The Khmer kingdom controlled Cambodia as well as large areas of Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries. Khmer sculpture of the pre-Angkor period is unsurpassed in its grace and spirituality, its remarkable naturalism of anatomy and stance, and its restraint in decoration. This image of the Hindu deity Harihara, with its delicately modeled musculature, supple articulation of limbs, and slender torso draped in a simple sampot, is characteristic of the finest pre-Angkor style.
The cult of Harihara was of great importance in early Cambodia, combining the potency of two of the most powerful Hindu gods, Shiva and Vishnu. Shiva (Hara), embodiment of the forces of destruction and fertility, is indicated on the sculpture’s proper right by the matted and twisted locks forming his characteristic headdress (jatamukata) and by half of his potent third eye. Vishnu (Hari), preserver of the world who will give rise to Brahma, the creator, after a cosmic sleep following the end of the current cycle of existence, is implied in the tall miter on the left. Harihara embodies the equilibrium between these two irreconcilable forces that is necessary for cosmic balance. The almond-shaped eyes, delicately traced brows, and subtly molded lips and nose have the particularity of portraiture, an individualized treatment that may represent the royal patron who commissioned the sculpture.