In line with Hindu mythology, Apsaras are beautiful female creatures that visit Earth from heaven to entertain both gods and kings with their enchanting dance. Legend says the beautiful beings were born from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, also referred to as Samudra Manthan in Hindi or Ko Samut Teuk Dos in Khmer. The story is depicted on a 49-meter bas-relief, carved on the walls of Angkor Wat.
Cambodia is a country that is steeped in history and tradition, with classical Cambodian ballet — or Apsara dancing — held in high esteem across the country. Evidence of this delicate form of dancing can be seen etched into the walls of ancient temples, as well as when watching the string of talented dancers who put on shows across the country today. Here’s the lowdown on Apsara’s origins and the best spots to watch this type of dancing.
Stretching back to the 7th century, Apsara dancing stems from Cambodia’s Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Evidence that the dance form existed as early as the 7th century can be seen in carvings at Sambor Prei Kuk temples in Kampong Thom province, where the ethereal beings — Apsaras — have been immortalized in stone.
During the deadly Khmer Rouge reign from 1975–1979, 90 percent of the country’s artists were killed. This massacre included Apsara dancers, and the art form was almost wiped out by the Pol Pot-led regime. Thankfully, a few dancers survived and were able to pass on their knowledge to younger generations, breathing new life into the ancient art form.
Princess Buppha Devi, daughter to King-Father Norodom Sihanouk, played an instrumental role in rekindling the dance. She had been a classical dancer in the 1950s and 60s, performing on home turf as well as across the globe. She is currently the director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.
The tradition has also inspired a string of contemporary versions, with Sophiline Cheam Shapiro championing the traditional dance while modernizing it to fit in with the 21st century. The troupe performs across the world, with several performances put on in Cambodia.
Cambodian Living Arts also put on daily evening shows at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, which takes in a range of traditional arts, including Cambodian ballet. There are also a host of venues in Siem Reap that hold performances and offer to dine, including Angkor Village Apsara Theatre and La Résidence d’Angkor.
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-Angkor wat temple pass
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