Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Apsara carvings in Angkor Watt, Bayon and Ta Phrom - Part I

Date: 27th December 2014

I have a special fondness of the Apsara carvings when I first laid my eyes on them in Ta Phrom. It was in 2007. Following that I will alert myself to spot their presence (on the wall mostly) whenever I visited any of the Hindus or Buddhist temple. Hence, this entry is specially tributes to the late carvers who managed to portray the how beautiful these women in the eyes of mankind throughout the decades.

An Apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. It is a feminine consonant stem also known as Vidhya Dhari or Tep Apsar in Khmer, Acchara or A Bo Sa La Tu in Vietnamese, Bidadari in Indonesian & Malay and Apson in Thai. As for English translations, "Apsara" include a translation to "nymph," "celestial nymph," and "celestial maiden."

The first Apsara carvings was found in my first trip to Angkor Wat in 2007, 2 years later when I visited Borobudur in 2009 in Jogjakarta. Apsaras were said to be beautiful of supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb especially in the art of dancing. They are often the wives of the Gandharvas, the court musicians of Indra. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertain and sometimes seduce gods and men. As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, and are often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god, they may be compared to angels of the mythology’s world. The monotheism belief of angels are very much different. Do take note.

Apsaras are said to be able to change their shape at will, and rule over the fortunes of gaming and gambling, where Urvasi, Menaka, Rambha and Tilottama are the most famous among them. They are sometimes compared to the muses of ancient Greece, with each of the 26 Apsaras at Indra's court representing a distinct aspect of the performing arts. They are associated with fertility rites. It is more appropriate to relate the Apsara to the muses of ancient Greece, not the monotheism’s holy book.

It was said that there are 2 types of Apsaras; Laukika (means worldly), of whom 34 are specified and Daivika (means divine), of which there are only 10. The Bhagavata Purana (Hindu’s holy book) also states that the Apsaras were born from Kashyap and Muni. Whereas, the Rigveda (another Hindu’s scripture) tells of an Apsara as the wife of Gandharva, but the Rigveda also seems to allow for the existence of more than 1 Apsara. The only Apsara is specifically named as Urvashi. An entire hymn deals with the colloquy between Urvashi and her mortal lover Pururavas. Later Hindu scriptures allow for the existence of numerous Apsaras, who act as the handmaidens of Indra or as dancers at his celestial court.

In many of the stories related in the Mahabharata (Hindu’s scripture), Apsaras appear in the important supporting roles of the epic. The epic contains several lists of the principal Apsaras, which lists are not always identical. Such list, together with a description of how the celestial dancers appeared to the residents and guests at the court of the gods.

Ghritachi, Menaka, Rambha, Purvachitti, Swayamprabha, Urvashi, Misrakeshi, Dandagauri, Varuthini, Gopali, Sahajanya, Kumbhayoni, Prajagara, Chitrasena, Chitralekha, Saha and Madhuraswana, these and others by thousands, possessed an eyes like lotus leaves, who were employed in enticing the hearts of persons practising rigid austerities, danced there. And possessing slim waists and fair large hips, they began to perform various evolutions, shaking their deep bosoms, and casting their glances around, and exhibiting other attractive attitudes capable of stealing the hearts and resolutions and minds of the spectators.

Please refer to the next entry with collection of Apsara dancers photo from the show in Siem Reap city, that I called as Part II.
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