham Invasion)
SuccessorIndravarman II
Bornc. 1122/1125
Angkor, Khmer Empire
Died1218 (aged c. 95)
Yaśodharapura, Khmer Empire
ConsortJayarajadevi, Indradevi
IssueSikhara Mahadevi (Queen consorts of Pho Khun Pha Mueang)
FatherDharanindravarman II
MotherSri Jayarajacudamani
ReligionMahayana Buddhism
Military service
AllegianceKhmer Empire Khmer Empire

Jayavarman VII (Khmer: ជ័យវរ្ម័នទី៧), posthumous name of Mahaparamasaugata, (មហាបរមសៅគាត, c. 1122–1218), was king of the Khmer Empire. He was the son of King Dharanindravarman II (r. 1150–1160) and Queen Sri Jayarajacudamani. [2] He was the first king devoted to Buddhism, as only one prior Khmer king had been a Buddhist. He then built the Bayon as a monument to Buddhism. Jayavarman VII is generally considered the most powerful of the Khmer monarchs by historians.[3] His government built many projects including hospitals, highways, rest houses, and temples. With Buddhism as his motivation, King Jayavarman VII is credited with introducing a welfare state that served the physical and spiritual needs of the Khmer people.[4]

Defeat of the Cham and coronation[edit]

In 1177 and again in 1178, the Cham invaded the Khmer Empire.[5] In 1177, Champa King Jaya Indravarman IV launched a surprise attack on the Khmer capital by sailing a fleet up the Mekong River, across Lake Tonlé Sap, and then up the Siem Reap River, a tributary of the Tonle Sap. The invaders pillaged the Khmer capital of Yasodharapura and put king Tribhuvanadityavarman to death. Also in 1178, when he was in his mid 50s, Jayavarman came to historical prominence by leading a Khmer army that ousted the invaders, which included a naval battle depicted on the walls of the Bayon and Banteay Chmar.[2]: 169–170  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.[6]: 120–121 

Early in his reign, he probably repelled another Cham attack and quelled a rebellion of the vassal Kingdom of Malyang (Battambang). He was greatly helped by the military skill of refugee Prince Sri Vidyanandana, who also played a part in the subsequent sacking and conquest of Champa (1190–1191).[2]: 170  His conquest of Champa made it a dependency of the Khmer Empire for thirty years.[7] Jayavarman expanded Khmer control of the Mekong Valley northward to Vientiane and to the south, down the Kra Isthmus.

Public works and monuments[edit]

Bronze replica of one of the twenty-three stone images King Jayavarman VII sent to different parts of his kingdom in 1191.[8] The Walters Art Museum.

Over the 37 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 warts 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 many facets in Jayavarman's intensive building program. In one phase, he focused on useful constructions, such as his famous 102 hospitals,[6]: 127  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.[6]: 125–129 

Finally, he constructed his own "temple-mountain" at Bayon and developed the city of Angkor Thom around it.[6]: 121  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.[6]: 124–125 

The Preah Khan inscription states that the King erected Buddha stone images, the Jayabuddhamahanatha, in twenty-three towns in different parts of his empire. Among those towns were Lavodayapura (modern Lopburi), Svarnapura, Sambukapattana, Srijayarajapuri (modern Ratchaburi), Srijayasimhapuri (modern Kanchanaburi), and Srijayavajrapuri (modern Phetburi), believed to have been situated more.[9]

Ta Prohm[edit]

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.[6]: 126 

Angkor Thom and Bayon[edit]

Angkor Thom ("Grand Angkor" or "Angkor of Dham(ma)") was a new city centre,[10]: 378–382  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 foot soldiers. The reliefs also depict a naval battle on the great lake, the Tonle Sap.[6]: 123–124 

Popular icon[edit]

Jayavarman VII's bust has been a favorite of khmer households and a masterpiece of the National Museum for many years. The recent discovery of portions of the rest of his statue confirmed speculations about his spiritual aura as a sovereign.[11]


Jayavarman VII is commonly depicted with both his arms amputated.

King Suryavarman (Sun Shield) II, builder of the great Angkor Wat, died in 1150. He was succeeded by Dharanindravarman II, who ruled until 1160. Due to the absence of Jayavarman VII, Yashovarman II succeeded the throne, who was himself overthrown by Tribhuvanadityavarman (Protegee of the Sun of three worlds), assumed to be an usurper. In 1177, the Chams, led by Jaya Indravarman IV, invaded and Angkor was sacked.[6]: 120 [12]: 78–79  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.[13] In 1181 Jayavarman VII became king after leading the Khmer forces against the Chams.[6]: 121  Jayavarman VII then exacted vengeance against Champa in 1190, for the earlier raid in 1177.[12]: 78–80 

Jayavarman died around 1218.[14] He was succeeded by Indravarman II, who died by 1243. Indravarman was succeeded further by Jayavarman VIII, a Shivaite. He embarked on the destruction or defacement of Jayavarman VII's Buddhist works. The niches all along the top of the wall around the city contained images of the Buddha, and most of these were removed. This included the great statue of Buddha at Bayon, and the Buddha images in Angkor Thom, which were converted into linga.[6]: 121, 133 


The history of the Khmer empire cannot be read in the manner of European patterns of kingship, inheritance, or nationhood. The sons of a Khmer king did not necessarily inherit their father's thrones; Jayavarman VII himself had many sons, such as Suryakumara and Virakumara (the suffix kumara usually is translated as "prince", one of the king's sons), and Srindrakumaraputra, the crown prince who died before his father, but only Indravarman II inherited the throne.[6]: 125, 128, 132 

Jayavarman VII built 121 "houses with fire" rest houses built every fifteen kilometers along raised highways for travellers, and 102 hospitals. His was the "Buddhism of the Greater Vehicle". However, Brahmans continued to play a "role at court", with Hrishikesa being made chief priest, with the title Jayamahapradhana.[2]: 173, 176 

He married Princess Jayarajadevi and then, after her death, married her sister Indradevi.[2]: 169, 172  The two women are commonly thought to have been a great inspiration to him, particularly in his strong devotion to Buddhism.

Though he had many sons, we know the names of only four, Suryakumara (mentioned in Ta Prohm), Virakumara (mentioned in Preah Khan), Srindrakumara (mentioned in Banteay Chhmar), and Tamalinda (later became a bhikku).[2]: 178, 180  He also fathered Sikhara Mahadevi, chief consorts of Pho Khun Pha Mueang, that appeared in Stele of Wat Sri choom Script of Sukhothai Historical Park.[15][16]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Jean Boiselier: Refléxions sur l'art du Jayavarman VII., BSEI (Paris), 27 (1952) 3: 261–273.
  • Georges Coedès: Un grand roi de Cambodge - Jayavarman VII., Phnom Penh 1935.
  • Georges Coedès: Les hôpitaux de Jayavarman VII., BEFEO (Paris), 40 (1940): 344–347.
  • Louis Finot: Lokésvara en Indochine, Paris: EFEO, 1925.
  • Paul Mus: Angkor at the Time of Jayavarman VII., Bulletin de Société des Études Indochinoises (Paris), 27 (1952) 3: 261–273.
  • Jan Myrdal/Gun Kessle: Angkor - An Essay on Art and Imperialism, New York 1970.
  • Philippe Stern: Les monuments du style de Bayon et Jayavarman VII., Paris 1965.

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.


  1. ^ Chandler, David (2008). A History of Cambodia. Avalon. ISBN 978078673-3156.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Coedès, George (1968). Vella, Walter F. (ed.). The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Translated by Brown Cowing, Susan. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.
  3. ^ "ការគ្រងរាជ្យរបស់ព្រះបាទជ័យវរ្ម័នទី៧ (ភាគ១៦)" (in Khmer). Radio Free Asia. 4 June 2014. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
  4. ^ Reynolds, F. E. (n.d.). Jayavarman VII. Britannica. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. ^ David P. Chandler, A History of Cambodia (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Higham, C., 2001, The Civilization of Angkor, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9781842125847
  7. ^ Chatterji, B. (1939). JAYAVARMAN VII (1181-1201 A.D.) (The last of the great monarchs of Cambodia). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 3, 377-385. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/44252387
  8. ^ "Eight-armed Avalokiteshvara". The Walters Art Museum. Archived from the original on 2017-05-12. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
  9. ^ Woodward, H. W., & Douglas, J. G. (1994). The Jayabuddhamahānātha Images of Cambodia. The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 52/53, 105–111. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20169099
  10. ^ Higham, C., 2014, Early Mainland Southeast Asia, Bangkok: River Books Co., Ltd., ISBN 9786167339443
  11. ^ Kimmarita, Long (December 11, 2019). "Apsara unfolds Jayavarman VII statue's posture". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  12. ^ a b Maspero, G., 2002, The Champa Kingdom, Bangkok: White Lotus Co., Ltd., ISBN 9747534991
  13. ^ "NUS: ARI > Publications > ARI Working Paper Series". Ari.nus.edu.sg. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  14. ^ The Rough Guide to Cambodia: "Following a brief spell when Angkor was ruled by the Cham, the Status quo was restored by Jayavarman VII (1181-1218)"
  15. ^ Siamese History prior to the founding of Ayuddhya. thesiamsociety.org
  16. ^ wisonk.wordpress.com
  17. ^ "Civilization VI: Jayavarman VII leads Khmer". Civilization® VI – The Official Site. Retrieved 2020-12-01.

External links[edit]

Preceded by:
King of the Khmers
Succeeded by:
Indravarman II