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Having just completed my work Devatas I, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 2018, I thought I should explain why I used the name 'Devatas'.

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.

Pre Rup Temple, two of these guardian ladies are Sarasvati and Varahi, the consorts of Brahma and Varaha (Vishnu) respectively, two of the Sapta Matrikas, or mother goddesses, and I expect they would be most upset at being referred to as 'celestial dancers'!

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.

Both apsaras and devatas can be found in their thousands at Angkor Wat Temple and at all of the many temples built under Jayavarman VII.

So, for example, I refer to the standing ladies seen throughout Angkor Wat Temple as devatas.  The ladies represented as dancing, also present throughout Angkor Wat Temple, are apsaras.

Thus Devatas I, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 2018.


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