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The Roluos Group

The Roluos Group

Roluos is a village with a group of monuments anterior to those in Angkor. The Roluos group is what has remained from the ancient Hariharalaya, which was the first significant capital during the Khmer Empire of the Angkorian era. The Sanskrit name Harihara-alaya means “Harihara-abode”. Harihara is a Hindu deity being half Shiva, half Vishnu.  Hariharalaya was established as a capital already by the empire founder Jayavarman II, but soon afterwards left by this king, who changed his residential town quite often. His successor Jayavarman III, of whom little is known, seems to have resided in Roluos in the area of Prei Monti, a rarely visited very early temple with three towers, now in ruins.

Bakong

Bakong was the earliest of the great Khmer temples, completed in 881 during the reign of Indravarman I at the capital of Hariharalya. It is the first temple built largely of sandstone and is notable for its mandala layout which evokes mythical Mount Meru. As the largest temple constructed at Hariharalya, its construction testifies to the centralization of authority under Indravarman which permitted a sizeable portion of the population to work on temple-building projects. As construction began just a year after nearby Preah Ko, and 12 years before Lolei to the north, it is quite likely that a number of the same craftsmen and laborers worked on all three projects.

The Roluos Group - Bakong Temple
The Roluos Group - Bakong Temple

The layout of the temple is conceived as a five-tiered pyramid with the central sanctuary, dedicated to Shiva, facing east. Twelve small towers are placed around the central sanctuary on the fourth tier of the pyramid. The base of the temple is surrounded by a further 8 towers–two to each side–which are in turn surrounded by a rectangular enclosure with four gopuras (one on each side). Beyond this ensemble was a set of two moats and and an additional enclosure, bringing the total size of the temple complex to 900 x 700 meters. The present form of the temple is modified from its original design. For example, the central tower probably dates from the early 12th-century as its design is stylistically similar to the central shrine tower at Angkor Wat.

The Roluos Group - Bakong Temple
The Roluos Group - Bakong Temple

Preah Ko

Preah Ko, which means ‘the sacred bull’ (Shiva’s vehicle Nandi), was built by Indravarman I in 879.It is part of the Roluos group of monuments about 13 kilometers east of Siem Riep.The temple is distinguished from others in the area by the unusual arrangement of its six central towers, which stand in two rows facing east.The three towers on the east side are staggered so that the central tower is slightly further to the west.This tower is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god closely associated with the rule of Jayavarman II, the founder of the Khmer Empire.The tower to the north was dedicated to the founder of Preah Ko, and the tower to the south was dedicated to the King’s father.Each of these shrines once contained a statue, but they were removed at some time in the past. The three towers to the west, which are shorter, were built for the spirits of former queens.According to the archaeologist Jean Laur, who spent a lifetime researching the Angkor monuments, the “octagonal colonettes surrounding the doors are among the finest examples of decorative carving in Khmer art”

The Roluos Group - Preah Ko Temple
The Roluos Group - Preah Ko Temple
The Roluos Group - Preah Ko Temple
The Roluos Group - Preah Ko Temple

Lolei

Planning for Lolei temple began during the reign of King Indravarman I, who established the Indratataka baray (reservoir) to the north of Bakong and Preah Ko shortly after his cornonation in 877. Like the later temples of East and West Mebon, Lolei would sit on an island at the center of the baray. Although the baray was fairly large–3,800 x 800 meters, it was likely intended to be even larger as the island where Lolei would sit was built somewhat to the north of the baray’s center, suggesting that the north dyke of the reservoir was to be moved northward at a later date. Sixteen years later, Indravarman’s son, Yasovarman I, may have decided that this was not worth the effort, as he was otherwise occupied constructing the new capital at Yasodharapura, about 15 kilometers to the northwest near present-day Phnom Bakheng.

The “island” upon which Lolei sits is now an elevated terrace measuring 80 x 90 meters. Although only four towers were built in the central sanctuary, it is clear that six towers were originally planned as the axis of the temple runs through the two north towers. This was apparently a deliberate design change made during the course of construction as the dedicatory stele mentions four towers only. One theory, advanced by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques, is that the two north towers were never built as Yasovarman failed to conquer the territory of the kings they were intended to honor.

In any event, the inscriptions found on the door jambs of the towers give us precise information on the timing of the temple’s dedication and the deities enshrined there. The dedication apparently took place over the course of two nights as one of the Khmer text inscriptions records the dedication occurring on Saturday July 11 in the year 893 at 48 minutes past midnight. Another inscription in Sanskrit text mentions Sunday July 12 between 12:41 and 2:41 AM.

Indravarman simultaneously honored his ancestors and the Hindu gods by dedicating the temple to the memory of his parents and of his mother’s parents, while memorializing them in the guise of the Hindu Gods. Shiva, the primary idol, was seen as a manifestation of Yasovarman’s father, Indravarman, and given the name Indravarmeshvara. His mother, the queen Indradevi, was honored as Gauri (Parvati), the wife of Shiva. Two two western towers were dedicated to the Yasovarman’s mother and mother-in-law, whereas the eastern towers enshrined his father and father-in-law.

The temple is notable today for the excellent quality of the surviving lintels, calligraphy, and guardian deities (dvarapalas). Although the temple is undergoing restoration as of July 2014, the temple remains in a precarious state, with the southwest tower having largely collapsed in the late 1960s, and the remaining towers at risk from encroaching vegetation and erosion.