Apsara: the Khmer cultural gem that captivated the world
The Dance of the Heavenly Maidens. A Khmer cultural gem that has enchanted the world
Beautiful Cambodian women gracefully dancing to the rhythm of traditional music are among the treasures of Cambodia's heritage from the ancient Khmer civilisation. The so-called apsaras, or sky nymphs or water fairies, in their costumes of gold and bright colours, entertained their ancient rulers in temples such as Angkor Wat. Although Apsara dancing is becoming increasingly popular, its roots go back thousands of years before our era.
Sort of like sign language?
The dance of the Kingdom of Cambodia is based on Hindu and Buddhist mythology and is meant to refer to gently floating puffs of water vapour. The women twist their hips, interlocking their arms above their heads with unnaturally curled fingers. The individual choreographies are very complex and the girls have been learning them from a young age for a long nine years. After all - there are two thousand hand gestures alone! Therefore, it takes years to learn and perfect, and just a slightly different hand movement can make the whole performance have a completely different meaning.
The nymphs' mission, however, according to tradition, was not only to dance. Over time, these women were deified and it became their task to care for the souls of warriors fallen in battle. At the same time, they became the life companions of divine artists, especially singers and musicians.
The spiritual legacy of the Kingdom of Cambodia has confused many a king
Although this graceful dance is a mythological symbol, women used it to turn the heads of mortals. The kings themselves were no exception. Dancers were therefore also present in the courts of noble rulers, where they also acted as companions. According to some sources, King Jayavarman VII was said to have had as many as 2,000 of these divine companions.
However, the celestial nymphs performed this role in the times when medieval castles were being built in our country and from the 14th century onwards, their role was once again restricted to celestial dancing, the form of which has been preserved to this day. So if you ever visit Cambodia, be sure to go to one of the festivals where Apsara women and girls traditionally dance. The spectacle is almost identical to that of the Khmer rulers hundreds of years ago.
The Apsara dance was also danced for us by girls from our friendly school in Siem Reap
The fact that the traditions are really continuing and girls have been learning Apsara in Cambodia since they were very young is proven by a visit to a primary school near Siem Reap that .pepper..field supports. During the visit we brought sports equipment and school supplies as a gift to the children and the local schoolgirls gave us a celebratory Apsara dance. Check out our photo gallery directly in the article, or follow us on social media where we regularly post experiences from Cambodia! ☺
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