In Hindu lore, Apsaras could seduce the gods, as their beauty knew no rival. They also possessed great dancing ability, and it is in these two regards that Angkorian artists chose to represent them in carvings at their temples, including over 3000 at Angkor Wat. Beyond depiction, however, thousands of Apsara dancers performed in temple dancing halls, a Khmer tradition that continues to this day in venues across Cambodia.
Champey Academy of Arts
Champey Academy of Arts was opened in January 2013 with the aim of providing instruction in music, drawing, painting, and traditional dance including Apsara dance. The mission of the Champey Academy of Arts (CAA) is to provide a safe space for disadvantaged young people where they can be introduce to Cambodia’s rich arts culture while helping them experience the pride, self confidence, and poise that comes from mastering difficult skills. The word “Champey” is the Khmer language name for the white flower which, outside of Cambodia, is called “plumeria” or “frangipani.”
Guests are welcome to observe classes and tour the school but are recommend to phone in advance and leave a donation of $6.00 per person.
History of Apsaras in Cambodia
Several ancient Hindu texts recount the story of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. As depicted on the East Gallery of Angkor Wat, demons and gods performed a tug of war with a naga (mystical serpent) wrapped around Mt. Mandara, located at the center of the universe. In the process of extracting amrita (the elixir of immortality), a number of creatures were released, including Apsaras, celestial dancers who can be seen flying along the top of the relief of the Churning at Angkor Wat.
While the temples of Angkor are frequently graced with their serene beauty, Angkorian apsaras danced at the temples as well. Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei, and Ta Prohm were reputed to have thousands of dancers residing in their grounds and devoted halls to ceremonial dancing featured pillars adorned with Apsara carvings.
Apsaras, celestial nymphs, were created during the Churning of the Sea of Milk. Their beauty could seduce the gods. Kambu, the mythical patriarch of the Cambodian people, married an Apsara named Mera –something of a Cambodian Adam & Eve legend.
Even the founding of Cambodia features an Apsara. Legend tells of a hermit, named Kambu, who was so devout that the god Shiva gave Kambu an Apsara as a bride. The children of Kambu and Mera were the first people of Kambujadesa, the Kingdom of Kambu, which later became known as Cambodia.