Apsara Dancer

A request I got from Jaqueline Junginger for my 365 Women Project was that of a girl with many hands. The first image that came to mind was the dancing representation of Hindu deity Shiva, more specifically known as Nataraja. I scrapped that idea because I did not want to draw Shiva as a female, and came up instead with the next best dancing figure I could think of – an Apsara with three pairs of hands.

One of the Apsaras at the entrance of Bayon temple.

Taken at the Angkor Wat.

One regret I have when I went to Cambodia in 2010 was not being able to go to an Apsara show. I remember reading about these female figures intricately carved on Khmer temples. When we finally had our fill of exploring the Angkor Wat complex, I was really looking forward to seeing an Apsara Dance. I was, however, discouraged by one of my companions.

Yes, it would have been a very touristy thing to do, but it would mean a lot especially for a Cambodia first timer. Besides, it is said that no visit to Cambodia is complete without attending at least one traditional Khmer dance performance. So the next time I return to Siem Reap, it will be second in my to-do list; taking more portraits of people being the first since I concentrated too much on architecture the first time around.

Apsara Dancer. Three different photos were used as reference for her 3 pairs of arms.

A bit of information: Apsaras are beautiful, elegant supernatural females who are proficient in the art of dance. As wives of Ghandarvas who make music to which they dance to, each of them represents a distinct aspect of the performing arts in Indra’s court. This makes them somehow equivalent to the muses of ancient Greece. On the other hand, the Apsara Dance is a traditional Khmer ballet-like performance known for its distinct ornate costuming, arched back and feet, fingers flexed backwards, and slow flowing movements. More than a dance, it presents a story inspired primarily by the Reamker (the Cambodian version of the Ramayana) and the Age of Angkor.

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