Antique Khmer Style Bronze Mounted Bakheng Shiva Head Statue - 47cm/19"

The Bakheng Period: The Birth of Khmer Temple Mountains


The Bakheng period in Khmer history represents a pivotal epoch, characterized by the construction of the Bakheng Temple Mountain. Located in the heart of Cambodia's Angkor region, this period is significant for its innovative architectural features and its role in shaping the subsequent grandeur of Khmer temple construction. The Bakheng Temple, with its hilltop location and pyramid structure, stands as a testament to the early Khmer fascination with temple mountains.

Historical Context

The Bakheng period is typically dated to the late 9th century and early 10th century during the reign of King Yasovarman I. It falls within the broader timeline of the Khmer Empire's development and its evolution towards the iconic Angkor era. During this time, the capital of the Khmer Empire was located at Hariharalaya.

The Bakheng Temple Mountain

The Bakheng Temple, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Shiva, represents an important architectural transition in Khmer history. It was constructed on a natural hill, signifying a shift from earlier temple styles that were built on flat ground. This innovative approach marked the birth of the Khmer temple mountain concept.

Bakheng Stone

Architectural Features

The Bakheng Temple's most distinctive feature is its pyramid structure, with a stepped design that culminates in a central sanctuary at the hill's summit. This pyramid form, reminiscent of the cosmic Mount Meru in Hindu mythology, became a defining characteristic of Khmer temple architecture. The sanctuary at the top originally housed a lingam, a symbol of the god Shiva and the focus of worship.

The temple's design included five tiers with surrounding galleries and two libraries. The temple's galleries were adorned with decorative lintels and inscriptions, and its stairways were flanked by guardian lions. The pyramid structure was intended to serve as a symbolic representation of the Mount Meru, a sacred abode of the gods.

Religious Significance

The Bakheng period was marked by the continued influence of Hinduism in Khmer society. The dedication of the Bakheng Temple to Shiva signifies the prominence of Hindu religious beliefs during this era. The architectural and symbolic elements of the temple were closely tied to Hindu cosmology and mythology, reinforcing the temple's religious significance.

The lingam, the central symbol of Shiva, played a crucial role in the spiritual and religious life of the Khmer people during this period. The Bakheng Temple served as a place of worship, ceremonies, and religious rituals, reflecting the deep spiritual connection between the Khmer state and the Hindu gods.

Legacy and Influence

The Bakheng period, with the construction of the Bakheng Temple, set the stage for the temple mountain architectural style that would become a hallmark of Khmer temple construction. This design would be further refined and perfected in later temples, such as the Baphuon and Angkor Wat, during the Angkor era.


The Bakheng period in Khmer history, epitomized by the Bakheng Temple Mountain, represents a critical juncture in the evolution of Khmer temple architecture and religious expression. The pyramid design, innovative hilltop location, and deep connection to Hindu cosmology laid the foundation for the awe-inspiring temple mountains that would come to define the Angkor era.

The Bakheng Temple, perched atop its natural hill, continues to be a revered historical and cultural landmark that invites visitors to explore the early aspirations and artistic achievements of the Khmer people. This period, often overshadowed by the grandeur of later Khmer temples, nonetheless provides an essential link in the chain of Khmer history, offering a glimpse into the temple-building traditions and spiritual beliefs that would shape the Khmer civilization for centuries to come.

Bakheng Bronze