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Apsara (अपसरा, អប្សរ)

Sanskrit-Khmer. The female divinities or nymphs and celestial dancers of the Tavatimsa Heaven. They were produced during the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. From Sanskrit their name can be translated as ‘emerged from liquid’, ap meaning ‘liquid’ and sara meaning ‘to move or emerge from’. In Hindu mythology, they are the companions of the gandharvas, the male celestial musicians, but in Khmer mythology they appear solitary, mainly in temple decorations (fig.), e.g. in Angkor Wat. The are the attendants of Kama, the god of love and they are able to change shape at will. They are sometimes employed by the gods to seduce ascetics, and are the sensual reward for kings and braves who died a hero's death. In art, they are often depicted in murals and lintels (fig.), floating in the air (fig.). In Cambodia, Apsara Dance (fig.) is the Khmer equivalent of Khon, i.e. Thai Classical Dance (fig.). In Thai, Apsara are called Apsorn or Apson, and in Khmer they are usually referred to as Thep Apsar (ទេពអប្សរ), i.e. ‘Fairy’, though literally it can be translated as ‘Adorning Angel’. Whereas there is no plural form in the original language, in English they are as a group often referred to as Apsaras. See also TRAVEL PICTURES (1), (2) and (3), and THEMATIC STREET LIGHT.