Lakshmi or Uma Sculpture - Antique Khmer Style Koh Ker Stone Lakshmi or Uma Statue - 96cm/38"

The Koh Ker Period: A Forgotten Chapter in Khmer History


The Koh Ker period is a relatively obscure but fascinating epoch in Khmer history. Nestled in the dense forests of northern Cambodia, Koh Ker served as the capital of the Khmer Empire for a brief period during the 10th century. This era is marked by a remarkable architectural legacy and a glimpse into the political, cultural, and religious dynamics of the time. While overshadowed by the grandeur of Angkor, the Koh Ker period has a story of its own that deserves recognition.

Historical Context

The Koh Ker period, also known as the Chok Gargyar period, spans from approximately 928 to 944 CE. During this time, King Jayavarman IV established Koh Ker as the capital of the Khmer Empire, shifting the political center from Angkor. This relocation was not only driven by a desire for a new capital but also by the pursuit of power, as it allowed the king to assert his authority away from the established elite.

Political Significance

The Koh Ker period reflects the political complexities of the Khmer Empire. The shift of the capital to Koh Ker was a calculated move by King Jayavarman IV to centralize power and reduce the influence of the Angkor-based nobility. The relocation of the capital was accompanied by a significant reorganization of the administrative structure, designed to strengthen royal authority.

Stone Koh Ker

Architectural Legacy

Koh Ker is renowned for its distinctive and monumental architectural style, which differs from the later Angkor temples. One of the most iconic structures is the Prasat Thom, a towering pyramid temple that rises to an impressive 36 meters, making it one of the tallest temples in the Khmer Empire. The Prasat Thom is adorned with sandstone lintels and beautifully carved pediments, showcasing exquisite Khmer artistry.

The Lingas, phallic representations of the god Shiva, are prevalent in Koh Ker, indicating a strong connection to Hinduism in the region. These lingas, along with sculptures and inscriptions, provide insights into the religious and cultural practices of the time.

Cultural Insights

The Koh Ker period offers a unique window into Khmer culture and society during the 10th century. It highlights the religious syncretism of the era, as Hinduism and Buddhism coexisted, and local deities were venerated alongside the major gods. The architectural designs and inscriptions suggest a Khmer identity shaped by the interplay of various cultural influences.

End and Transition

The Koh Ker period was relatively short-lived, as the capital was moved back to Angkor in 944 CE after Jayavarman IV's death. The reasons for this shift remain a subject of debate among scholars, but it may have been influenced by the impracticality of maintaining a remote capital and the need for easier access to resources.


The Koh Ker period, though overshadowed by the grandeur of Angkor, is a crucial chapter in Khmer history that deserves recognition. It highlights the intricate interplay of politics, architecture, and culture in the Khmer Empire during the 10th century. The monuments of Koh Ker stand as enduring relics of this era, inviting visitors and scholars to explore the historical significance and cultural richness of a once-powerful capital in the dense jungles of northern Cambodia. Recognizing and appreciating the Koh Ker period allows us to better understand the complexities and diversities within the tapestry of Khmer history.

Bronze Koh Ker