This towering representation of Mount Meru was designed to occupy the very heart of Khmer capital Hariharalaya, now centered around the village of Roulos. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple was commissioned by Indravarman I (r. 877-889 CE) in 881 CE. It was planned on an unprecedented grand scale; to match up to the status of being the state’s central shrine. Archeologist Maurice Glaize who also supervised Anastylosis at Bakong feels, “Of all the temples on stepped terraces of the Angkor region, Bakong is perhaps the one which most closely responds to the idea of the cosmic Mount Meru on five levels, corresponding, from bottom to top respectively, to the world of the Nagas, the Garudas, the Rakshasas, the Yakshas, and then to the Maharajas of the four cardinal points with their court.” In words of Groslier, “From the perspectives of science, architecture, or craftsmanship, Lolei and Bakong are still truly prodigious and deserve the same recognition as Angkor.”
The landscape around Bakong is also special; surrounded by a natural setting, and not a manicured or artificially created one. Grolier visited Bakong in 1913 and remarked, “The views from the uppermost foundation of the temple of Bakong is not of vast, ever-sullen horizons, as at Wat Phu and Preah Vihear, but of the country’s most fertile plains.” He adds, “… the area around Angkor is but a desert. None of its villages could compare with the villages here.” In this pristine setting, the five-tier pyramidal edifice majestically soars above the surroundings. In all, there are three enclosing walls, one moat, a total of 8 subsidiary shrines on ground floor and 12 on tier-four, 12 monolithic elephants on lower three tiers (4 on each tier), steps on 4 cardinal directions topped by a simple shrine (with lotus spire; probably renovated by Suryavarman II) at tier-five. The overall arrangement is visually appealing with well-thought proportions and positioning to accommodate temple rituals. Justifying the design, Glaize writes, “In the proportion of its tiers, it is the only pyramid that makes allowance for processions and festivals ….”
Practicalities | Club in the three temples of Roluos Group – Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei for a day excursion from Siem Reap. Start with Bakong the most elaborate and well-maintained amongst the lot. Bakong needs moderate hiking and a good footwear, an umbrella and a bottle of water can be useful. Start with the ruined libraries and Subsidiary shrines on ground floor before proceeding to the upper tiers. You can break at the lower tiers to have a look at the monolithic elephants. Spend some time at top; enjoy the views and imagine how Hariharalaya looked like in its full glory. On your return do visit – Little Angels – right in front of temple Preah Ko. They specialize in hand crafted leather art objects made by children orphaned due to land mines. Move over the cause, the craft is worthy of each penny you spend.