Since writing this article, I have changed my mind! I now use the term apsara. My reasoning is described in my new article Apsara or Devata?
The many beautiful ladies adorning the walls of the Angkor temples are almost universally referred to as apsaras.
The name 'apsara' has certainly caught the imagination of writers, tour guides, documentary producers and hotel owners alike. The name and their lovely images can be found throughout Angkor and in Siem Reap's guide books, hotels and guest houses, restaurants, gift shops and other businesses.
The name is further reinforced in visitors' minds because the Cambodian management authority responsible for protecting the Angkor Archaeological Park is called APSARA.
Furthermore, the Apsara Dancers that can be seen performing in modern-day Cambodia look more like what experts traditionally referred to as devatas in academic texts discussing Angkor imagery.
I prefer to stick with the classical (perhaps old-fashioned) distinction between the apsaras, the celestial nymphs born from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, and the devatas, semi-divine beings who guard the sanctuaries devoted to goddesses, such those as at Preah Ko Temple and Lolei Temple. This distinction is not only more classically correct, it also helps me to identify and understand the ancient carvings on the walls of Angkor.
So, at Angkor, apsaras are always seen flying in the air or dancing in Indra's heavens with smiles illuminating their faces.
Devatas are the ladies that are standing, usually holding a lotus flower. They sometimes smile, though it is usually more enigmatic, more sensual, and many of them have a haughty expression.
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