The Apsara in Mythology and Culture
The Ramayana is one of the most important epics of Indian literature, and its origins can be traced back to the earliest days of Indian civilization. It is a sacred narrative that holds deep importance in Hinduism and other South Asian religions. It is filled with Gods and demons, angels and apsaras, in a battle between the forces of light and darkness.
Our subject today is the apsara, a female spirit of the clouds and waters. The apsara is a graceful and enchanting performer, an integral part of the classical dance traditions in Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia and Thailand. Modern apsara dancers are trained artists, characterized by their delicate movements, precise hand gestures, intricate footwork, and fluid body postures. Their performances are a mesmerizing blend of storytelling, mythology, and cultural heritage, usually accompanied by live traditional music. The apsara is naturally a favorite subject of wood carvers, too!
The costumes worn by apsara dancers are ornate and vibrant, reflecting the cultural heritage of the region. They typically don elaborately adorned silk dresses, intricately embroidered with gold and silver threads, accompanied by elaborate headdresses and jewelry.
The dance performances usually depict mythical stories from Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as scenes from local folklore and historical events. Apsara dancers are adept at expressing emotions and narratives through their elegant movements, captivating the audience with their ethereal grace.
The Apsaras of Angkor
Exceptionally fine apsara stone carvings were discovered in Angkor Wat, one of the most significant archaeological and architectural wonders in the world. It was built during the Khmer Empire, beginning in the early 12th century, around 1113-1150 CE, during the reign of King Suryavarman II.
In the late 12th century, the religious orientation of the Khmer Empire shifted from Hinduism towards Buddhism, and Angkor Wat was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple. Statues of Buddha were added, and Hindu deities were replaced by Buddhist icons.
Angkor Wat was rediscovered and introduced it to the world by a French naturalist and explorer named Henri Mouhot in 1860. Henri Mouhot was an adventurer and scholar who traveled extensively through Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.
Our Collection of Wooden Apsaras
We commissioned a special collection of apsara wood carvings from a group of traditional Thai wood carvers that continue to create art at the highest level. Each is lovingly crafted from an old teak stump or rice mortar and shows the imperfections that come from age. These sculptures may be used indoors or outdoors and can be raised on display stands for greater impact. They are ideal for placement in an outdoor garden, where they may become overtaken with vines and moss, just like stone ruins in Asia. Being teak, they are highly resistant to rain and insects. They will weather gracefully and beautifully.
Samsara Retreat 2024
For those with a special interest in Southeast Asian culture, consider joining our second Samsara retreat in February, 2024 in Chiang Mai. Samsara is a retreat collaboration between Mind Curate and The Golden Triangle. It is a merging of passions in the art of living through mindfulness, movement, culture and creativity. Next year we will lead an optional excursion to the ruins at Angkor Wat immediately following the Thai retreat. There you will find many more exquisite apsara! If you would like to know more, please contact Douglas Van Tress at email@example.com.