There can’t be a person in Cambodia who doesn’t recognize Apsara Dancing when they see it. But today’s question:
“Who or what are Apsaras?”
First thing to know – they are not unique to Cambodia! Beautiful, supernatural women were known as Apsaras across Asia long before the Angkor era. In both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Apsaras are female spirits of the clouds and water. They are always youthful and elegant. They danced to the music of their husbands, in the palaces of the gods. Apsaras appear in stone in many Angkor temples, carved in the 8th to 13th century. But did you know that not all females carved there are Apsaras?
Khmer female figures shown dancing are the real Apsaras. But the females shown standing still and facing forward in the manner of temple guardians are called “Devatas”. Khmer classical dance, the famous slow-motion performance art which we enjoy in Cambodia is often called Apsara Dance. The name reflects the belief that today’s Khmer classical dance is strongly connected to hundreds of years old traditions. Through modern Apsara Dance, Cambodia is linked to the times a thousand years ago, when this art was practiced for the Kings of Angkor. And surely, as they watched, those Kings knew their entertainment was inspired by the mythological Courts of the Gods and from their mysterious dancers, the youthful and elegant Apsaras.
So, when you next see a Khmer woman dancing these famous moves let your mind also take you back to those mythical times.
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