Banteay Kdei Temple - 'the citadel of the monks'

Name: Banteay Kdei
Creator: King Jayavarman VII, enlarged by Indravarman II
Date built: 12th to early 13th centuries CE
Primary deity: Shiva
Architecture: Buddhist temple in the Bayon style
Location: located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom
Coordinates: Coordinates: 13°25'47 N 103°53'54 E

Banteay Kdei (Prasat Banteay Kdei) is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia.

Built in the late 12th to early 13th centuries CE during the reign of Jayavarman VII, it is a Buddhist temple in the Bayon style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but less complex and smaller.

Its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls, and consist of two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister.

Banteay Kdei has been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries, but the inscription stone has never been discovered so it is unknown to whom the temple is dedicated. There is no record of why it was built-or by whom-because no marker stone with that information has ever been found.

Its name means 'The citadel of the monks' cells', but that does not necessarily indicate its function.

What is known is that Banteay Kdei grew by amalgamation from a small site to a large central temple with its own enclosure wall that protected a large city.

Jayavarman VII King of the Khmer Empire (c.1181-1215)

Reign: Khmer Empire: 1181-1218
Full name: Jayavarthon
Birthplace: Angkor
Died: 1218
Place of death: Angkor
Predecessor: Yasovarman II Indravarman
Successor: Indravarman II
Consort: Indradevi
Consort: Jayarachadevi (Queen's Sister)
Father: Dharanindravarman II

Jayavarman VII (1125 - 1215) was a king of the Khmer Empire (c.1181-1215and was the son of King Dharanindravarman II (r. 1150-1160) and Queen Sri Jayarajacudamani. He married Jayarajadevi and then, after her death, married her sister Indradevi. The two women are commonly thought to have been a great inspiration to him, particularly in his unusual devotion to Buddhism. Only one previous Khmer king had been a Buddhist.

Jayavarman's Early Years

Jayavarman probably spent his early years away from the Khmer capital. He may have spent time among the Cham of modern-day Vietnam. In 1178, they launched a surprise attack on the Khmer capital by sailing a fleet up the Mekong River, across Lake Tonle Sap, and then up the Siem Reap River, a tributary of the Tonle Sap. The invaders pillaged the Khmer capital of Yasodharapura and put the king to death, as well as taking the Apsara dancers. Also in 1178, Jayavarman came into historical prominence by leading a Khmer army that ousted the invaders.

Returning to the capital, he found it in disorder. Early in his reign, he probably repelled another Cham attack, quelled a rebellion, and rebuilt the capital of Angkor. Over the 30 some years of his reign, Jayavarman embarked on a grand program of construction that included both public works and monuments. As a Mahayana Buddhist, his declared aim was to alleviate the suffering of his people. One inscription tells us, 'He suffered from the illnesses of his subjects more than from his own; the pain that affected men's bodies was for him a spiritual pain, and more piercing.'

The declaration must be read in light of the undeniable fact that the numerous monuments erected by must have required the labor of thousands of workers, and that Jayavarman's reign was marked by the centralization of the state and the herding of people into ever greater population centers. Historians have identified three stages in Jayavarman's building program. He constructed his own 'temple-mountain' at Bayon and developed the city of Angkor Thom around it.

Ta Prohm

In 1186, Jayavarman dedicated Ta Prohm ('Ancestor Brahma') to his mother. An inscription indicates that this massive temple at one time had 80,000 people assigned to its upkeep, including 18 high priests and 615 female dancers. The first Lara Croft film was shot in Ta Prohm as well as a few scenes from the movie Troy.

Preah Khan

Jayavarman also built the temple and administrative complex of Preah Khan ('Sacred Sword'), dedicating it to his father in 1191.

Angkor Thom and Bayon

At the centre of the new city stands one of his most massive achievements -- the temple now called the Bayon, a multi-faceted, multi-towered temple that mixes Buddhist and Hindu iconography. The reliefs show camp followers on the move with animals and oxcarts, hunters, women cooking, female traders selling to Chinese merchants, and celebrations of common footsoldiers. The reliefs also depict a naval battle on the great lake, the Tonle Sap.

Fixing the Dates

The historical record is a mixture of the incredibly precise (we know the exact date that a temple was consecrated) and more ambiguous texts and archaeological evidence. Many of the dates marking the life and reign of Jayavarman VII are a matter of conjecture and inference. There is a minority view that the current biography of Jayavarman is imaginary and that the evidence could just as easily support the view that he was the usurper.

One date that has been generally accepted is 1177 when the Chams, who had themselves been subjected to numerous Khmer invasions, took the city of Yashodharapura. A Cham king took the title of Jaya-Indravarman.

In 1181 Jayavarman VII became King after leading the Khmer forces against the Chams. Jayavarman died in about 1215, at an advanced age ranging from 85 to 90. Indravarman was succeeded by Jayavarman VIII who it is thought supported a Hindu revolt. The niches all along the top of the wall around the city contained images of the Buddha. A statue of Jayavarman VII was found by excavators having been thrown down a well. Buddha images in Preah Khan were re-worked to resemble Brahmins. When Cambodia finally did become a Buddhist country, it followed Theravada Buddhism, not the Mahayana Buddhism practised by Jayavarman VII.


Care must be taken not read European patterns of kingship, inheritance or nationhood onto the history of the Khmer empire. Sons did not necessarily inherit their father's thrones; Jayavarman VII himself had many sons, such as Suryakumara and Virakumara, who were crown princes (the suffix kumara usually is translated as crown prince).

Jayavarman VII remains a potent symbol of national pride for present day Cambodians. This has contributed to a legend of the Buddharaja, the King-Buddha, who privileged compassion in ruling. This view of Jayavarman and his reign is supported by some beautiful portrait sculpture of him in meditation.


A fictionalised account of the life of Jayavarman VII forms the basis of Geoff Ryman's 2006 novel ‘The King's Last Song’.

Statue of Jayavarman VII, Guimet Museum

 Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap, Cambodia Map


This webpage was updated 27th January 2020