26) King Dharanindravarman II
(1150--1160?, Capital: Angkor)
After the reign of King Suryavarman II, Cambodia seemed to have gone through yet another period of turmoil. His successor and cousin, King Dharanindravarman II, faced a myriad of problems. Because of the repeated military expenditures against Vietnam and Champa and the ambitious construction of Angkor Wat, Cambodia was economically and politically in trouble. As the economic situations continued to worsen, discontent among the population was widespread throughout the kingdom.
Finally, a peasants and slaves revolt had taken place, which led to further deterioration and chaos throughout the kingdom.
27) King Yasovarman II
(1160--1166?, Capital: Angkor)
Following the peasants and slaves revolt, King Yasovarman II ascended to the throne. According to the inscriptions related to this period, it appeared that King Yasovarman II ruled Cambodia along with his younger brother named Jayavarman VII as a junior-partner co-monarch.
In order to restore orders to the kingdom, King Yasovarman II moved swiftly to repress the rebellion by force. The rebel’s leaders were arrested and buried alive, and their followers were to have their hands, fingers, toes, or ears amputated. This rash action cause even more chaos in the administration of the country, for it threatened to deprive itself of a much needed labor forces to maintain the well beings of the Khmer Kingdom.
As the mayhem reached its zenith, another monarch named Tribhuvanandityavarman, with the supports of the aristocrats, staged a coup and seized power. King Yasovarman II was killed. As for his brother, Prince Jayavarman VII, he fled to Champa. Taking advantage of the weakness and chaos in the Khmer court, the Chams invaded Cambodia in 1170. However, the invasion failed miserably, and the Cham armies suffered heavy losses caused by a Khmer’s regiment of elephants. According to historical records, the Cham soldiers were stomped by these wild beasts, and many of them were chased or thrown into the moats around the city where crocodiles would have voracious feasts on their bodies. But, despite the setback, the Chams were undeterred. In 1177, after fully recovering from their earlier defeat, the Chams invaded Cambodia once again with a vengeance. They sailed up the Mekong River and mounted a surprise attack on the Khmer court at Angkor. King Tribhuvanandityavarman lost his life in battle, and Angkor was heavily looted and ransacked. The Chams desecrated temples, burned palaces, raped the ladies of the court, looted the treasures, and took thousands of Cambodian prisoners to Champa.
After the pillage of Angkor, the Chams allowed Prince Jayavarman VII to return to rule Cambodia as a puppet sovereign. It was a foolish miscalculation by the Chams, for Prince Jayavarman VII was no puppet. After having seen what the Chams had done to his beloved city, Prince Jayavarman VII vowed to take revenge.
Prince Jayavarman VII patiently worked to rebuild Cambodia from the ashes. He began to organize the country into a unified kingdom and rebuild its army. Once he had gathered up enough strength, Prince Jayavarman VII successfully expelled the Cham occupying forces from Cambodia. Soon after, he ascended the throne as king. [For detail of the battle between the Khmers and the Chams during this period, please see carvings on the outer walls of the Bayon temple in Siem Reap province.]
28) King Jayavarman VII
(1181-1220?, Capital: Angkor)
King Jayavarman VII was also the grandson of King Dharanindravarman I. After his coronation in 1181, which followed the Khmer victory over the Cham occupying forces, King Jayavarman VII decided to make the Chams pay for their earlier transgression on the Khmer court. He sent the Royal Regiment of Elephants to attack Champa, which was soon fallen under Cambodian occupation. After the conquest of Champa, King Jayavarman VII took a number of Cham prisoners to Cambodia to rebuild his capital, Angkor. He then put Champa under Khmer rule by appointing a viceroy (Moha-Uparaja) to govern it until 1220.
During this last territorial expansion period, Champa and many other vassal states had revolted against the Khmer kingdom numerous times but to no avail. King Jayavarman VII had put down most of the revolts against his rule. And Cambodia was once again the most powerful and influential kingdom in the region. Territorially, the Khmer Empire stretched from Annam to the East, China to the North, Burma to the West, and South China Sea to the South.
King Jayavarman VII had managed to build a lot of infrastructure for the development of Cambodia. He undertook the construction of numerous hospitals and rest houses to better serve the needs of his people. According to historical records, King Jayavarman VII had built more monuments, temples, roads, and bridges than all the previous kings’ put together.
For the record, King Jayavarman VII was the most popular and respected leader in Cambodia. The Cambodians respect and revere his name and reputation as much as the Americans do toward George Washington’s. King Jayavarman VII was the last Khmer king to have revived and maintain Khmer influence in Southeast Asia. After his reign, the Khmer kingdom once again lost its influence for another 100 years and has been in decline ever since. The following period and successive rulers revealed the reality of this decline.
29) The So-Call Dark Age Following the Reign of King Jayavarman VII
There were few records about the Khmer kings who reigned after King Jayavarman VII for the next 100 years or so. From the bits and pieces of historical records, it appeared that, during the 20 years or so following the death of King Jayavarman VII, King Indravarman II succeeded the throne as ruler of the Khmer kingdom. Then King Sri Indravarman followed by King Jayavaromtibaramesvara.
One of the reasons for the lack of these records was probably that the kingdom of Cambodia had undergone a terrible internal turmoil and conflict. People fought against one another because of differences in both political and religious beliefs. Some scholars even went so far to suggest that the reason for this turmoil was due to the fact that King Jayavarman VII had undertook too many construction projects that they caused the depletion of resources. And that people were so exhausted and desolate; they no longer had faith in their rulers and began to revolt against them--a theory which was quite plausible given the recent history of what the Khmer Rouge had done to the Cambodians in the 1970’s and the subsequent civil conflicts in the following decades.
Whatever the reason was for the decline of the Khmer Empire, the fact was that almost all Cambodians began to practice Buddhism. Starting from the 1300’s, all Khmer kings no longer adopted the suffix -varman as their names. Both Cambodian kings and their subjects abandoned Sanskrit in favor of Pali language and made Buddhism the official religion of the state.
In addition to the internal turmoil, Cambodia also suffered repeated invasions by the Siamese (Thais) who frequently conducted cross-border raids to pillage the city of Angkor and stole its treasures. In order to protect the kingdom from the Siamese invasions, the Khmer Viceroy who was ruling in Champa had to lead his army back to Cambodia in 1220. Eventually, the Chams took the opportunity to revolt against Cambodia and regain their independence from the Khmer ever since until the 18th century when the Vietnamese took over Champa and wiped it out from the world’s map.
(To be continued)