These colorful images show 18 of the 126 devata or apsara who inhabit the inner chambers of the Bakan, the sacred shrine on top of Angkor Wat.
As offerings show, they are still worshiped, but now these irreplaceable images are increasingly endangered by vandalism and the slow decomposition of the temple around them. Hopefully, Cambodian authorities and foundations dedicated to preserving this priceless heritage will be able to protect them before it is too late.
While flying “apsaras” depict mythological heavenly women, most female images in Khmer carvings are termed “devata“: sacred women who seem to wield power here in our earthly realms. But among these beautiful women, some perhaps are divine.
The Angkor Wat Devata Inventory documents 1,796 unique full body devata carvings-not one of them is flying.
Among thousands of Cambodian devata (this article on Devata Goddess Temples shows the location of roughly 3,000 devata) these artistic masterpieces represent some of the finest examples of Khmer art respecting feminine power in the universe.
Colorful Images of Devata Goddesses or Apsaras at Angkor Wat
The Retiree Journal features photos taken at Angkor, Cambodia. All were hand carved hundreds of years ago. The carvings were exposed to the elements (although lost in the jungle) but still standing after all these centuries.
Not to be confused with devatas, apsaras, (A Sanskrit word meaning “from the water”) are female spirits of clouds and water; celestial dancers (or water nymphs) had the duty of dancing on the waters and in the heavens to entertain higher gods. Apsara are beautiful, albeit supernatural, girls who are able to change their shapes at will. They are young, elegant, and superb in the dance arts. While devata (see above) all have their feet on the ground in the bas relief carvings, apsaras appear in flying poses.
At Angkor Wat temple, the most prominent display of apsaras is when they manifest from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk as depicted on the east gallery. They also appear on walls, pillars, lintels and window frames. Apsaras and devata surrounded Angkor Wat visitors in almost every structure at almost every level of the temple. Each one is unique with different facial appearances, expressions, hairstyles, poses, costumes and adornments. Learn more in this book review of Costumes of the Devata of Angkor Wat by Sappho Marchal.