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Roluos, Angkor's predecessor

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.

Trapeang Phong temple at Roluos

The even more isolated single temple tower (Prasat) called Trapeang Phong is the first Khmer monument decorated with female half-deities called Devatas, later on often ifentified with Apsaras. (Apsaras are a kind of Devatas usually depicted dancing or flying, the term "Devata" is more accurate for a sculptural reliefs of an upright standing semi-goddess.) Trapeang Pong may even be from the earlier period of Jayavarman II in the first half of the 9th century.

Roluos history
Actually, it is Indravarman I in the late 9th century who became the founder of what can be seen in Roluos today. Preah Ko, giving its name to the art style of Indravarman's reign, is this king's ancestor temple belonging to his palace compound. Even more innovative and examplary for future temple mountains in Angkor is the step pyramid called Bakong, which was Indravarman's state temple. Temple ensembles in Roluos, consisting of Prasats and other sacred buildings, were surrounded by concentric enclosure walls, for the first time in Khmer architecture, setting the pattern for the entire Angkorian era. The entrance pavilions called Gopurams, crossing the enclosure walls at cardinal points, were invented at Indravarman's Roluos temples, too. Gopurams sheltered the guardian deities or the sanctuary. For the first time, library buildings were built of non-perishable materials instead of wood. The function of those library edifices so typical for Angkor is still under debate, but inscriptional evidence and comparison with later Thai temples confirms that the term "library" may be completely adaequate, since holy scriptures of monasteries were kept in separate buildings. Nevertheless, libraries may have been sacristies for other devotional objects as well.

Lolei temple inscriptions in Roluos

The Lolei temple, which is similar to Preah Ko, was completed under Indravarman's successor Yashovarman I, but the reservoir surrounding it - Lolei was built on an artificial island in that Baray reservoir once called Indratataka - had been begun already under the name-giving king Indravarman I. Barays will be another characteristic feature of the Angkorian era, at Yashovarman's capital Angkor as well as at other temple towns such as Koh Ker and Banteay Chhmar and Prasat Bakan (Preah Khan of Kampong Svay).
Thus, Roluos became a kind of prototype for Angkor in many respects, also in this regard: Indravarman I is the first Angkorian-era king who left plenty of texts inscribed in stone. Inscriptions, besides archaeology and Chineses chronicles, are the most important sources for exploring the history of the Angkor kingdom. So the first well-documented period of the dawning Khmer empire is Indravarman's reign in Roluos.
Indravarman I ascended the Khmer throne in 877. He seems to have been a cousin of his predecessor Jayavarman III, who had remained childless. Indravarman claimed the throne through his mother's family. Maternal line successions were quite common in Southeast Asia and remained to be a difference to Indian dynastic rules. Contemporary inscription mention Indravarman's guru was Shivasoma, who was a relative of king Jayavarman II, too. Coedés supposed, Shivasoma was a disciple of the famous Hindu philosopher and reformer Adi Shankara in India and initiated some ecclesiastical reforms in Roluos under Indravarman I.
Already at the beginning of his reign Indravarman I decided to create a better capital with bigger temples. But his priority was not construction of temples. At his coronation, Indravarman promised: "Within five days, I will begin to dig", namely the reservoir already mentioned, the artificial lake Indratataka. Nevertheless, his ambitious temples Preah Ko and Bakong were also erected during the first years of his reign. The flat temple Preah Ko was completed and dedicated in 879, the temple mountain Bakong in 881. Probably the Bakheng was begun earlier, but finalized later, because it is a monument of a much larger scale than Preah Ko.

Roluos conceptual design
Indravarman's three ambitious projects - forming the present-day Roluos group - are arranged along a north-south axis. Particularly, the centre of the Baray and the top of the Bakong pyramid are exactly on the same meridian. The Preah Ko sanctuary, in between them, diverges slightly to the west. However, it somewhat corresponds with the longitude of the former Royal Palace temple Prei Monti. So there are two parallel axis in Roluos: one of the palaces and one of the fertility cult, as the Indrataka reservoir for irrigation was aligned with the fertility symbol - the imperial Lingam (Shiva-Phallus) - in the sanctum on top of the Bakong state temple.

Roluos style

Khmer style of Preah Ko in Roluos

The style of Preah Ko (also called style of Roluos or art of Indravarman) is a term for sculptural art in particular. In Roluos the Kala monster-head connected by garlands with Makara fable-crocodiles appears for the first time in Cambodia. The Kala-Makara arch above doors is well known in South Asia, but in the case of Roluos it seems to have been introduced from the island of Java. Jewelled small figures within floral ornamentation are a detail indicating Javanese influence. The most common main subject of Preah-Ko-style lintels is Vishnu riding on his sunbird Garuda. In contrast to the Chenla-era temples at Sambor Prei Kuk, the outer Prasat walls are not decorated with projections but with niches. Male guardians or female Devatas in niches are the typical Angkorian wall decorations from now on. Gilberte de Coral-Remusate writes about stone carvings of Roluos: "The lintels of the Style of Preah Ko, particularly those of Lolei, are the highest and perhaps the most beautiful of all Khmer art: height, richness of decoration, fineness of chiseling, fantasy of inspiration in the details - nothing is lacking in them."

Roluos Monuments

Bakong state temple pyramid in Roluos

The Bakong temple pyramid in Roluos, which enshrined Indravaman's palladium, the Linga Indreshvara, was originally surrounded by two moats, only the inner one is still existing. The whole compound measured 850 m east-west and 650 m north-south. The causeways are flanked by Naga balustrades, this typical kind of railing of Angkorian causeways appears here for the first time in Khmer art, too. In the inner enclosure, the central step pyramid was surrounded by eight smaller temples, now mostly in ruins, they contained additional Lingams. An outer ring of twelve brick Prasat towers, housing idols, is remarkable for its lintel carvings. The Bakong pyramid is 60 metres square and has five levels, reaching a height of 15 metres. It is faced with sandstone. On all four sides were stairways leading to the top, on each level they are flanked by lion guardians. Elephant sculptures are on the corners of each level. The animal statues diminish in size from bottom to top. Today's Prasat atop the pyramid is from the later classical Angkorian period, replacing an earlier sanctum that must have been fallen into decay.

Preah Ko ancestor temple in Roluos

Preah Ko's kernel is a group of six Prasat towers on a shared platform. Inscriptions on the door jambs are very detailed and helpful to understand the function of this temple. It was Indravarman's ancestor temple. Male ancestors were worshipped in the three eastern Prasats. They are bigger than the three Prasats for female ancestors in the rear. The Prasats for males show male guardian figures as wall decoration, those for the females carry Devatas, female half-deities. Preah Ko is noteworthy for offering the largest variety of Preah-Ko-style lintel carvings, they are of excellent craftsmanship and some are still in fair condition or restored.

Lolei further north is quite similar to Preah Ko. It was the ancestor temple of Indravarman's successor Yashovarman. Lolei has only four towers, two for males in the east and two for females in the west. It is not certain whether two more Prasats were planned originally. As already mentioned, Lolei's lintel carvings are notworthy for their refinement. Guardian and Devata sculptures in wall niches are remarkable, too.

Roluos sightseeing

Toteung Thngai and handicraft in Roluos

A half-day excursion is suitable for visiting all three major Roluos monuments. In case you like to see the isolated temple ruins of Prei Monti, Trapeang Phong, Toteung Thnga (Trilithic Portlas), Trapeang Srangae and Prasat O-Ka-aek, too, which is recommendable only for real Khmer temple enthusiasts, you will have to spend a full day in Roluos. The best time to visit Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei is the morning. An Angkor ticket is required for access to those three main attractions. There are some small handicraft manifactureres at the car park of Preah Ko. Though intended for the tourism industry, this is well worth a visit. On their compound you will furthermore see models of major temples of the Angkorian era.


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