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ASIANetwork Exchange


Jayavarman VII (ca. 1120–1218) is one of the best known Cambodian “Angkor” leaders, in part because he was able to unite the numerous small, fragmented Khmer Cambodian and Cham kingdoms of the day. He ruled his consolidated Khmer kingdom from 1181–1218, bringing the decentralized Khmer and Cham states together through political and military alliances. Religion, especially India-derived Brahmanism, or “Hinduism,” Mahāyāna Buddhism, and local Cambodian religion, was a key component of Khmer society. Over time different Khmer rulers endorsed one or more of the religious systems to their own advantage. Jayavarman VII was especially committed to Mahāyāna Buddhism, evidenced by the remarkable extent of his support for Buddhist monuments, and attested in many hundreds of Sanskrit inscriptions. This essay tells the story of Jayavarman VII, a political and military leader who used Indian religious visions and prototypes as models to build a remarkable cultural edifice.