Antique Khmer Style Baphuon Bronze Dancing Apsara or Angel Statue - 85cm/34"

The Apsara of Cambodia: Divine Dancers of Khmer Culture


The Apsara, celestial dancers of Cambodia, are revered figures in Khmer culture, embodying the grace, beauty, and spirituality that define the artistic and religious traditions of the region. These celestial beings, depicted in intricate carvings and dance performances, have captivated the world with their elegance and symbolism. This essay explores the significance, history, and cultural relevance of the Apsara in Cambodia.

I. Origin and Mythological Significance

The term "Apsara" is derived from Sanskrit and translates to "celestial nymph" or "heavenly dancer." In Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Apsaras are heavenly beings, ethereal and alluring, often serving as attendants to gods and demigods. In Cambodian folklore, they are believed to have descended from the celestial realms to entertain and delight mortals on Earth.

II. Apsara Carvings in Angkor

The most iconic representations of Apsaras can be found in the ancient temples of Angkor, notably Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. These temples, constructed during the Khmer Empire's zenith in the 12th century, are adorned with thousands of intricate Apsara carvings. These exquisite depictions adorn temple walls, pillars, and lintels, celebrating the divine beauty and grace of these celestial dancers.

The Apsara carvings at Angkor are not only ornamental but also spiritually significant. They serve as a bridge between the earthly and heavenly realms, reminding worshippers of the profound connection between the sacred and the profane.

III. The Apsara Dance

The Apsara dance, also known as the "Robam Tep Apsara," is a traditional Cambodian dance that seeks to recreate the celestial grace and beauty of the Apsaras. This intricate and expressive dance form has been passed down through generations and is considered a cornerstone of Cambodian classical dance. Dancers adorned in ornate costumes and headdresses perform the Apsara dance, showcasing their refined movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions, which evoke the elegance and spirituality of the celestial beings.

Standing Apsara

IV. Cultural Symbolism

The Apsara holds deep cultural and spiritual significance in Cambodia. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, Apsaras symbolize the values of grace, beauty, and spirituality. They embody the Khmer people's reverence for art, culture, and the divine. The Apsara dance is a living testament to Cambodia's rich heritage and its determination to preserve its cultural traditions.

V. Preservation and Revival

The Apsara dance faced challenges during the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s, when traditional arts and culture were suppressed. However, in the post-Khmer Rouge era, there has been a concerted effort to revive and preserve this cherished art form. Dance schools and cultural institutions have played a pivotal role in training young dancers and keeping the Apsara dance alive.


The Apsara of Cambodia, celestial dancers of unparalleled grace and beauty, stand as guardians of Khmer culture and spirituality. From the majestic carvings of Angkor to the elegant performances on the modern stage, the Apsara continue to enchant and inspire, reminding us of the enduring power of art and spirituality to transcend time and connect us with the divine. Their legacy serves as a testament to Cambodia's rich cultural heritage and its unwavering commitment to preserving the traditions that define its identity.