Having dug deep into the ancient history of Cambodian, exploring several literatures, information sources and research papers, it is apparent that much has been written on the reign of King Jayavarman VII and his predecessors. Unfortunately, his socio-cultural life and political contributions have not been forthcoming, in spite of his grate-ness as a King and a societal leader. To help re-address this case more vividly, a number of literary works and studies on the regime of King Jayavarman the VII have been re-considered. We see authors like Paul Mus, Claude Jacques and Philip Stern writing about the leadership of kings in the great Khmer Empire in a rather general way (Paul, M, 1952, & Phillip, S, 1965). David Candler gives us an amalgamation of so much information on the history of Cambodia, but he doesn’t really write comprehensively on socio-cultural and political life of King Jayavarman VII.He is instead so concerned about the history of Cambodia Empire that was in fact headed by many Kings, Jayavarman VII just one of them (David, 2008). This paper attempts to synopsize many of these literature works into one document, for easy synthesizing, discussions, and future analysis.

Background Information

Jayavarman VII was born between 1120 and 1125, in the royal family of Angkor. He grew up and later got married to a very wise princess named Javarajadevi.The princess is said to have had an immense influence on Jayavarman VII, prior to his Kingship. Unfortunately the influential princess died and Prince Jayavarman VII was remarried to her sister (Phillip, 1965). 

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The Prince is said to have spent his early life away from Cambodia capital, also referred to as Khmer City. Precisely, he lived more with the Cham of present day Vietnam (Freeman et al, 1999). He was thus well versed with the socio-cultural practices of the Cham, such as their Buddhist religious practices, and use of Sanskrit as a formal language.

The Rise of King Jayavarman VII

Joyavarman VII was the last great King of Angkor (City), founded by his predecessor, Joyavarman II in 1053 AD (Paul, 1952). History informs us that there were a series of Kings before Joyavarman VII finally took over the throne. Succeeding Yosovarman I was Joyavarman II, who handed over to Suryavarman II, grandfather to the prince. Dharanindravarman II was the next king and father to Joyavarman VII. King Joyavarman VII succeeded his father Dharanindravarman II after he passed away in 1150 A.D (Freeman, M, & Claude, J, 1999).

As a result of his father’s demise, there emerged an internal strife, with the Cham, now referred to as Southern Vietnam, taking advantage of  the King’s death to invade his territory. Following these political strife and invasions, Prince Joyavarman VII, who was to become the next King, succeeding Dharanindravarman II, his father, rallied his people to defend their lands and lakes from invasions of the Cham Kingdom (Phillipp, 1965).

Jayavarman VII took his kingship throne in 1181 after he won the battle against Chams.As a new king, Jayavarman VII then constructed the wall of Angkor Thom (City).He also built up a spiritual center called Bayon and a geographic site. Bayon depicted King’s battle with the Cham, life of Khmer (Cambodia) villagers, and courtiers (David, 2008).

Characteristics of Jayavarman VII the King

He was a great King, one of the most forceful and productive kings of the Khmer Empire of Angkor. King Jayavarman VII was praised for his developmental ambitions. In his reign of 30 years, he programmed a sequence of development activities, featuring the construction of monuments and public works. One of his key goals was to alleviate his people from sufferings(Audric, 1972).

In attempt to improve on his subject, king Jayavarman VI built 102 hospitals that were evenly spread through out his Kingdom. Literature tells as that, Jayavarman VII the King suffered illnesses of his subjects more than from his own people (Audric, 1972). With his believes in Mahayana Buddhist, pains that affected men`s bodies, to him, were spiritual pains which he considered more intense (Freeman, M & Claude, J, 1999).The reign of King Jayavarman VII was actually marked by centralization of Cambodia kingdom and grouping of the people of Khmer into greater population centers.

He was a strong socio-cultural believer, following the practices of Buddhist religion and the prevailing ancestral norms of the society from which he was born to become a king. He built a pair of temples in honor of his late parents, that is, Ta Prohm and Preah Khan. The former was for his father, King Dharanindravarman II, and the later was to stand in for his beloved mother, Queen Sri Jayarajacudaman (David, 2008).

King Jayavarman VII was a warrior; perhaps the greatest warrior in the entire history of Cambodia. His powerful military achievements left a legacy in the Cambodia Kingdom, having brought under control even those that were known to be powerful kingdoms like Chama and Southern Laos.

Jayavarman VII was also a key figure in the Cultural evolution of Cambodia kingdom. He ensured that all the ancient traditions and cultural practices that had been preserved by his predecessors remained in their honor and recognition. These included the statues and images which were regarded as sacred and some for spiritual use or purpose. The cultural activities like dances, art and design, and farming constituted part of his daily livelihood (Freeman, M, & Claude, J, 1999).

History could not have judged him otherwise, other than being such an emblematic figure in the Khmer Nation. Many of the authors and historians begged to differ from the rather controversial accounts of George Coede’s. Coede’s posited that it was through forced labor that King Jayavarman VII achieved his architectural and engineering vision. (George, 1967).His claims were, however, met by an overwhelming resistance from other historical and philosophical writers.

Discussion and Conclusion

The socio-cultural history and life of Jayavarman VII the King has been told by quite a number of literatures. It’s fascinating that nearly all of them portrayed him as the most prosperous King that ever lived in the City of Cambodia. Many Kings came and went, talk of Joyavarman II, Yosovarman I, Suryavarman II or even his father Dharanindravarman II. None of them is compared to Jayavarman VII, because unlike him,  his predecessors did not leave any remarkable legacy. In spite of the stiff challenges he faced from rivals and critiques, he stood firm to defend his Kingdom. 


Audric, J . Angkor and the Khmer Empire. London: R. Hale. 1972.  

David, C. A History of Cambodia .Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado, 2008 p. 39.

George. C. Les Etats hindouisés d’Indochine et d’Indonésie, 1967. p.315

Freeman, M; & Claude, J. Ancient Angkor. Trumbull, Conn. Weatherhill. 1999

Paul, M. Angkor at the Time of Jayavarman VII. Bulletin de Société des Études  Indochinoises (Paris), 1952. 261-273.

Philipp S.Les monuments du style de Bayon et Jayavarman VII.Paris 1965.