Jayavarman V was ten years old when he succeeded his father, Rajendravarman, in 968. His early years of reign were turbulent and the court officials dominated the royal politics. When he was 17 (in 975), he began the construction of his own state temple, whose modern name is Ta Keo, that was dedicated some time around 1000. In contemporary inscriptions it is called Hemagiri or Hemasringagiri.
Unusually, the temple was never finished. There are many stories as to why Ta Keo was never completed, but nobody knows the real reason. An inscription says that lightning struck the temple at one point which was taken as a sign of bad luck upon which work was halted. More likely it was because of the death of King Jayavarman V who commissioned the temple.
The temple was abandoned and did not worship any gods because the temple was not finished, until the Khmer empire broke down and abandoned Angkor Thom. When people discovered Angkor Thom and restored management to serve tourists, Ta Keo temple attracted a lot of tourists to visit and be known around the world.
Ta Keo was the state temple of Jayavarman V and it was built to look very similar to his father’s state temple – Pre Rup. There are five sanctuary towers built on top of a five-tiered pyramid. This temple mountain was surrounded by a moat which was a symbol of Mount Meru, the mythical home of the Hindu gods.
The first tier of the pyramid structure is surrounded by a large sandstone wall. There are four entrance gates (gopuras), one on each of the four walls. On the eastern entrance gate, there is a large 20m room. This room was likely used as a shelter for visitors and travellers. This first tier and outer wall measure 122m by 106m.
The second terrace measures 80m by 75m. Here you will see galleries surrounding this enclosure, however there are no doors. This means that the galleries were likely to have been for decoration rather than be used for any particular reason. Much of this second tier is difficult to explore due to the large number of stones dotted all over the floor. Some parts of this area are also out of bounds to visitors.
The top three tiers are very steep and narrow. They add a lot of height to the structure and together they measure 14m tall. There is a steep staircase on each side of the temple, but they are not all accessible to tourists.
On the top tier, you will find the five sanctuary towers. There is one tower on each corner, with a larger sanctuary in the middle. Each one has doors which open in all four directions. This is unusual for temples built before Ta Keo because earlier temples often had fake doors on three side with one opening to the east.
Ta Keo is very popular because it’s one of the larger temples in the park. It’s also unique because it was never finished and contains very little decoration. There is thick jungle surrounding the area. As you stand at the top of Ta Keo, you can just see the tops of green trees in all directions.