The Khmer civilization that grew to unify most of Southeast Asia between the 8th-14th centuries respected women. Today, we still see their temples filled with images of sacred women –termed devata, apsara or Khmer goddesses – who embody the feminine forces of the universe. While women and goddesses appear as icons in many ancient and modern societies, the Khmers gave sanctified women dominance over their state temples more consistently and more visibly than any other group.
Hidden in the ancient jungle temple of Preah Khan at Angkor, images carved on a door may be proof of a Khmer legends like Aesop’s fables.
On the towers above, serene faces gaze out over the jungle. But below, Jayavarman VII followed the example of King Suryavarman II by filling his monument with female energy. The portraits of sacred women, now called devata or apsaras depending on their style, surround the Bayon.
Cambodia’s great kings filled entire temples with sanctified images of women. Why do female images at Preah Khan dominate this extraordinary ancient temple? Khmer devata goddesses in the heart of Preah Khan temple
Sacred images of Khmer women still dominate and protect the temple with their auspicious presence. Many stand hidden in shadowed alcoves, seen by few visitors. Preah Khan Khmer temple devata goddesses
These photos reveal a few of the “Devata of Darkness”: images of Cambodia’s sacred women called devata — sometimes inaccurately referred to as apsaras — hidden from the light of day in passages beneath the collapsed structure. Preah Khan temple Khmer devata goddesses of darkness
French artist Maurice Fievet created extraordinarily accurate paintings of 12th century Angkor with Khmer scholars Bernard Groslier and George Cœdes.
Today acolytes are few, but sacred images of Khmer women still abound, protecting the temple with their auspicious presence.
Le Musée Cernuschi in Paris hosts Discovering Angkor, rare photos of Khmer civilization temples in Cambodia.
The ancient queens of Jayavarman VII, Indradevi and Jayarajadevi, guided the Khmer civilization bringing education, health, spirituality and enlightenment to 12th century Southeast Asia.