The Reign of Suryavarman I and Royal Factionalism at Angkor

by Michael Vickery

Publication: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies , Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 226-244 | Cambridge University Press on behalf of Department of History, National University of Singapore

Language : English

2006 - 19 pages

Was Suryavarman I (1002-49) (សូរ្យវរ្ម័នទី១, posthumously known as Nirvanapada) of Malay origin (from Tambranlinga), inclined to tie privileged relations with the Chola Kingdom (Tamilnadu, South India), or a legitimate heir to the founders of Angkor? In this fascinating essay, author Michael Vickery takes us back to the two first centuries of the Angkorean Kingdom, revisiting scriptuary and written sources, as well as assertions made by illustrious Khmerologists such as G. Coedes, L.P. Briggs or P. Stern.

The author brings up some important insights about the passation of power in early Angkor, noting: 'The succession of kings in the first two centuries of Angkor, rather than indicating parallel dynasties, or cases of simple usurpation, suggests such a rotation of kingship among lineage branches, marred by attempts at 'usurpation' when Yasovarman and Jayavarman IV attempted to secure succession for their sons rather than allowing the throne to pass to brothers or cousins or nephews. In these cases, then, the definition of 'usurper' and 'legitimate successor' is the opposite of the conventional view. In particular, Jayavarman IV, long viewed by modem scholars as the Angkorean usurper par excellence, now appears as legitimate successor to Yasovarman, and the seemingly conflicting statements about his family position are only made coherent by the hypothesis that he was grandson of Indravarman via Mahendradevi.'

He goes on:'Thus in the factional conflicts of the early 11th century, Suryavarman and his supporters were legitimate heirs of Indravarman's branch of the extended royal family, Jayaviravarman represented another branch now lost from the records but possibly apparent in the earlier Jayaviravarman of Prasat Kravan, and the aristocratic families opposed to Suryavarman and claiming descent from Jayavarman II were of still another branch which had been relegated to non-royal bureaucratic status ever since the throne passed from Jayavarman III to Indravarman.'

The author also remarks that Suryavarman I more or less followed 'the rather cyclical pattern of development (recognized by Philippe Stern), a regular order of priorities in the construction activities of four of the great Angkor reigns - Indravarman (877-89), Yasovarman (889-900), Rajendravarman (944-68) and Jayavarman VII. Each of these reigns began with some kind of public works, usually large reservoirs (Indravarman, Yasovarman, Jayavarman), or the rehabilitation of the capital, including its waterworks (Rajendravarman). Then they built ancestral temples in honour of their immediate ancestors, and finally a temple mountain for the worship of the central state cult.'

Photo: The Baphuon Temple near Angkor, the construction of which has been attributed to King Suryavarman I (Source: SEAArch)

About the Author

Michael Vickery

Michael Vickery (April 1 1931, Billings, Montana, June 29 2017, Battambang, Cambodia) was an American historian and lecturer with a passion for Cambodia.

His doctoral thesis research in Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia lasted from 1970 to 1977, when he completed it under the title Cambodia After Angkor: The Chronicular Evidence for the Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries. That same year, Vickery received a Doctor of Philosophy in history from Yale University.

Known for his liberal views, he later specialized in history of modern Cambodia, contributed numerous columns for the Phnom Penh Post from 1992 to 2007. He also taught Ancient History at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Phnom Penh.

A bibliographical notice on Michael Vickery.