Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Khmer Apsara Dance - Part II (of Apsara Arts)

Date: 27th December 2014

Khmer classical dance, the indigenous ballet-like performance art of Cambodia, is frequently called "Apsara Dance". Watching them performing life is priceless, so, please make sure you go for their nightly dinner and dance show whenever you are in Siem Reap. As for me, I had my moment admiring their beautiful and skill moves, twice when I was in town.

Khmer Apsara dancers in their beautiful traditional attires

Apsaras represent an important motif in the stone bas-reliefs of the Angkorian temples in Cambodia (existed in 8th till 13th centuries AD), however not all female images are not considered to be apsaras. In harmony with the Indian association of dance with apsaras, Khmer female figures that are dancing or are poised to dance are considered apsaras. Female figures, depicted individually or in groups, who are standing still and facing forward in the manner of temple guardians or custodians are called devatas. So that is the Khmer Apsara dance.

Angkor Wat, the largest Angkorian temple, built in AD 1116–1150 features both apsaras and devata. However the devata type are the most numerous with more than 1,796 according the present reaserach. Angkor Wat architects employed small apsara images, from 30 to 40 cm as seen as decorative motifs on pillars and walls. They incorporated a larger devata images with all of the full-body portraits measuring approximately 95–110 cm and more prominently at every level of the temple from the entry pavilion to the tops of the high towers. In 1927, Sappho Marchal published a study cataloging the remarkable diversity of their hair, headdresses, garments, stance, jewelry and decorative flowers, which Marchal concluded were based on actual practices of the Angkor period. Some devata appear with arms around each other and seem to be greeting the viewer. Sappo Marchar has stated that “the devatas seem to epitomize all the elements of a refined elegance”.

Apsaras were also an important motif in the art of Champa, medieval Angkor's neighbor to the east along the coast of what is now central Vietnam. Especially noteworthy are the depictions of apsaras in the Tra Kieu Style of Cham art, a style which flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries AD.

According to Indonesia and Malay culture, the term 'Bidadari' is a Malay-Indonesian word for Apsara equates refer Indian concept; as heavenly maidens living in the svargaloka or in celestial palace of Indra, described in Balinese dedari (Bidadari or Apsara) dance. However after the adoption of Islam, bidadari is equated with heavenly maiden mentioned in the Quran, in which God stated that the 'forbidden pearls' of heaven are for those men who have resisted temptation and borne life's trials. Islam spread in the Malay archipelago when Arabic traders came to trade spices with the Malays; at that time, Hinduism formed the basis of the Malay culture, but syncretism with the Islamic religion and culture spawned the idea of a Bidadari. It is usually seen as a prized offer to those who lived a lifestyle in service to and pleasing to God; after death, the Bidadari was the man's wife or wives, depending on what type of person he was. The worthiness of a man who was offered Bidadari depended upon his holiness: how often he prayed, how much he turned away from the 'outside world', and how little he heeded worldly desires.

Let's move on from Siem Reap city. The next entry would be on the story of how we arrived in Phnom City via speed boat, a once in a lifetime experience boating in about 4 hours on the surface of Tonle Sap enormous lake. What an adventure, most recommended to those who encounter similar mid life crisis like me.

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