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Bakong (Khmer: ប្រាសាទបាគង) is the first temple mountain of sandstone constructed by rulers of the Khmer empire at Angkor near modern Siem Reap in Cambodia. In the final decades of the 9th century AD, it served as the official state temple of King Indravarman I in the ancient city of Hariharalaya, located in an area that today is called Roluos.
In 802 AD, the first king of Angkor Jayavarman II declared the sovereignty of Cambodia. After ups and downs, he established his capital at Hariharalaya. Few decades later, his successors constructed Bakong in stages as the first temple mountain of sandstone at Angkor. The inscription on its stele (classified K.826) says that in 881 King Indravarman I dedicated the temple to the god Shiva and consecrated its central religious image, a lingam whose name Sri Indresvara was a combination of the king’s own and the suffix “-esvara” which stood for Shiva (“Iśvara”). According to George Coedes, the devarāja cult consisted in the idea of divine kingship as a legitimacy of royal power, but later authors stated that it doesn’t necessarily involve the cult of physical persona of the ruler himself.
Bakong enjoyed its status as the state temple of Angkor for only a few years, but later additions from the 12th or 13th centuries testify that it was not abandoned. Toward the end of the 9th century, Indravarman’s son and successor Yasovarman I moved the capital from Hariharalaya to the area north of Siem Reap now known as Angkor, where he founded the new city of Yasodharapura around a new temple mountain called Bakheng.
The brick towers surrounding the central pyramid resemble those of the other temples at Hariharalaya, namely Preah Ko and Lolei.
The site of Bakong measures 900 meters by 700 meters, and consists of three concentric enclosures separated by two moats, the main axis going from east to west. The outer enclosure has neither a wall nor gopuras and its boundary is the outer moat, today only partially visibile. The current access road from NH6 leads at the edge of the second enclosure. The inner moat delimits a 400 by 300 meters area, with remains of a laterite wall and four cruciform gopuras, and it is crossed by a wide earthen causeway, flanked by seven-headed nāgas, such as a draft of nāga bridge . Between the two moats there are the remains of 22 satellite temples of brick. The innermost enclosure, bounded by a laterite wall, measures 160 meters by 120 meters and contains the central temple pyramid and eight brick temple towers, two on each side. A number of other smaller buildings are also located within the enclosure. Just outside of the eastern gopura there is a modern buddhist temple.
A statue of a lion guards the stairs on the central pyramid.
The pyramid itself has five levels and its base is 65 by 67 meters. It was reconstructed by Maurice Glaize at the end of the 1930s according to methods of anastylosis. On the top there is a single tower that is much later in provenance, and the architectural style of which is not that of the 9th century foundations of Hariharalaya, but that of the 12th century temple city Angkor Wat.
Though the pyramid at one time must have been covered with bas relief carvings in stucco, today only fragments remain. A dramatic scene-fragment involving what appear to be asuras in battle gives a sense of the likely high quality of the carvings. Large stone statues of elephants are positioned as guardians at the corners of the three lower levels of the pyramid. Statues of lions guard the stairways.