Temple of Bakong was constructed in 881 at 9th century AD. The Bakong temple was also built by king Indravarman I (877-889). King Indravarman I dedicated Bakong to Shiva. Shiva was Destroyer and Generator, and he was the one of major gods in Hinduism. Bakong temple was served as a state temple or temple mountain of king Indravarman I. State temple or temple mountain normally mentioned to a temple which built by a ruler (King), who used this spot (temple) for his tomb when he passed away from the earth, and enjoyed his life at the last in Mt. Meru with his God who embodied of his posthumous name. Temple-mountain was not necessary to a temple with a high foundation of tiered levels. Sometimes the temple with many tierd level foundations was not served as a state or temple mountain at all.
As Bakong temple was a state or temple mountain for king Indravarman I. that's why this temple located in the center of Hariharalaya city that today known as Rolous. Hariharalaya meaning the city of god Shiva (Hara) and Vishnu (Hari). According to the name (Harahari) we can understand that how religious to the ancient Khmer. Even the name of their capital city, they used the name of the Gods, because they wanted God’s blessing them good luck. Additional, king Indravarman I constructed Bakong. when he just had done his ancestor temple Preah Ko and his water tank project (Baray) Indratataka that Lolei temple is in its center. On the other hands, Bakong was considering as the first temple mountain built of sandstone in Angkor period for Khmer empire.
Bakong temple restored by French in 1933. Before restoration done, its central tower had completely toppled. Elephant, lion statues were vandalized badly, and the whole structure of Bakong was covered deeply with dirt and very dense overgrown. Although, Buddhist monks came to settle in its compound, but the monks lived in their monastery by themselves, did not taking care the Bakong structure, because for them was too much to help and to care. However, it was so much appreciating to the French for their effort, after finished a retoration, Bakong temple coming back to its maginificent glory of beauty.
A moat surrounding the temple compound has been cleared vegetation away about three years ago, otherwise you would not see its water, because the vegetation grown so densely. It's generally considering that the moat of Bakong is deepest moat ever made in Angkor period. As the same as other temple sites, moat in the architectural Khmer concept is symbol of Ocean surrounding the universe. While temple itself was served as home of Gods in the center of universe.
At the first entrance (Gopura I):
First Gopura of Bakong temple's style is the same style entrance of Preah Ko temple. Which. on the roof top used to cover of woods and earthware tile roof. while its window bars and doorframes built of sandstone and its pillars and wall built of laterite. However, its general plan and layout designed with cross shape (cruciform) style of typical Khmer architecture. this for following the concept of "energy powers flying out from each direction of the universe and then to provide "Holyness" at the center point where statue of God supposed to install". At this section also has laterite enclosing wall measured of 700m X 900m at beyond_ the moat.
At the walkway (from east side):
Bakong temple has two walkways, one on the east side, is considering the front passage way, while the another is on the west, considering as the back way, although these walkways are the same ornamentation in styles, because the east one is considering as more auspicious. Along the walkways, there are fat sandstone Naga appearing with seven heads crawling on the ground to cross the moat for making a connection to the second entrance's (Gopura II) section. While fat Nigi (the left hand side when you face out) at opposite side acting the same position. These walkways also used to have stone lanterns decorated on the both sides, but so far most of lanterns had gone, except Naga and Nagi still remained more traces. At the end of walkways, there were Garuda statues used to grab the tails of naga and nagi, but the artifact of Garudas had gone, except the pedestal of Garudas itself remaining. This idea of having Garuda nd Naga are symbol of a good connection between underworld to paradise.
At the second entrance (Gopura II):
The enclosing wall compound is measuring of 300m X 400m. The structure of the Gopura II is completely destroyed, except its brick floor and few sandstone doorframes remaining. As we are standing at this section in the middle cruciform, we can see many building shrines located, which each of those serving in various functions for the religious pratices at that time.
Those include two sandstone rectangular buildings were the library, the most southeast corner there are two elegant brick buildings were the crematoriums or the Agnis shrines (the same style as the one in Preah Ko), as the same as at the northest corner buildings were associated to the southeast corner buildings as well, but the northeast brick building are in bad condition. The higher foundation shrines appearing next to the library were serving as the home of guardians, but these shrines also housed of Shiva with his two wives Uma and Pavati (one on the north). While another one on left serving as a house for Vihnu with his two wives Laksmei and Srei. Then come more buildings including statuary pavilions and the rest houses so on.
Besides for those structures have been mentioned, there are still six more brick towers, which two of them located on each sides of main temple structure. Those brick shrines are still good condition, especially its carving at lintels are excellent one. Those shrines were serving as the "Rean Teus" home of the guardian from the eaight directions of the universe for assisting Mt. Meru from evil demons. Those guardians include Shiva guards to the north, Kubera to the northeast, Indra to the east, Ag,nie to the southeast, Yarna to the south, Viruna to the southwest, Vishnu to the west and Veyu to the northwest.
The monastery located in the compound of the second entrance, there are about 50 monks living. Under Poi Pot regime (1975-1979), Khmer Rouge took this monastery turning as the Jail for custody those who Khmer Rouge accused as assaults for their regime, before executed them. The Vihara of monastery is now more than 100 years old, the head monk of this temple wanted to tore down to make a new one, but UNESCO not allowing to demolish, they now preserve it as a museum for the old paintings of Vihara.
At the third entrance (Gopura III):
The third Gopura building of Bakong was a doom roof style constructed of sandstone, this style was also the same roof style of Gopura III of Preah Ko, but Preah Ko built of brick. We notice that, before we arrived the Gopura III, a few metres away, there is broken Bull statue lying down on a high pedestal, then it comes with pedestals of Dwarapala, but Dwaralapa had gone away. There are one each of those things that mentioned at Gopura III to all the sides of main structure.
There are 120m X 160m long for the base of Bakong, at its main temple building, where all five tiered levels progressively altogether in a shape of pyramid till its single tower on very top. The five foundation levels of Bakong temple was believing to represent to five mythical creatute being worlds who located at the slope of Mt. Meru, including the world of Naga from the bottom, second one Garuda, third one Lion (Kalaha, Rasasa), fourth one Asura and the fifth is Deva.
We notice that on fourth level where represented to the world of Asura, there are twelve sandstone chapels located around. Those chapels were represented to the twelve years of zodiac astrological concept. On the walls of this area also decorated with bas-reliefs of Hindu mythology, but so far most of reliefs had been vandalized, remaining only one piece of stone reliefs depicted Asura warriors at the southern wall.
A single tower of Bakong was represented to Mt. Meru. As it was represented of Mt. Meru, that's why originally, they installed a linga statue which represented of embodiment by king himself to Shiva Destroyer God. From the concept "of a temple also of a tomb" then we think that underneath of pedestal of Linga, was probably keeping Indravarman I's relics, but so far had been looted by treasure hunter, remaining just a hole after they took treasures away.
At the niche corners of central tower, there are two different styles of female divinities. The one wearing diadem was Pavati one of the nine wives of Shiva, and another one with a long hair, and at her hand carrying lotus flower was Laksmei the consort of Vishnu. The appearing by two goddesses in the central tower's niches, that is to respect Harihara deity who combined power airs between god of Destroyer with the god of Protector. There are also more reliefs depicted Hindu myths at the central tower.
At each tiered level of Bakong's foundation corners, there are magnificent elephant statues. Some of the elephant statues are very nice, after having fixed by French in 1933 from a vandalism by Siamese in 14th to 15th century. To have an elephant statue at temple structure's corner, in order to represent of Patient, Stability and Hard worker so on..
There are also some good condition croaching lion statues at the staircases to the temple, especially, one on the southtern side at first level so on. The croaching lion style was coming from the earlier period of Angkor (9th- 1 0th century), while we did not see the croaching style liked this anymore at the temples built in later period of Angkor (11th-12th centry). Try to show the tip of Angkor Wat tower to your clients when you have guided tour to Bakong, as the same as to show them the monks with their monastery. Take a sit on top level for a nice breeze and for a viewing to Phnom Kolen mountain with overgreen jungle at surrouding, area.