This week’s Travel Photo of the Week takes us to the world’s largest religious complex Angkor Wat, Cambodia. This week’s “model” is an Apsara or in this case a Devata – the differentiation comes from the posture of these divas (a familiar Italian word with a deep root in early Indo-European languages). The dancing figures are Apsaras considered to be muses, the celestial reward for the devout of the Hindu religion. They are responsible for escorting the souls of fallen warriors to the supernatural world. The Devatas, who are standing, are divine guardian spirits for sacred places and can be likened to guardian angels in western religion. Angkor Wat is adorned with 1,796 Apsaras and Devatas in which there are no two alike.
According to Hindu mythology Apsaras were created during the churning of the sea of milk. In the myth the the not yet immortal gods and demons agreed to work together to churn the sea of milk (possibly what we see as the the Milky Way galaxy) in order to create a divine ambrosia, amrita, the essence of life and immortality. They churned the sea of milk for a thousand years (if they could churn for that long I am not sure why they needed immortality). One of the byproducts of all of the churning was the creation of the beautiful Apsaras and Devas.
The Khmer people have two versions of the creation of Cambodia and the Khmer people. One legend, the Lunar Dynasty is about the Devata Soma. Soma was the daughter of a Naga king and celebrated for her virile force and her “exploits.” Nagas are snakes or dragon serpents (you may remember the cobras Nag and Nagaina from Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi.) An Indian priest or Brahmin named Kaundiya traveled to the area and fell in love with Soma in human form. The Naga king married them and swallowed all of the water so that they would have a suitable kingdom. Kaundiya became the first king of Cambodia. The other legend known as the Solar Dynasty states that the Apsara Mera, the most beautiful of all of the deities, was given to the Naga King’s son by Lord Shiva and after their marriage the son became the first King of Cambodia.
Who the divas in Angkor Wat were modeled after remains a mystery. Kent Davis of Florida is one of the premiere researchers trying to unravel their identities. Using facial recognition software he has identified at least eight different facial types, reflecting the diversity of ethnicities in the ancient Khmer kingdom. As the facial recognition software advances he hopes to track the images to their modern day descendants.
If you want to see these amazing carvings and the rest of the splendor that is Angkor Wat and its surrounding archeological sites contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventures to arrange your trip to the Kingdom of Wonder.
Kent Davis’s web site www.devata.org
Other blogs about Cambodia;