Lolei is the northernmost temple of the Roluos group of three late 9th century Hindu temples at Angkor, Cambodia, the others members of which are Preah Ko and the Bakong. Lolei was the last of the three temples to be built as part of the city of Hariharalaya that once flourished at Roluos, and in 893 the Khmer king Yasovarman I dedicated it to Shiva and to members of the royal family. The name "Lolei" is thought to be a modern corruption of the ancient name "Hariharalaya," which means "the City of Harihara." Once an island temple, Lolei was located on an island slightly north of centre in the now dry Indratataka baray, construction of which had nearly been completed under Yasovarman's father and predecessor Indravarman I. Scholars believe that placing the temple on an island in the middle of a body of water served to identify it symbolically with Mount Meru, home of the gods, which in Hindu mythology is surrounded by the world oceans.
Lolei consists of four brick temple towers grouped together on a terrace. The king built Lolei for his ancestors. One for his grandfather, one for his grandmother, one for his father, and one for his mother. The front two towers are for the males while the two towers at the back are for the females. The two taller towers are for his grandparents while the two shorter towers are for his parents. Originally, the towers were enclosed by an outer wall access through which was through a gopura, but neither wall nor gopura have survived to the present. Today, the temple is next to a monastery, just as in the 9th century it was next to an ashrama.
The temple towers are known for their decorative elements, including their false doors, their carved lintels, and their carved devatas and dvarapalas who flank both real and false doors. Some of the motifs represented in the lintels and other sandstone carvings are the sky-god Indra mounted on the elephant Airavata, serpent-like monsters called makaras, and multi-headed nagas.
Towers of Lolei
Built in two tiers, the island on which the temple is found is itself located in the middle (but to the north along a north south axis) of the first great Baray of the region, the Indratataka. This large reservoir, measuring 3,800 meters by 800 meters, bears the name of its constructor, Indravarman (the father of Yasovarman) who began to build the reservoir on the fifth day following his coronation, as recorded in a Sanskrit inscription.
The inscriptions in Khmer which can still be admired on all the door jambs present an exceptional interest for two reasons. Their calligraphy is in itself a work of art, a fact noted with emphasis by the first scientific explorers of the 1860s. The inscriptions also provide us with a wealth of details concerning the moment chosen for the consecration of the temple, as well as elaborating on the delicate division of tasks carried out by the several hundred servants attached to each tower.
Even after constructing the island and its sanctuaries, Yasovarman still had the idea to move his capital to the region of Phnom Bakheng, about fourteen kilometers to the northwest of Lolei, site of the future city of Yasodhara.
It is not implausible that Yasovarman was building at Lolei while moving his capital at the same time. The choice to establish Lolei at the center of the Indratataka at this time was of specific symbolic meaning and significance since it put the dedicated object (Lolei dedicated to Indravarman) at the heart of the work of the one to whom it was dedicated (the Indratataka built by Indravarman).
Four Sanctuary Towers
The temple grounds were surrounded by a 90 meter long wall with gopura entrance buildings, of which nothing remains today. Four brick sanctuary towers, of which two are in fairly good state of preservation stand on a rectangular platform, preceded by a guardian lion. The towers topped with four upper receding tiers were originally covered in stucco, of which nothing is left. The entrance door faces East, while there are false doors on the other three cardinal directions. Colonettes support the lintels over the entrances. Inscriptions on the door jambs give information about the date the temple’s main idols were dedicated.
King Yasovarman I dedicated the East two sanctuaries to his male ancestors. Flanking the doors are niches with sandstone carvings of armed dvarapala guardians. The West sanctuaries are dedicated to the female ancestors. The niches flanking the doors contain sandstone carvings of guardian ladies.
Lintels and pediments contain Hindu motifs, including Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata, Nagas and makaras, a Kala (a monster usually depicted with large teeth and without upper jaw) with a divinity on its head, Vishnu on his mount Garuda, praying rishis and Ganesha riding his own trunk. In each tower is a sanctuary chamber where statues of the main idol were enshrined.
Active Buddhist temple next to the ancient Khmer Sanctuaries
Next to the four sanctuary towers stands an active modern Buddhist temple. A viharn with very colorful murals covering the walls and ceiling enshrines a large seated image of the Buddha. Other temple structures include several pagodas and the kuti, the monks living quarters.