Vishnu Statue - Antique Preah-Ko Style Sandstone Vishnu Head - Protector & Preserver - 52cm/21"

The Preah Ko Period: The Dawn of Khmer Temple Artistry


The Preah Ko period is a significant yet relatively lesser-known epoch in Khmer history, marking the early phase of Khmer temple construction. Situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, this era represents the beginning of a rich tradition of temple architecture that would later culminate in the grandeur of Angkor. Preah Ko, with its historical importance and unique architectural features, serves as a vital link between the early development of Khmer civilization and its later artistic and religious achievements.

Historical Context

The Preah Ko period, also known as the Roluos period, is generally dated to the late 9th century. It falls within the broader timeline of the Khmer Empire's growth, leading to its zenith during the Angkor era. The capital city during this time was Hariharalaya, located near the present-day town of Roluos, Cambodia.

Preah Ko Temple

Preah Ko, located in the Roluos Group of temples, is a historically significant temple complex that stands as a testament to the early stages of Khmer temple artistry. Built during the reign of King Indravarman I, the temple served as the state temple of Hariharalaya and was dedicated to Shiva, a prominent Hindu deity. Preah Ko translates to "Sacred Bull," which signifies Shiva's mount, Nandi.

Stone Preah Ko

Architectural Features

The architectural style of Preah Ko is characterized by brick and laterite construction, in contrast to the stone temples of the later Angkor period. It comprises six brick sanctuaries, each housing a lingam, a representation of Shiva's phallus, and a symbolic focus of worship. The sanctuaries are arranged in two rows of three, facing east, and each is adorned with well-preserved inscriptions.

One distinctive feature of the Preah Ko period is the placement of beautifully carved lintels and pediments above the doorways. These sandstone carvings depict various scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the Churning of the Ocean of Milk (Samudra Manthan) and episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics.

Religious Significance

The Preah Ko period was marked by the prominent influence of Hinduism in Khmer society. The temple's dedication to Shiva is a testament to the widespread adoption of Hinduism as the state religion during this era. The lingam, the central symbol of Shiva's worship, played a vital role in the religious life of the Khmer people.

The inscriptions found in the sanctuaries of Preah Ko provide insight into the rituals and ceremonies conducted at the temple during its time of use. They also reveal the names of donors and the religious functions associated with the temple.


The Preah Ko period in Khmer history, marked by the construction of the Preah Ko temple, represents the initial stages of Khmer temple artistry and the growing influence of Hinduism in the region. While Preah Ko may not boast the grandeur of later Khmer temples, its historical significance is unquestionable. It served as a precursor to the remarkable architectural and artistic achievements of the Angkor era, where the Khmer civilization would reach its zenith.

Preah Ko is a living testament to the early cultural and religious developments of the Khmer Empire, reflecting the foundations upon which the magnificent temples of Angkor were later built. This period, like the temple it represents, offers a valuable window into the evolution of Khmer civilization and its enduring contributions to the world of art and architecture.

Bronze Preah Ko